PEOPLE ON THE MOVE; A spotlight on refugees with disabilities

Source: The Conversation, 2019

“I was helping my father to make a fire when we felt the earth shake and our house collapsed. We lost everything. Now, we sleep on the street, under a tarp. I’m afraid to sleep under a roof again.” -11 yr old girl affected by earthquake in Haiti (UNICEF 2011).

How do you deal with sleeping and waking up to realize that you suddenly have to pick up your clothes or just yourself, and begin a journey to an unknown destination?

Have you ever blinked your eyes open to the sight of a building collapsing right next to you, or a sudden shaking of the whole earth around you?

Source: Global news, 2018

How about a sudden fire outbreak, blazing fiercely from the forest behind your street, moving towards your apartment with no sight of its source? Do you ever imagine how fast you could run and what items you would take with you?

How do persons with disabilities escape?

In 2020, the number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution, and human rights violations, rose to nearly 82.4 million, a four percent increase on top of the already 79.5 million people, recorded at the end of 2019.

UNHCR, 2021


In Baghdad, some persons with intellectual disabilities were used as suicide bombers by terrorists groups (Grove et al, 2010).

Upon arrival at the closest humanitarian shelter or refugee camp, persons with disabilities still struggle to get equal access to humanitarian services like; WASH facilities, health care, food and even information. Many reports from research on this topic highlights the same kinds of needs and the causes of vulnerabilities amongst refugees with disabilities.

“She is unhappy about the way she was kicked out of the hospital–they told her that a new injured patient should take her place and gave no recommendations about what should happen next.” — the situation of a Syrian refugee with physical disability who sustained gunshot injury at her back in Northern Lesbon (WRC, 2013 ).

Looking at the recurrent situation in the world today; the natural disasters, protracted nature of conflicts, the global pandemic and environmental threats, can we say that hope is close-by to persons living with disabilities? Do we think it would be a life long journey?

“I want to feel productive–maybe we could do theatre or some other program. I used to do many things in Syria, but now I am doing nothing. I feel depressed about that. Let’s be creative–we need a space and then we can do things together.”- Man with a physical disability in Tripoli (WRC, 2013 ).

Understanding the intersectional issues surrounding the discrimination of persons with disabilities and associated risks, pins the definition of the problem to the board. The question on reasonable accommodation, meaningful participation, and disability data disaggregation still remains relative among drivers of social change.

How humanitarians operationalize disability inclusion in the most practicable way is still an ongoing conversation which I am happy to be part of, and contribute towards in the coming months, as I dive into my thesis in fulfillment of a study requirement for the Master’s in International Humanitarian Action (NOHA+).

Let us keep the conversation going!!

Deborah Brown Majekodunmi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *