UNHCR sharpens its focus on disability in displacement
LONDON - UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on Tuesday committed itself to take new measures to involve people living with disabilities more closely in its work, both within its global operations and as part of the organization’s protection work with refugees.
The pledges were made by Volker Türk, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, at a Global Disability Summit in London, hosted by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and supported by the International Disability Alliance and Kenya.
“Ensuring the protection and wellbeing of those with disabilities in an inclusive and comprehensive way is timely and of critical importance,” Türk told the conference.
“UNHCR is committed to working with donors, asylum countries, international and national partners and all communities to find more effective ways to address their concerns in displacement settings in the Syria situation, and elsewhere.”
The disabled can be among the most marginalized, and their vulnerability is often exacerbated in forced displacement. Stigmatisation, isolation and perceptions that they are a burden can compromise their dignity, safety, security and access to services, Türk said.
For the disabled, there are challenges accessing civil documentation, including birth and marriage registration — the absence of which can hinder access to support. The lack of access to proper medical and psychological care prolongs or worsens disabling conditions among children, the elderly and other members in the community.
Scaling up cash-based interventions and social support to address vulnerabilities based on disability is an important intervention for the most vulnerable families, including households with disabilities, to help meet their needs, he said.
The protection chief committed UNHCR to specific steps to tackle stigma and discrimination and better involve and consult with people living with disabilities when planning operations and activities.
For example, there will be a push on education, he said, to improve equitable access for refugee children with disabilities.
UNHCR will invest in improving access to jobs for people living with disabilities.
The situation for disabled refugees who have fled Syria is particularly alarming, Türk said.
Over 5.6 million Syrians are registered as refugees in neighbouring countries. UNHCR data in four of those (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon) show that 3.09 per cent of refugees live with disabilities. Inside Syria, there are an estimated 2.9 million people with disabilities in need of humanitarian assistance.
In addition, 2 per cent of the refugee population are children with disabilities. These children are often marginalized and excluded from opportunities, living isolated lives and struggling against stigma, discrimination and an environment that does not accommodate their needs or aspirations.
Across the region, rehabilitation services for people living with disabilities are limited. Taking just one example, in Syria, needs for specialized services for people with disabilities have been reported in 72 per cent of assessed communities.
As the majority of Syrian refugees – some 84 per cent - live in urban and rural settings across the region, there is also a need to support and reinforce community-based protection.
In Syria, UNHCR has a network of more than 96 community centres and aims to expand this to 110, reaching 2.6 million individuals.
In terms of concrete actions, this year and next, UNHCR will develop a checklist for the inclusion of the disabled in participatory assessments; address the issue of participation in planning, design and implementation with new guidance on working and e-learning programmes; and develop guidance on identification of the disabled in registration and other data collection, while documenting good practice.