People with disabilities are ‘‘one of the more vulnerable and socially excluded groups in any displaced or conflict-affected community’’ (Pearce et al, 2016: 119).
When will this end?
In displacement processes throughout the world, the basic needs of displaced people with disabilities are too often unmet and, to a great extent, still ignored, leading to grave consequences (IDMC, 2020). The establishment of robust disability-inclusive approaches is long overdue, but it is a prerequisite so that the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with disabilities are ensured across all spectrums.
It is acknowledged and proven that forced displacement situations and migration can cause or result in disabilities or even exacerbate the already existent ones (Migration Data Portal, 2022). It is more likely for refugees and migrants with disabilities to be disproportionately affected and marginalised in every phase of their lives due to societal and physical obstacles, like the impossibility of accessing basic human rights such as information on health care and rehabilitation. They not only live through sexual exploitation, exclusion from education access, domestic abuse and discrimination, but their impairments, sensory, mental, intellectual, and above all, mental, together with the constant physical, societal, and environmental barriers, further impede their involvement in the life of the community equally and fairly ((Buye, 2021).
Nevertheless, data on forced displacement and disability is way inadequate and scarce due to the fact that information is not frequently collected. When data are indeed gathered, the procedures are rather inconsistent; something which makes their assessment across countries even more difficult. An additional challenge in the comparison of data is the way that ‘disability’ is defined, since each country and organisation has their own standards and characteristics for this. As a result, there exist no formal international figures on the universal occurrence of disability among internally displaced persons – there are only estimates at best (Migration Data Portal, 2022).
Gaps and disparities include the non-availability and/or non-existence of up-to-date information as well as absence of coherent datasets and methods of collection; issues that must be tackled in order to paint the international picture of disability and human mobility clearly and unambiguously, in turn helping the application of policymaking and the targeting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Migration Data Portal, 2022).
Report of the High Commissioner
All of the above are affirmed by the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced people, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary. Specifically, she said that ‘‘Persons with disabilities may face discrimination before and during displacement, encounter barriers to accessing specific displacement-related information, humanitarian assistance and services, including employment and social protection, while they often face multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination based on other grounds, such as gender, age, ethnicity, religion, group affiliation and displacement itself’’ (OHCHR I, 2020).
In her report before the Human Rights Council, she touched upon three key points:
1. IDPs with disabilities should not be forgotten or abandoned in any policy support, protection or awareness enacted by the States, UN agencies or others.
2. The significance of contribution and inclusion of IDPs with disability organisations and groups in any type of programme.
3. She underlined the fact that IDPs with disabilities have every possible right to the guarantee and enjoyment of their human rights to the full extent by law.
(OHCHR I, 2020; OHCHR II, 2020)
However, she also stressed the broadly recognised issue of lack of valid data on persons with disabilities across internally displaced populations that poses an important obstacle and a potential danger in the planning, enactment, evaluation, analysis and monitoring of approaches to displacement state of affairs. According to her, numerous factors play a part in the ‘‘under-identification of internally displaced persons’’, among them stigmatisation. not enough capacity, accessibility and/or prioritisation, and vague definitions of disability, in particular when it comes to psychosocial functioning.
The High Commissioner continued: ‘‘The operational, political and conceptual constraints on collecting information more generally on internally displaced persons make collecting and analysing data on displaced persons with disabilities particularly complex’’ (OHCHR, 2020; UNHCR, 2017) – in essence confirming what has been said so far.
Nigeria is failing its people
Cecilia Jimenez-Damary further focused on the fact that the challenges of IDPs with disabilities ‘’may be overlooked by aid and development providers. Compounding this marginalisation, persons with disabilities continue to be considered primarily as recipients of aid: their potential to make contributions unexplored’’ (OHCHR II, 2020).
These words echo in the northcentral Nigerian state where the Benue Camp is situated and where a large number of internally displaced persons with disabilities are neglected by the state authorities. The government of Nigeria has signed in 2021 the National Policy on IDPs which was initially launched in 2012, and which declares that all IDPs with disability or in poor health should obtain practicable medical healthcare, including social and psychological services whenever essential, along with mobility equipment i.e. hearing aid devices, wheelchairs, walkers, evacuating chairs, crutches and anything other essential.
A section of this Policy had expressly stated that “in the construction of camp infrastructure, provision should be made for entrance ramps, non-slippery floors, wide entrances/exits, and wide lavatories that can accommodate wheelchairs. Provision of these will aid their access to sleeping areas, conveniences, and dispensaries. Internally displaced persons with disability in need of specialised care should be provided with such, including caregivers to assist those with ambulatory problems or intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sign language interpreters are to be provided to aid communication with the deaf and physiotherapists, especially for those who have newly acquired disability (amputees) during the crises that displaced them” (HumAngle, 2022). In spite of the Policy indicating that children with disabilities should be registered in schools around the area that match their individual needs, the affected children are in fact neglected.
The Chairman of the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities in Benue, Bem Ashe, expressed his reaction to this: “We can only vouch for the intervention coming from CSOs and NGOs. This, although limited, has been the only aid. I’ve tried to advocate for inclusiveness and quality representation. The current government is trying but not enough for the deformed persons.” It is rather disappointing that the Benue government has taken the decision through the State Emergency Management Agency, (SEMA) to prohibit and ban some IDP camps filled with agony and distress for those with disabilities. Particularly, this same government had asserted that camps like Tse Yandev and Nepal Quarters are illegal, claiming that residents in neighbouring communities pose as IDPs (HumAngle, 2022).
Taking one last look at the OHCHR Report, the demand for visibility has been highly emphasised: “The best way to include IDPs with disabilities (in projects and policies) is to ensure that they are visible and that there are very specific programs that will really be implemented with them or with organisations that serve them, that will lead to their protection and to their inclusion in assistance” (OHCHR I, 2020; OHCHR II, 2020).
In a series of recommendations made by the High Commissioner, it has been continuously highlighted that the ‘‘States and other humanitarian and development actors need to shift from awareness of disability to a proactive human rights-based disability inclusion strategy to manage internal displacement. [They] all have a role to play in implementing change, reducing stigma and violence by promoting inclusion and increasing the participation of organisations of persons with disabilities in managing and finding durable solutions for internal displacement. […] Despite inherent challenges, collecting more comprehensive data about numbers, profiles, barriers and the specific requirements of persons with disabilities in displacement contexts is a priority for informing effective and inclusive protection and assistance responses and facilitating durable solutions for them’’ (OHCHR I, 2020).
As Cecilia Jimenez-Damary added: “Persons with disabilities, wherever they are, should actually be part and parcel of solutions and not be seen as problems, and the best way to do this is to enable them to participate in the management of their lives.’’ And this says it all – we could not agree more.