Anjeline Okola Charles, programme executive secretary for WCC-EDAN. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC
31 July 2019
When disability advocates met this summer in Lebanon, they saw first-hand the difficulties facing persons with disabilities in refugee camps and zones of conflict in the Middle East.
“Poor accessibility and lack of reasonable accommodation in the refugee camps have been a major challenge and deserve the attention of the relevant authorities,” said Anjeline Okola Charles, the programme executive secretary for the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC-EDAN).
“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,” she said.
EDAN’s international reference group and regional coordinators welcomed recent passage by the UN Security Council of its first-ever resolution on protection of persons with disabilities in conflict.
“This is a very powerful statement from the Security Council,” said Charles. “It has been a great concern to persons with disabilities. Despite being among the groups that were most affected by all kinds of humanitarian emergencies, persons with disabilities have been the most invisible. Persons with disabilities often face greater challenges in accessing and benefiting from humanitarian actions, owing to the wide existence of discrimination, lack of support services and the absence of proper training and awareness among humanitarian actors.”
The United Nations Security Council resolution, passed unanimously on 20 June, is aimed to protect people with disabilities in armed conflict and ensure that they have equal access to humanitarian assistance.
The resolution stresses the disproportionate impact of armed conflict and related humanitarian crises on persons with disabilities and the overall responsibility of parties to armed conflict to protect civilians, says Charles. It recalls the universality of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people. It also recognises the importance of contributions by persons with disabilities to, among other things, conflict prevention, reconstruction, peacebuilding, and addressing the root causes of conflict. The resolution also notes the particular barriers faced by persons with disabilities in accessing justice.
EDAN has long called for efforts to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in the goals, targets and indicators of national policies and action plans relating to humanitarian action and disaster risk management.
Although she finds the resolution encouraging, there remains much to do, says Charles. United Nations agencies, church agencies, governmental and non-governmental organizations and, in particular, donors need to work in partnership to discharge their own responsibilities and to ensure that humanitarian responses and actions are inclusive of and accessible to refugees with disabilities.