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Global Disability Summit - Beyond immediate needs: ensuring disability inclusion in protracted crises

Speeches and statements

Global Disability Summit - Beyond immediate needs: ensuring disability inclusion in protracted crises

24 July 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, let me thank you for the opportunity to participate in today’s regional spotlight session on Syria. I am pleased to join this important discussion on the effective inclusion of people with disabilities in international development and humanitarian assistance today. As a part of this discussion, I would like to provide UNHCR’s perspective on the implications that the adoption of the global compact on refugees will have for humanitarian responses to people with disabilities in the Syria situation and beyond.

Approximately 15 per cent of forcibly displaced people worldwide have disabilities. Disabilities are frequently under-identified in situations of displacement, resulting in critical protection gaps and barriers to accessing food, shelter, inclusive education, health care, [national] protection systems, and livelihood opportunities.

UNHCR has a long-standing commitment to ensure that people are the centre of our response, as we strive to apply an age, gender, and diversity approach to every aspect of our work. Concretely, this has meant:

  • maintaining meaningful engagement with people of our concern;
  • understanding their specific protection risks and needs;
  • building on their individual capacities; and
  • pursuing protection, assistance, and solutions in a manner that is responsive to the priorities and perspectives of affected individuals and communities – including individuals with disabilities.

We renewed this commitment in the recent update of UNHCR’s Policy on Age, Gender and Diversity, which further embeds an AGD approach in all aspects of our work.


Disabilities in the global compact on refugees

During the formal consultations on the global compact on refugees, Member States and civil society made strong calls for the inclusion of strong commitments to address issues of disability and inclusion-related considerations, which was heartening. The text of the proposed global compact on refugees, which was shared with United Nations Member States just last week, recognizes and integrates measures to ensure consideration is given to disabilities, particular vulnerabilities, and specific needs at every stage of the humanitarian and development response to large-scale and protracted refugee situations. The compact identifies discrimination based on disability as one of the root causes of displacement. It includes support measures to hosting countries to facilitate the collection of age, gender, disability, and diversity-disaggregated data. It also mentions support measures that would result in initial refugee reception arrangements that are more sensitive to identifying and addressing specific needs. These measures are important for ensuring that people with disabilities – including women and girls – can access important social and health care services.

Once adopted, the global compact has the potential to improve substantially humanitarian and development responses to refugees and other displaced people with disabilities by mainstreaming an AGD approach in all aspects of the response and ensuring that targeted measures are in place to facilitate access to key services.

Addressing specific needs in the regional response to the Syria situation

The Syria situation in particular highlights the need for such a strengthened approach. In the context of the conflict in Syria, the dynamics of armed conflict, patterns of human rights violations, and resulting forced displacement have put the spotlight on the protection of people with disabilities at the local and regional levels, in both humanitarian responses and measures to build resilience.

11.7 million Syrians are currently displaced either inside Syria or in the region of the Middle East and North Africa – primarily Turkey [3.5 m], Lebanon [976,000], and Jordan [667,000]. According to UNHCR’s registration data, only about 3 per cent of the registered Syrian refugee population lives with disabilities. Household surveys that we conducted in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, however, point to a much larger number of households where a member of the family has a disability [14.7 per cent; 14 per cent; 14 per cent, and 9 per cent, respectively]. In Syria, an estimated twenty per cent of the internally displaced population in Syria are affected.
Despite the existence of different mechanisms to enhance the identification of disabilities, their under-identification remains an issue. The protection of displaced children and youth with disabilities – estimated to represent 2 and 2.5 per cent of the population, respectively – is also challenging, as they struggle against stigma and discrimination in an environment that does not accommodate their specific needs.

Children and youth with disabilities face particularly high risks of physical violence both inside and outside the home. They often have limited access to inclusive education systems and specialized education services. Specialized health services are rarely a given – especially in humanitarian settings – and community-based rehabilitation programmes are seldom an option. Refugee women and girls with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and sexual and gender-based violence.

UNHCR and our Syria response partners are paying special attention to enhancing protection and access to services for all people with specific needs. In line with UNHCR’s commitment to AGD, we have taken a number of measures to ensure that specific needs are identified early on and addressed effectively throughout the various stages of the response. In particular, we have:

  • developed specific guidance material to ensure operational activities are guided by AGD and community-based protection approaches;
  • better targeted our community engagement and outreach to assess particularly vulnerable and extremely marginalized communities, including through differentiated two-way communication channels as well as community centres that can provide valuable entry points to facilitate access to specialized services, such as in Syria, where we are seeking to expand our current network of 74 community centres to 120, reaching an estimated 2.4 million people;
  • integrated the Washington Group Questions into vulnerability assessments and household surveys [in Jordan and Iraq] so that the early identification of people with disabilities is assured;
  • worked to foster greater cooperation between governments, humanitarian partners, specialist organisations, and organizations of people with disabilities to ensure the appropriate identification and recording of disabilities;
  • enhanced targeting of cash-based assistance across the region to the most vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities, to reduce negative coping mechanisms and nurture their empowerment; and
  • applied a whole-of-society approach in seeking out and broadening alliances with DPOs, civil society, and academia to advocate for participation and inclusion, and to ensure comprehensive responses to people with disabilities are offered in the areas of education, health, and social protection across the region.

UNHCR’s commitments

In line with the AGD approach underscored in the global compact on refugees and UNHCR’s efforts to promote a shift towards the systematic consideration of disability inclusion as a core part of our programming and protection responses, we make the following commitments:

  1. UNHCR will enhance the meaningful participation of people with disabilities throughout the operations management cycle and will consult them on protection and solutions.
    In 2018 and 2019, we will develop guidance, tools, and e-learning programmes to foster greater and more systematic inclusion of people with disabilities in our programmes, including through early and accurate identification of specific needs during registration and at later stages. We also commit to document and disseminate good practices – including on partnerships with DPOs.
  2. UNHCR will improve equitable access to quality education for displaced children, including refugee children with disabilities, by working with partners, including governments, on national system participation and the inclusion of displaced children in national education systems. In particular, we seek to reinforce national and local capacities to establish and maintain inclusive education systems. We will also undertake efforts to improve our data collection, develop global recommendations, and make relevant good practices available.
  3. UNHCR will invest in the capacities of persons with disabilities and will improve their access to livelihood opportunities on an equal basis with other persons of concern. As part of our ongoing initiatives to further the economic inclusion of refugees, we will strengthen efforts to identify and address barriers to accessing livelihood opportunities for refugees with disabilities and improving access [including through inclusion in skills development programmes, the offer of employment, and inclusion in entrepreneurial activities]. Special efforts will be made to advocate with the private sector, development, and government counterparts for their inclusion.
  4. UNHCR will incorporate the Washington Group question set into its continuous registration process to improve identification and protection of persons with disabilities. We will, for instance, expand the use of the Washington Group questions [which have been piloted in Jordan] to additional pilot countries in 2018-19 by integrating these in our registration efforts and household surveys. On the basis of evidence gathered, guidance will be developed to provide assistance with the identification of the right methodology in different data collection scenarios.

In addition to these commitments, we would also like to explore a potential fifth commitment – the development of guidelines on International Protection for Persons with Disabilities.

In conclusion, disabilities and their implications for people in situations of forced displacement can be severe. The adoption of the global compact on refugees later in the year has the potential to transform and strengthen responses to individuals with disabilities in large-scale refugee arrivals and protracted displacement situations. We believe that the four commitments made today will contribute, concretely, to this effort by reducing the gap between vulnerabilities, needs, and the provision of targeted assistance, protection, and services. These commitments will help us to advance this agenda in particular for people with disabilities, recognizing their specific needs whilst building on their capacities and aspirations.

Thank you.