‘Co-operation is needed to improve situation for refugees with disabilities’

8 December 2016
Boat with refugees

EDF President Yannis Vardakastanis, participated in the event “Embracing Diversity” organised by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva on 6 December. Marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), the event strengthened the dialogue between UNHCR and organisations working to promote active participation for persons with disabilities.

EDF considers the cooperation with UNHCR crucial in order to find ways to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities in the population of refugees and asylum seekers.

Yannis Vardakastanis emphasised that refugees with disabilities represent an invisible group of individuals who are forced to leave their countries in strongly disadvantaged situations. Therefore, the European Union (EU) and the international community are called upon to address this situation by providing a framework that is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

EDF President underlined that the CRPD is the first international legally binding instrument setting minimum standards for rights for people with disabilities and the first human rights convention to which the EU has become a party. Moreover, the CRPD grants international protection to a wide range of situations. Indeed, the CRPD enshrines a specific provision concerning situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.

EDF recognises the importance of the UNHCR Executive Committee’s conclusions released in October 2010 that take note of the entry into force of the CRPD and highlight that the specific needs of persons with disabilities are often overlooked, especially in the early phases of humanitarian emergencies.

The first challenge for refugees and migrants with disabilities is to survive the journey. Once they arrive in the hot spots and the relief shelters, they may face lack of accessibility to assistance and protection risks, lack of access to medical care and insufficient access to assistive technology which could make communication and mobility easier.The particular conditions of women, children, unaccompanied minors and older persons with disabilities who are more likely to be exposed to discrimination and may be excluded from appropriate support should also be considered.

EDF recommends proper identification of persons with disabilities and their families in reception and detention centres in order to provide them with adequate protection. Specific support is also essential for ensuring fair access of persons with disabilities to all stages of the asylum procedure on an equal basis with others.

Persons with disabilities indeed encounter several barriers in the process of claiming asylum. Persons with mental or intellectual disabilities may have difficulties in preparing interviews and collecting the necessary information to demonstrate the credibility of their claims. Refugees with hearing or physical impairments may need particular assistance to communicate or overcome architectural barriers.

EDF therefore urges EU Member States to implement accessibility standards in reception centre and adopt reasonable accommodations to ensure that the whole asylum procedure is designed to fully and fairly include persons with disabilities.

In this regard, EDF proposed to set up and consolidate a long-term partnership between UNHCR and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in order to effectively handle contemporary migration flows in an inclusive and effective way.

Yannis Vardakastanis concluded that the role of DPOs is crucial to concretely improve the condition of refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities. He called for building an overarching alliance between local disability service providers, local DPOs and refugees with disabilities to bring about a fundamental improvement of the condition of refugees with disabilities. Local DPOs should work closely with international and EU refugee agencies and encourage them to include refugees with disabilities in their programmes.

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