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Disability advocates call for inclusive action by UN for refugees

Posted on: August 9, 2019 12:12 PM
Migrants waiting to cross the Greek-Northern Macedonian border carry a woman in a wheelchair in a camp near the village of Idomeni, Greece in March 2016
Photo Credit: Marko Djurica / Reuters

[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] Church disability advocates from various countries have called for further action from the United Nations (UN) to protect people with disabilities in areas of conflict.

Eighteen leaders from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC-EDAN), met in Beirut, Lebanon in July, to addresses concerns in the region and to evaluate the strategic plan.

Executive secretary for the WCC-EDAN, Anjeline Okola Charles said all delegates saw first-hand the difficulties facing those with disabilities in refugee camps and zones of conflict in the Middle East.

She said: “There were hardly any kinds of services that might support persons with disabilities and help them to cope with such circumstances. Meanwhile, for those who were unfortunate not to escape these conflict zones, they are injured and simply abandoned.”

The group reflected on the various challenges refugees face and the role the UN has played over policies and funding. A statement following the meeting said: “As part of our engagement we commit to promote advocacy for refugees with disabilities at the global level and raising of awareness of the right of all refugees with disability.”

The communique called on the government of Lebanon to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “We further request the UN to understand disability from a human rights perspective and plan inclusion from the onset of all programmes and enhance efforts to consult persons with disabilities, in order to understand their views and provide more tailored services for inclusive humanitarian action.”

On 20 June, the UN Security Council passed its first-ever resolution on protecting those with disabilities in armed conflict, designed to ensure that they have equal access to humanitarian assistance.

The Anglican Communion Representative at the UN, Jack Palmer-White said Anglican churches had a key role to play in supporting those either fleeing conflict or in the midst of it. He said: “We’ve seen the impact of conflict on the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and the conflict that led to the temporary closure of the Anglican Ras Morbat Clinic in Yemen. Through this resolution the UN has recognised the specific need to protect this group of people and we will continue to work with our churches and other organisations to highlight the work that is still needed.”

The Anglican Alliance, which helps to co-ordinate the activities of Anglican relief and development agencies, developed a resource in partnership with Anglican churches in Burundi and Zambia to help community engagement with faith communities and people with disabilities in refugee camps. The resource, rolled out in 2014, has been helping faith communities understand people living with disability and the challenges they face. It also aims to change attitudes and provide steps for practical change.

Disaster Response and Resilience Manager for the Anglican Alliance, Dr Janice Proud, said: “I am delighted to learn of the United Nations Security Council. From conversations with the church where there is armed conflict, I know that the elderly and people with disabilities are often not able to flee when armed groups sweep into their town or village. I have heard the distress from families in refugee camps who have had to leave behind or lost on the way people with disabilities, who have not been able to keep up as they fled. The intention of this resolution is to ensure that people with disabilities are protected, so that elderly women are not slaughtered when, unable to flee, they shelter in the church, as tragically happened in Bor, South Sudan as the latest civil war started.”

“This resolution also gives the church and others an opportunity to work with people with disabilities and ensure that they are able to fully participate in relief distribution, that their needs are met, that they can contribute, by sharing what would make their inclusion easier and how they would like discrimination tackled. Our resource, ‘A better life together’, is a useful tool to support such work with faith leaders in refugee camps.”