Disabled refugees – hope for better days?

16 Dec 2014
"If we do not include disabled people in daily life and in times of crisis and conflicts, we fail as civilizations", Mr. Arnt Holte, chairman of the Atlas Alliance said in his opening speech at the Conference People With disabilities in war situations - ignored and forgotten? on December 3. The conference gathered law and humanitarian field experts, representatives from the UNHCR and other international and organisations, politicians and – not the least – outstanding representatives of disabled refugees who told harsh stories of neglect and isolation in the refugee camps.
The two brothers Zaid (16) and Ahmad (10) both have a hereditary muscle disease that confines them to wheelchairs. They live in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon with six other siblings and parents in a room they rent for $ 200 per month. Two years ago they fled from Syria. The life as refugees is hard. The mother has repeatedly attempted to get help to the boys without any success. – In Syria they both went to school. Here they have no opportunity for education. They haven’t been out for days, and when they do, it is just for a trip to the local shop. No life for young boys, she tells. Photo: Torgrim Halvari
Two brothers, Zaid (16) and Ahmad (10) Photo: Torgrim Halvari

The conference confirmed a “yes” to our question: People with disabilities in war situations, are they ignored and forgotten? Among the all time high number of refugees since WW2 of now approximately 50 million people, there is close to eight million refugees with disabilities. The number mounts to ten million disabled and sick refugees if we take the report from Handicap International into consideration. According to this report more than 23 % of the Syrian refugees are disabled or sick people in need for extra care and support. Even still, the UNCHR in Lebanon reports a registration of only two – 2 – per cent, according to the freelance journalist Torgrim Halvari who recently visited disabled Syrian refugees in Lebanon. However, in spite of dark reports of neglect and lack of help, the conference also showed that there is promising work going on. 

Lessons learned 

Secretary of state Mr Bård Glad Pettersen expressed the Norwegian government’s strong commitment to inclusion, both in terms of policies and funding. However, he did not address the burning issue of allowing more disabled and sick refugees entry to Norway. 

There is a strong need for more knowledge, statistics and data collection, including people with psychosocial disabilities. The principle from the disability movement should be applied also in this context: “If you are not counted, you don’t count.”

Zaid (16) and Ahmad (10) with their mother and siblings.
Zaid (16) and Ahmad (10) with their mother and siblings. Photo: Torgrim Halvari

The conference expressed several important challenges: There is need for more cooperation, coordination, awareness building and more systematic change of good practices. We also need to give more attention to inclusion both in planning and in actions on the ground, where disabled people themselves should be involved in the work. Our other principle is as relevant: “Nothing about us without us”. Building on the expertise and know-how of disabled people the results and solutions will always improve. 

The strength of the conference was that it managed to combine both the systemic issues related to policies, research and organizational practices – as well as strong voices from people with disabilities themselves. The program in itself underlined the need to work with the structures and systems, not forgetting what inclusion is all about: Individuals, their needs, rights and participation. And a test of how civilized a society is. 

In the links below you will find the speeches presented at the coference.

Protection of the rights of disabled refugees, UNHCR, Carol El Sayed, Head of the Community Development Unit, UNHCR Lebanon: http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/all under one roof.ppt

Disability inclusion in the Red Cross movement, Svein Mollekleiv, President of the Norwegian red Cross:  http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/2014 3 dec Disability in conflict Conference Mollekleiv presentation.pdf

A legal perspective on the protection of rights of disabled persons in times of conflicts, Gentian Zyberi, Associate Professor, NCHR, UiO: http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/GZyberi HRPD Final 3-12-2014.docx

Hidden Refugees of the Syrian Crisis: an attempt to approach and understand vulnerability, disability and their consequences in a displacement situation in a more comprehensive and dynamic fashion, in the context of Syrian crisis, Thomas Calvot, consultant on behalf of Handicap International
http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/HAI HI Survey Presentation – Oslo 2014 (T.Calvot).pdf

Meeting with disabled refugees in Iraq and Jordan, Freelance journalists Torgrim Halvari and Sina Jahanbaksh, movie from the Bekaa valley
To be published soon

A personal story of enthusiasm and commitment, Kissinger Deng

Policy and practice of disability inclusion in the NRC, Eric Demers, Head of Core Competencies Section, Field Operations Department, Norwegian Refugee Council: http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/Intl Day of Disabilities 03.12.2014 – NRC Presentation.pptx

All under one roof: Disability-inclusive shelter and settlements in emergencies, Corinne Treherne, Senior officer, Shelter & settlements Dep., International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/all under one roof.ppt

The program: http://atlas-alliansen.no/novus/upload/tab1/article/Konferansen/3rd Dec Disability rights in conflicts – program.pdf

Pictures:
The two brothers Zaid (16) and Ahmad (10) both have a hereditary muscle disease that confines them to wheelchairs. They live in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon with six other siblings and parents in a room they rent for $ 200 per month. Two years ago they fled from Syria. The life as refugees is hard. The mother has repeatedly attempted to get help to the boys without any success. – In Syria they both went to school. Here they have no opportunity for education. They haven’t been out for days, and when they do, it is just for a trip to the local shop. No life for young boys, she tells. Photo: Torgrim Halvari

December 9, 2014