Updates and field stories

Refugees with disability

Today is the United Nations’ International Day for People with Disabilities. To mark this day, A Drop in the Ocean wants to put some focus on refugees with disabilities, a group which is often overlooked and receives little attention.

By: Gro Wærstad, Political adviser, A Drop in The Ocean


The most vulnerable to crisis and conflict

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has emphasized that disabled people are among the most vulnerable refugee groups. Experience shows us that they face particular obstacles in crises and conflicts which puts them at a higher risk. They may have communicative difficulties which prevent them from being properly informed about the situation, or they could be at risk of losing aids and equipment which are necessary for their independence. At worst, they risk being left behind because they lack the physical ability to evacuate on their own.

Seeking refuge will often entail dangerous and extremely demanding journeys. Under such circumstances, refugees with disabilities will in many cases be entirely dependent on assistance from others. This dependence makes them particularly exposed to exploitation and abuse by smugglers and others who would seek to profit from their situation.


Disabled refugees – who are they?

This group includes, among others, persons with combat wounds, victims of torture, and refugees with innate physical or mental disabilities. They are particularly vulnerable in times of crisis and conflict, while at the same time these conditions cause more people to become disabled. Article 11 in the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD) state that people with disabilities have the right to protection and safety in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disaster.


Multiple barriers on arrival

Upon arrival in their recipient countries, disabled refugees will often face further barriers. Initially, formal routines for the identification of disabilities might be lacking or entirely absent, and the camps are rarely able to accommodate individual needs.

Playground at Skaramangas camp with containers in the background

A Drop in the Ocean work directly inside the refugee camps, here from Skarmangas Refugee Camp in Athens.

Available health care services are usually limited to emergency and primary health care. This will often result in people with chronic ailments and illnesses not receiving the medicine or care that their need. Access to necessary aids is non-existent more often than not. When, for example, wheelchairs break, their owners are likely to find themselves unable to continue their journey.


Disabled refugees are a victim of a restricting asylum policy

Refugees living with various handicaps are becoming unintentionally targeted by policies aiming to restrict asylum based on ability to work. They will be excluded from transfer quotas because recipient countries prioritize work-eligible refugees who are deemed less likely to be a public financial burden. If granted temporary protection, refugees with disabilities are furthermore faced with increasing demands of work-participation in order to qualify for family reunion or permanent residence in their host countries.

Photo taken outside Moria Refugee Camp







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