FEEDBACK – Addressing the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action: A European perspective

Posted by: on Dec 15, 2017 | No Comments

On 6 December, the European Disability Forum (EDF), CBM International and Handicap International organised an event in the European Parliament on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action.

Within the framework of the IDDC European Disability and Development Week, the event was also organised at the side-lines of the 4th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities organised by EDF and the European Parliament. In this occasion, the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides announced new measures to support people with disabilities in crises, especially the development of EU develop standards in all EU humanitarian projects (read the announcement).

MEP Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D); Jean Van Wetter, General Director at HI Belgium; Foteini Zafeiropoulou, NCDP in Greece; Abia Akram, co-chair of the Asia Pacific Women with Disabilities United; Martin Suvatne, NRC; Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Director ECHO.

Foteini Zafeiropoulou, NCDP in Greece; Abia Akram, co-chair of the Asia Pacific Women with Disabilities United; Jean Van Wetter, General Director at HI Belgium; MEP Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D); Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Director ECHO; Martin Suvatne, NRC.

Participants widely welcomed the European Union intention to strengthen their measures to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in EU-funded humanitarian action. The EU should show leadership to ensure that humanitarian actors dedicate enough time and resources to the full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action (read the Charter).

Why should we address the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian aid at European level?

During the event, hosted by MEP Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D), participants were reminded of the threats faced by person with disabilities in crisis situations and the momentum created by the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit to collectively work towards humanitarian action that is truly inclusive of persons with disabilities through the adoption of a Charter. The European Union, as biggest aid donor in the world, cannot ignore this issue or the dynamic to address it. Jean Van Wetter, General Director at Handicap International Belgium, mentioned the core commitments which are at the heart of the Charter initiative and resonate with the European Union’s core values: non-discrimination; participation of persons with disabilities; development and implementation of inclusive policy; inclusive response and services; and ensuring strong cooperation and coordination between stakeholders, including organizations of persons with disabilities.

How to address the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian aid?

Thanks to the inspiring interventions of representatives of organisations of persons with disabilities, concrete suggestions were shared. Foteini Zafeiropoulou, Member of the Executive Secretariat of the National Confederation of Disabled People in Greece (NCDP), presented an innovative partnership with UNHCR on a programme to advocate for and support inclusive humanitarian response and early recovery for refugees with disabilities and chronic diseases in Greece.

Asylum seekers with disabilities are an invisible group of individuals who are forced to leave their countries in strongly disadvantaged situations. Apart from the challenge to survive the journey, refugees with disabilities encounter several barriers while being hosted in the hot spots and relief centers.  They may face lack of accessibility to assistance and protection risks, lack of access to medical care, and insufficient access to assistive technology which could make communication and mobility easier”, said Mrs. Zafeiropoulou. “Women, children, unaccompanied minors, and all persons with disabilities face an even higher risk of being discriminated or excluded from receiving appropriate support.”

Abia Akram, co-chair of the Asia Pacific Women with Disabilities United, shared her experience as founder of the Aging and Disability Task Force in Pakistan, which enable organisations of persons with disabilities to participate in the coordination mechanisms for the formulation of preparedness plans, within the context of the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan in 2005.

We were not included in any of the discussionS ”, she says.  “We therefore took the initiative to start the Aging and Disability Task Force, where all the key international organizations and disabled people organizations joined hands together.”  She highlights: “This is how we really bring the real voices from the grass roots because these disabled people organizations have the experience of the grass-roots level, so we have engaged and empowered them to be part of the discussions”.

The panelists shared common visions and experiences on the current gaps, needs and challenges hindering mainstream NGOs ensuring the full and effective inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s Head of Core Competencies Unit, Martin Suvatne, put forward NRC operational commitment to work more with organizations of persons with disabilities, to ensure an inclusive and participative response.

He explained that in humanitarian operations, NGOs often lack specialized staff, firsthand knowledge, and contextual understanding. “It’s about quick impact”, he explained.  “But meaningful solutions need to be tailor made.  (…) We have to stand for minimum quality standards and minimum requirements”. He mentioned the progresses made recently by the humanitarian sector in defining what an appropriate response is. However, “we often see that not all organizations of people with disabilities are able to work within the humanitarian system. It’s complicated. We are complicated.  We have cluster coordination, standards, mechanisms and so on.  Often we are not speaking their language and they are not speaking our language.”

EU role towards a humanitarian action that is inclusive of persons with disabilities

All participants, both from civil society and from European institutions, agreed on the necessity to gain more support to implement the commitments made under the CRPD and the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. Jean-Louis De Brouwer, ECHO Director Humanitarian and Civil Protection Operations, built on Commissioner Stylianides announcement (read the announcement) and reaffirmed the European Commission commitment to ensure equal access to humanitarian response for people with disabilities and to promote a continued mobilization at global level, including with UN agencies, to showcase the EU support to the CRPD and the Charter.

The question now is how to be much more operational in implementing this commitment”, he says. “For the first time, our 2018 humanitarian implementation plan highlight that partners need to ensure inclusiveness for the benefit of people with disabilities in the proposed actions”, and “we support the development of the Inter Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action” (read more about the IASC Guidelines). Building on the Commissioner announcement, De Brouwer mentioned that the Commission has decided to “move towards more granular standards that (…) would help guide our partners when implementing intervention which include or should benefit to persons with disabilities.” Better data collection, data analysis and capacity building are also essential. “UN agencies, mainstream NGOs should have in-built capacity to deal with the situation of persons with disabilities”, he said.