This is the sixth of a series of interviews with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). In this interview, we spoke with MEP Mónica Silvana González about the role of the EU and Member States in supporting children and persons with Disabilities who stayed or fled Ukraine. She also shared her views on making the EU elections more inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.
Question: What should the European Union (EU) and Member States do to support children and persons with disabilities who stayed in Ukraine and those who arrived in the EU?
Answer: According to specialised bodies such as the European Disability Forum, prior to the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, 2.7 million persons with disabilities were registered in the country, a large proportion of them placed in institutions.
For those who stayed in Ukraine, the situation is critical, with no shelters available for them or the risk of being abandoned in institutions. Therefore, I believe the most important for persons with disabilities who are in Ukraine is: to ensure their full access to humanitarian aid, their protection from violence, abuse, or ill-treatment, the accessibility of information about safety and evacuation procedures, and their access to basic services, including water and sanitation, healthcare, education, transport and information, and participation of their organisations into the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The number of persons with disabilities who have left the country is unknown. But during the first month of the war, 150,000 people with disabilities were registered in Poland and many of which were women and children. Organisations have denounced the lack of accessibility of reception centres and border crossings, with little or no accessible information about access to basic needs as well as integration regarding education, health, and social protection.
We need a holistic approach for people with disabilities by ensuring that the triple nexus humanitarian assistance, development and peacebuilding approach is fully operational in Ukraine. For this to become a reality and ensure the protection and safety of children and adults with disabilities seeking refuge in the EU, we need better coordination with Member States. We also need to facilitate with Member States, authorities, and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs), to help Ukrainians with disabilities and their families relocate to inclusive and accessible housing, and have access to support and other services in other Member State, particularly for those living in Institutions.
Question: How can the EU become a leader in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities globally?
Answer: The EU becoming a leader in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities globally will depend on the outcome of the ongoing evaluation of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The European Union made the first step to becoming the leader by being the first supranational organization to ratify this Convention, together with all Member States individually.
But of course, this is not enough. We should keep pushing for the effective implementation of the right to vote for all persons with disabilities, keep working on the European Accessibility Act, and keep pushing for a mandatory directive, as a strategy is not enough.
With all that in mind, we must not forget to adopt an intersectional perspective to make sure that no one is left behind.
Question: The European Parliament adopted an important proposal to reform the EU Electoral Law guaranteeing the right to vote for all persons with disabilities. You were involved in a similar reform in Spain. What are in your view the next steps to make the EU elections more inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities?
Answer: Not only was I involved in the reform of the Electoral Law in Spain, but also in the reform of the EU Electoral Law, introducing the amendments that ended in the final text approved in Plenary last month.
To be completely honest, the first step to making the EU elections more inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities would be for the Council to finally approve this reform. Which is not an easy thing. Many countries and governments are against the reform of the EU Electoral Law. If not adopted by the Council, this could frustrate the work of many people who worked on ensuring the right to vote for persons with disabilities.
Should the reform be approved, most of the work would be done, as, in theory, the reform would ensure the right to vote of all EU citizens, regardless of their legal capacity. As Members of the European Parliament and civil society, we should work together to ensure that this right is the facto respected and that no obstacles or barriers can hinder it. It is everyone’s job to guarantee this right for all.
Image credit: © European Union 2022 – Source: EP / Eric VIDAL