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World Refugee day | New report: COVID-19 crisis leaving disabled refugees behind

JUNE 19, 2020

On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, on June 20, Humanity & Inclusion demands that displaced people and refugees with disabilities have a fighting chance to avoid COVID-19.

Often poor, stigmatized, isolated, excluded by their community and forgotten during crises, people with disabilities confront multiple layers of discrimination. The weight of the stigma makes them much more vulnerable than others when they have to flee their home and become refugees. Right now, they also have to face one of the worst pandemics in the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions are exacerbating conditions, as documented in the new report, "COVID-19 in humanitarian context: The necessity to leave no one behind!"

Humanity & Inclusion works with refugees with disabilities around the world (KenyaBangladeshPakistanUgandaColombia, etc.). This report gathered the testimonies of many of the people supported by Humanity & Inclusion’s team in refugee camps in those countries. And the same sentiment is shared across all: people with disabilities are often left out of humanitarian responses, including the COVID-19 response.

Humanity & Inclusion asks States to unlock humanitarian aid immediately. Hit by the crisis while welcoming refugees, States must ensure that people with disabilities are not abandoned nor prevented from accessing humanitarian aid. Humanitarian organizations like Humanity & Inclusion are the last resort for the most vulnerable people, including displaced people with disabilities who depend on humanitarian aid to survive. We must not be prevented from reaching people in need.

As the COVID-19 crisis spreads deeper into communities, we see local communities quick to reject refugees, especially when they have a disability. People who live close to   refugees tend to avoid them or deny them access to services like healthcare or transportation, fearing that they carry the coronavirus and might put others in danger.

Among 79.5 million people who are forcibly displaced in the world, around 15% have a disability. Globally, an estimated 9.7 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution.

When mixed with conflict, the prevalence of disability is much more frequent. In Aleppo, Syria, 59% of women have a disability, according to the NGO health cluster in Syria. Across the country, one-third of the population has a disability.

The world’s refugee camps were not built for COVID-19. They are overcrowded, squalid, packed with poor, under-nourished people who settled there in panic. This environment, with limited access to basic and specialized services, is particularly conducive to virus transmission.

Hygiene conditions in camps are very poor. Access to clean water for the basic hand washing that’s so crucial in the fight against COVID-19 can be daily struggle. Six-year-old Aruwa lives in Kenya with her mother and two older siblings. She was born with a condition that limits her mobility. Her mother says, “We came to the camp from Sudan in August 2014. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we use a lot of water, which is hard to get. We always have water shortages, and we have to fetch it in the neighboring camp at times.”

People with disabilities also face challenges accessing information, according to the report. People such as Sabiti, 41, who lives in Rwanda's Kiziba refugee camp. He has difficulty hearing and speaking, and works as a shoe repairman. At the start of the outbreak, concrete information about COVID-19 was off limits to him, because there was no sign language interpretation. “I could have contracted COVID-19 without knowing it," he says. "People started staying home… My family told me that I could not go out and move around, but they could not explain clearly why I could not go to work”. In his camp, there are around 70 people who have speech and hearing difficulties, left without any information.

Lockdown measures have stopped, restricted or hampered humanitarian services, including the delivery of basic and specific aid. Yet many refugees with disability living in camps such as Kakuma in Kenya, or Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh, totally depend on humanitarian aid. According to a protection assessment by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, of the Covid-19 impact on refugees in Lebanon in April 2020, 84% of refugees with a disability in Lebanon cited food insecurity as their top concern.



Experts working with refugees with disabilities in Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Jordan and Lebanon are available for interviews.

This report compiles evidence from Humanity & Inclusion countries of operation. It encompasses:

  • Quantitative data based on assessments on COVID19 impacts on Humanity & Inclusion beneficiaries in 9 countries
  • Testimonies of beneficiaries and staff to illustrate these impacts from 11 countries

About Humanity & Inclusion

Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization, working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for the past 38 years. Alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our actions and voice are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since its founding, Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International) has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. There are eight national associations within the network (Germany, Belgium, Canada, United States, France, Luxembourg, UK and Switzerland), working tirelessly to mobilize resources, co-manage projects and increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and winner of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Humanity & Inclusion takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.”


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