Disability and displacement

Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) with disabilities are some of the most neglected and socially excluded groups within any population. With a major feature section on disability and displacement, Forced Migration Refugees (FMR) issue 35 aims to challenge and help empower the international community to respond to the needs and rights of disabled refugees and IDPs.  (We recognise that there are differences of opinion and practice relating to whether to refer to ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘disabled people’. We have used both forms in this call for articles.)

The very process of forced migration – often at short notice, in extremely difficult circumstances and possibly involving the loss of care-providers – can increase the vulnerability of disabled refugees and IDPs, especially as much displacement occurs in fragile or failing states where the capacity of the state to protect vulnerable civilians is greatly reduced. Among these already vulnerable populations of displaced people with disabilities, there are people with multiple needs and vulnerabilities – such as women, children, and the elderly – who may require particular protection and assistance.  It is estimated that between 3 and 4 million of the world’s approximately 40 million displaced people live with physical, sensory or mental disabilities. Many face discrimination, stigmatisation, harassment, neglect and exclusion, in their own communities and in host communities. They are often not counted or identified during registration, and data on the number of displaced persons with disabilities, and type of disability, are not available from governments, UNHCR or local partners. Where data do exist, they are often inconsistent or inaccurate. Those who have mobility disabilities face major problems with the physical layout and infrastructure of refugee camps and settlements – and most urban communities are even less welcoming or accessible. Furthermore, there is often inadequate consideration of the particular needs of displaced people with disabilities in terms of access to food, health services, education and administrative structures.

This issue of FMR will provide a forum for practitioners, care-providers, advocates, policymakers and researchers to present case studies from around the world which reflect the needs and concerns of displaced people with disabilities, debate approaches and initiatives, present examples of good practice and successes, and offer recommendations for action. In particular, the FMR Editors are looking for practice- and policy-oriented submissions, reflecting a diverse range of opinions, which address questions such as the following:

  • What obstacles do displaced people with disabilities face in accessing services and opportunities, including education, employment, justice, water and sanitation, health, training and livelihoods? How can access be improved?
  • How do different types of disability affect the level and quality of provision of assistance?
  • How are the experience of disability and the provision of assistance affected by age and gender?
  • What additional or particular protection challenges confront displaced people with disabilities, especially women and girls? How can these challenges be met?
  • How can agencies meet the challenge of lack of data on disabled people when planning emergency interventions and recovery programmes?
  • What steps have been taken to develop and implement improved methods for identifying disabled refugees and IDPs, collecting data and assessing needs? What are the gaps and how can they be filled?
  • Are there any differences in the challenges and risks faced by disabled people in the rural compared to the urban environment? How are difficulties in identification and assistance exacerbated or created in an urban setting? How can we make sure protection and assistance programmes address both situations?
  • How can disabled people be more widely included in camp management and in community organisation and assistance programmes?
  • How do we protect disabled people who are left behind when their care-providers and families are displaced? What happens to disabled people during the course of displacement?
  • What policies exist in relation to durable solutions for disabled refugees? Can having a disability improve one’s chances of resettlement?
  • Do UN agencies and NGOs take account of any physical barriers to access that displaced people with disabilities might experience when visiting their offices? How good are the local employment practices of UN agencies and NGOs?
  • What international policies and tools exist for improving awareness of and response to the needs of displaced people with disabilities? What impact has the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had since it came into force in May 2008? How is it being applied to refugee contexts?
  • What mechanisms exist to encourage governments to ensure that appropriate legislation and policies exist and are implemented, and that rights are respected, protected and fulfilled?
  • What needs to happen to improve disability awareness and to mainstream disability within the humanitarian cluster system?
  • How can we support displaced persons as agents of care, concern and accompaniment for those among them who have disabilities?
  • How does the use of language impede progress towards wider inclusion and integration of displaced people with disabilities?
  • How do attitudes stemming from cultural or religious beliefs reinforce myths, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination against disabled people?
  • How have educational and economic programmes successfully targeted and included disabled refugees and IDPs? Which programmes provide examples and models for successful inclusion and participation? How have the skills, experiences and talents of displaced people with disabilities been successfully tapped and utilised?

Deadline for submission of articles: 31st January 2010
Maximum length: 2,500 words.

We are particularly keen to reflect the experiences and knowledge of communities and individuals directly affected by disability.

Please email the Editors at fmr@qeh.ox.ac.uk if you are interested in contributing or have suggestions of colleagues or others who may wish to contribute. If you are planning to write, we would be grateful if you would take note of our Guidelines for Contributors at: www.fmreview.org/writing.htm.


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