Refugees with disabilities struggle to meet basic needs

A mother of a child with disability pushes her wheelchair A mother of a child with disability pushes her wheelchair Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

19 June 2020

The UN faces humanitarian issues on the lack of food, shelter, sanitation products, and medical assistance for refugees with disabilities

The Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has discussed the urgent humanitarian issues that affect displaced refugees with disabilities across the globe in light of the COVID-19 state. UN leaders and Member States, development groups, and humanitarian organizations have devised humanitarian responses for evacuees with disabilities who struggle to meet their basic needs amidst the pandemic.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed disabled refugees residing in Lebanon, Syria, and Greece via phone between March and May. Aside from lack of access to sanitation, they struggle to pay rent, buy basic necessities that include food, medicine and sanitation products, and use of assistive devices for their condition. HRW added that refugees with disabilities were not properly identified in Greece, leading to more complications in seeking shelter and medical services.

In Lebanon, 84% of disabled expatriates are concerned about their food security, based on the April 2020 protection assessment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the impact of the pandemic to Lebanon refugees. Due to the absence of sufficient financial compensation, families of the refugees are forced to drop sanitation products such as soaps and use the money instead to buy meals that they can afford.

There is a persisting dilemma in practicing effective hygiene and accessing medical services for the refugees with disabilities, placing them at a higher risk in the time of pandemic. The UN proposed the COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan in May 2020 which promises to address the short supply of basic needs and medical services of the people who are at a higher risk, including the disabled communities. Despite this, the implementation has been gradual.

“World leaders have made bold commitments to include and protect refugees and displaced people, who have long been forgotten,” says Emina Ćerimović, a Senior Disability Rights Researcher at HRW. “Now, governments need to step up and provide meaningful financial and other support to make those commitments a reality. People with disabilities are counting on them to come through.”


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Author: Matthew Burgos

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