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Disability Inclusion in the Syrian Refugee Response in Lebanon

September 6, 2013

A black and white photo of a young woman with long hair sitting in a wheelchair in a fieldBy Jagoda Risteska

Lately, we hear a lot about the Syrian conflict and all the repercussions it has on human rights. Many people have left their homes, seeking protection as refugees in other countries. I have a friend from Syria, now in the US as a Community Solutions Fellow, who described how dangerous it is to live in Syria. But then I ask myself, what about people with disabilities? Living in the Balkan region and being a person with a disability myself, I have experienced a firsthand fear. What would happen if the war on the Balkans escalated? Luckily it never happened to reach my country. We didn’t need to leave our home and go somewhere else. But now, people with disabilities from Syria live this fate and leave their homes, seeking protection in some other country. These kinds of situations are hard for everyone, but I will say that people with disabilities have an even harder time because they need to think not just about surviving, but also about accessibility and how everything will work for them in this new place.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires ratifying states to ensure that persons with disabilities are protected in situations of risk or humanitarian emergency (Article 11). And Article 32 requires that international cooperation be accessible to and inclusive of persons with disabilities. But we all know this is much easier to say than done, so I am wondering if people with disabilities in Lebanon or elsewhere in the world have these rights?

In July 2013 the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has published the report “Disability Inclusion in the Syrian Refugee Response in Lebanon” which provides insight into the position of persons with disabilities who are refugees from Syria in Lebanon. According to the report, most persons with disabilities living in the Lebanese communities are able to access UNHCR registration through a combination of static registration centers, and through “in absentia” and mobile registration strategies. Consultations with Syrian refugees with disabilities and their families, as well as with staff from humanitarian organizations and local agencies, sought to identify the key gaps in the current humanitarian response for persons with disabilities, and strategic opportunities to strengthen disability inclusion.

As the report states, families of persons with intellectual impairments are facing extreme challenges and social isolation as refugees. In most cases, the families have had little guidance and support when raising their children in Syria, and have therefore adopted coping strategies that pose protection con-cerns for the individual in question, particularly when under the added stress of displacement. Some families are using physical and medical restraint to prevent their family members from leaving the shelter or harming themselves and others. Stigma and fear of exploitation may also contribute to families hiding their relative, add¬ing to the isolation of the individual.

There are, however, some positive developments in in¬tegrating disability into trainings for humanitarian staff, and some agencies have started to consider ways in which they can adapt their programs to promote ac¬cess and inclusion. Positive strategies noted in this as¬sessment include:
• Discussion groups being conducted in women’s centers with women who have children or hus¬bands with disabilities to explore their challenges and concerns, and share strategies.
• Partnerships between UNHCR partners and local disabled people’s organizations to improve the ac¬cessibility of community centers.
• Plans to launch vocational training for men with newly acquired disabilities.

There are also opportunities to consider both inclusive education and community centers in the longer-term planning, benefitting both Syrians and Lebanese per¬sons with disabilities.

There is a clear need, however, to determine the number of persons with new impairments, and the an¬ticipated increase as the conflict in Syria continues. This data is needed to ensure that all services, including health and rehabilitation, can be sup¬ported to meet this demand in a comprehensive way.
The key Recommendations of the report to the UNHCR and other partners, include:
• Recognize the needs of persons with new impairments in longer-term response planning.
• Pilot and evaluate guidelines for identifying risk and prioritizing the most vulnerable.
• Integrate disability into training for registration and protection staff, outreach workers and case managers.
• Support the Government of Lebanon to advance inclusive education for children with disabilities.
• Promote and monitor inclusive community centers and outreach.

For more detailed information, you can check out the report here.

I wish these conflicts would never happen, and that all people could enjoy their peace and stay at their homes with families. But until then, we must ensure that people with disabilities have access to their rights as refugees and that their needs are met.

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