- June 17, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

Names may have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.

These stories have been prepared in collaboration with Humanity & Inclusion (also known as Handicap International).

COVID-19 can present many additional challenges for refugees with disabilities, including hunger, lack of health information and treatment, depression and anxiety and an increased risk of COVID-19 due to difficult living conditions.

More than 70 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population has a disability, increasing to at least 18% in conflict-affected populations. And, according to the World Health Organization and other UN agencies, people with disabilities are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Here, four people with disabilities share their experiences and fears about facing the pandemic while living in a refugee camp or displaced persons’ settlements.


Mohamed, 73, has been told that his age, and living in a refugee camp, put him at high risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

War in Somalia forced Mohamed and his family to flee their home country in 1998.

They have lived in Dadaab, Kenya ever since. The father-of-five, who uses crutches for mobility and is also partially-sighted, is calling for more support for people with disabilities living in the camp.

Although Mohamed and his family have had training about how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of disease and they have been given some soap, he says that there are water shortages in the camp and they are waiting for face masks to be distributed.

He is also living with anxiety about COVID-19: “I have fear since I have been told that those in the community have a high risk of contracting the disease, especially people above 60 years old. And I have anxiety because I’m not sure who has the disease.

“It is very important to protect myself and my family so that they may not die.”


Ngwa Mi and her family have been forced to forage for food, because COVID-19 has stopped them from working.

The 77-year-old lives in a displaced persons’ settlement camp in Myanmar with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandson.

They make money by working on farms or selling amber in China, but the pandemic and restrictions on movement have meant that they are no longer able to cross the border.

With no income, the family is finding it difficult to get food and they have started searching in the forest for vegetables to eat.

Ngwa Mi, who broke her back last year, is also worried about her recovery. She needs to visit the hospital for a medical check of her injury, but she is afraid to go.

Although Ngwa Mi and her family have received information about how to prevent catching COVID-19, including washing their hands, wearing masks and isolating from neighbours, she is worried about what to do if someone contracts the illness.

She said: “I want to know more about COVID. I worry about what to do if someone is infected.”


Water shortages and not being able to afford soap and a mask is making life precarious for Mr Saw during COVID-19.

The 54-year-old from Myanmar has been living in a temporary shelter with his relatives in a refugee settlement in Thailand since March. Without rations of his own, he relies on his family for food.

Mr Saw said: “Wearing a mask and frequently washing my hands are the biggest challenges for me, due to water shortages and not having enough money to buy soap and mask.

“We receive prevention awareness to prevent ourselves from COVID-19 through NGO or health workers, loudspeaker from camp office and friends who have shared with us what kind of food we should eat and how to work together with the community to prevent the disease.

“It would be a great if educated person delivered the prevention message to us face-to-face or write to us in our own language frequently until the COVID-19 ceases.”

He is a land mine survivor and has a prosthetic leg. He lives in a settlement for displaced persons in Myanmar, but there is no support for his disability so he travels to the refugee camp for rehabilitation. During his most recent visit the camp borders were closed due to the pandemic and he cannot return home.

He said: “Now, I can't go back to my village and I worry my wife is alone and she has to lead the cultivation for the crops. I worry whether my family receive the information for the prevention. So, I want to go back as quick as possible after unlock.”

He added: “I do not know exactly what will happen after the COVID-19. The future is uncertain.”


Hay Tar is 12 years old and lives in a temporary shelter on the Myanmar-Thailand border with her family.

She is one of nine siblings, six who are of school age. Her father and older sister work to support the family while her mother takes care of the children. She acquired physical disability due to a childhood health condition, and has some difficulty walking.

Before COVID-19 Hay Tar’s family relied on food rations, supplemented by any income her father and sister made, and they also raised chicken and pigs to eat. But since restrictions in the camp due to the pandemic, Hay Tar’s family have been unable to work.

She said: “My father can't afford to give us pocket money for snack anymore, because he can't go out to find work and earn some money. There are many people in my house, so now we can't afford to have meat or fish like when my father went out to work. Before we could eat meat or fish curry twice a week, but we can't afford to cook curry now. I am worried for my family.

“I want to visit and play with my friends but the camp committee do not allow the population to go outside their house. During the pandemic period I am sewing a blouse to sell it for my pocket money because I can't go out and play with my friends.”

Hay Tar and her family have been given advice about preventing the spread of COVID-19. She said: “I can follow and implement these measures. It is easy to do like what they said, we have water and we have been provided with masks and soap. But I think some people might have problems to follow these measures because they don't have soap and water. Some people need to use water with limitation because in dry season there is less water in the camp.”

She added: “Fortunately, we don't have a case of COVID-19. I can't imagine if many cases of COVID-19 happened in our camp, I will be sad if my relatives pass away.”