- July 17, 2020

On Monday 13 July 2020, the International Disability Alliance, in partnership with the UN Migration Agency (IOM) and the UN Human Rights Special Procedures presented the webinar "Persons with disabilities in the context of internal displacement" as a side event to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council.

The event focused on the thematic report "Persons with disabilities in the context of internal displacement" presented by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Ms Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

The invited panelists were:

  • Ms Cecilia Jimenez - Damary (UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs
  • Dr Nawaf Kabbara (President, The Arab Organization of Persons with Disabilities)
  • Ms Phoebe A. Nyagudi (Deputy Director for Social Development. Head, Disability Division. Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, Kenya)
  • Mr Jeffrey Labovitz (Director of the Department of Operations and Emergencies, IOM)\
  • Ms Elham Youssefian (Humanitarian Action and Disaster Risk Reduction Adviser, International Disability Alliance)
  • Mr George Okoth-Obbo (Head of the Secretariat, UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement)

Ms Cecilia Jimenez-Damary highlighted the urge of bringing effective protection to those IDPs that are under higher risk of being neglected left behind, such as persons with disabilities. She recalled that, as stated in her report, there is a rough estimate of 6 million IDPs with disabilities, displaced by conflicts and violence around the world, and this number does not include those displaced by disasters and climate change. Moreover, due to the emergency context, there might be higher percentages of disabilities among displaced persons.

Ms Jimenez-Damary made a call for humanitarian actions to be guided by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Humanitarian International Law, without discrimination based on disabilities. She evoked that the World Humanitarian Summit 2016 endorsed the rights of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action. "Persons with disabilities face further discrimination, barriers and are more exposed to violence or to being left to survive by their own. Barriers, stigmatization, social exclusion, and their challenges might be overlooked, even by development agents. Persons with disabilities continue to be considered as receivers of aid while they are active stakeholders." Ms. Jimenez-Damary pointed out that accessibility is a precondition for inclusion and highlighted the importance of having disaggregated data on displacement status. To conclude, she stated that emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, show how persons with disabilities are at a higher risk of contagions, due to preconditions such as living in slums. "To face these situations, we do not only need awareness-raising but translate awareness into the creation of real programs''.

Mr Nawaf Kabbara described living experiences during the Lebanon and Syria conflicts, where persons with disabilities have been left behind, or where their relatives have struggled to save their lives despite the adverse conditions. "How many persons with disabilities are suffering in conflict settings, how laws, regulations and conventions are translated? The CRPD talks about accessibility, if there is no accessibility in internal displacement settings, IDPs cannot find proper places to live, no accessible toilets, no accessible houses, they end up in miserable situations".

He advised that if the CRPD is really implemented and countries are really committed, the situation of IDPs with disabilities would be less extreme. "If a school should be turned into a shelter, it would be already accessible if it was built following the principles of the CRPD. But cities, for example, Middle East cities are not accessible; therefore, the shelters are not accessible either." To conclude, Mr Kabbara regretted that humanitarian actors tend to neglect persons with disabilities who represent 15% of the population, and highlighted the role of IASC guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action as a comprehensive document providing necessary instructions to tackle exclusion and discrimination against persons with disabilities in humanitarian emergencies.

Ms Phoebe A. Nyagudi discussed how the government of Kenya is trying to implement its obligations under the CRPD. According to her, the Kenyan policies are including persons with disabilities in issues such as internal displacement and emergencies, including COVID-19. However, persons with disabilities are not being involved in disaster responses, and the country has not been able to stick to the Sendai Framework. Ms Nyagudi considers that this is an area that requires attention. She presented an estimation of 15.000 persons with disabilities living in refugee camps across the country, according to Humanity & Inclusion (HI). "Persons with disabilities living in refugee camps face social stigma and violence; they do not have a voice in the camps community leaderships and lack basic services, in the same way, staff are not trained on disabilities issues and support.  Collection of data is required in order to be able to plan responses."

Mr Jeffrey Labovitz explained and reaffirmed the commitments of the IOM  towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities. He highlighted the importance of data collection and knowledge-sharing in assessing humanitarian settings and response planning; as well as the accountability on service provision by stakeholders.

Ms Elham Youssefian recalled that disability inclusion is a must and should be included since the very beginning of any plan, process, policies, and other actions. "In the case of IDPs, following this approach, we should improve our understanding of the needs, capacities and potentials of persons with disabilities." Ms Youssefian regretted that, as stated in the report of the Special Rapporteur, currently there is not much information about barriers faced by IDPs with disabilities. Therefore, it is difficult to plan how to overcome them. She called the organizations working in humanitarian settings and human rights monitoring to ensure that the situation of IDPs with disabilities is properly monitored and documented, in line with the CRPD and other documents such as the Security Council resolution 2475 (2019). "We need data and evidence, and we need efficient training for field workers who are interacting with persons with disabilities in IDPs camps and off-camp settings. Attitudinal barriers are one of the major barriers that, in interaction with impairments, cause disabilities; If you change the minds, many of the issues we currently face are going to be fixed."

After conclusion of the panel, Ms Grainne O’Hara, from the UNHCR’s division of International Protection, expressed the strong support of her team to the recommendations delivered in the report of the Special Rapporteur and highlighted the engagement of UNHCR in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and contributions to the IASC guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. Ms O’Hara recalled how all UN entities now have the obligation to report under the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy and explained that “people are not defined by their disability alone. This gives us, all of us, a challenge as to how to be inclusive about respecting and making visible the particular dimension of living with disabilities, but in a way that is not just a one-dimensional projection”.

Mr George  Okoth-Obbo, in delivering the closing remarks, pointed out that the report of the Special Rapporteur will be a useful resource for the work of the High Level Panel on Internal Displacement and called for the outreaching of persons with disabilities in situation of internal displacement  following the recommendations of Ms Cecilia Jimenez-Damaris.

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