Around the world, an estimated 6.7 million persons
with disabilities are forcibly displaced as a result of
persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human
rights violations. They leave their homes to seek
safety and protection elsewhere, either within their
own country or across borders in other countries.
They live in rural towns and urban centers, as well as
in refugee and internally displaced persons camps.
Some displaced people have lived their entire life with
a disability. Others have acquired new disabilities, as
a result of injuries relating to conflict or poor access
to health care.
Persons with disabilities remain one of the most
vulnerable and socially excluded groups in any
displaced community. They may be hidden in shelters,
missed in assessments and not consulted in the design
of programs or activities. Persons with disabilities
have difficulty accessing humanitarian assistance
due to a variety of societal, environmental
and communication barriers. This
increases their protection risks,
including violence, abuse and
exploitation. There is growing
evidence that rates of violence
may be 4-10 times greater
among persons with
disabilities than their non-
disabled peers. This has
significant implications for
their physical protection in
situations of displacement
where community structures
and social norms may be altered. Women, children
and older persons with disabilities are particularly
vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and
violence, including gender-based violence, and they
may have difficulty accessing support and services
that could reduce their risk and vulnerability. Their
potential to contribute and participate in humanitarian
and development programming is also seldom
recognized, leaving their skills and capacities under-
utilized in the community.
The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) seeks to
promote full access and inclusion for persons with
disabilities across all humanitarian programs and
services, and to ensure that these services recognize
and build on the capacities and contributions of
persons with disabilities. We work towards this goal
by conducting advocacy, research and capacity
development initiatives to support disability-
inclusive refugee policy and practice at
international and country levels.
Putting Refugees with Disabilities
on the Map
The WRC began its work in this
area in 2005. To address the
gap in knowledge on this issue
and build the evidence so
we could conduct credible
advocacy with humanitarian
actors, we undertook a
six-month research project
Disabilities among
refugees and
“When I was young, I was
not doing what other
people do, like ride a bike
and play. I want them
[children with disabilities]
to believe that they can do
anything in the world.”
Member of grassroots disability
association in a refugee camp in Ethiopia
to assess the situation of persons with disabilities
among displaced and conflict-affected populations,
conducting assessments in five countries—
Ecuador, Jordan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen. Our
report Disabilities among Refugees and Conflict-
Affected Populations documented existing services
for displaced persons with disabilities, identified
gaps and good practices and made concrete
recommendations on how to improve services,
protection and participation for this neglected
population. Drawing on the findings of this research,
the WRC published a Resource Kit for Fieldworkers,
and conducted advocacy with a coalition of NGOs to
advance commitments on disability inclusion by the
United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In 2010,
UNHCR’s governing body adopted an Executive
Committee Conclusion on Refugees with Disabilities
that mandates the agency’s offices to promote
access and inclusion for refugees with disabilities.
Promoting Change in Practice at Field Levels
Since 2011, the WRC has been partnering with
UNHCR on the global rollout of the refugee
agency’s guidance on Working with Persons with
Disabilities in Forced Displacement. We have
provided technical support and training for UNHCR
country offices, their implementing partners and
disability organizations in eight countries—India
(New Delhi), Uganda, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal,
Ethiopia, Philippines (Mindanao) and Lebanon. Our
work has cut across humanitarian settings—urban
and camp refugee contexts, internal displacement
and complex large-scale crises, such as the Syrian
refugee response. We have facilitated participatory
workshops, reaching over 390 humanitarian actors,
promoting sharing of knowledge and action planning
to translate guidance into practice at field levels. Our
report Disability Inclusion: Translating Policy into
Practice in Humanitarian Action documents positive
practices and ongoing challenges to promote
disability inclusion across UNHCR, providing lessons
and recommendations for other organizations and
the wider humanitarian community.
Listening and Learning from Refugees
with Disabilities
Refugees and displaced persons with disabilities are
at the center of our work, and we seek to facilitate
their participation and voice in all our activities. In the
course of this project, WRC staff have consulted with
over 900 refugees, including persons with disabilities
and their care-givers to identify their concerns, but
also their suggestions for change. In our field visits,
we facilitate activities with refugees to develop ideas
for change that they then present to organizations
and stakeholders in workshops, bridging the gap
between persons with disabilities and the agency
staff who implement refugee programs. We also
facilitate contact between refugees and displaced
persons with disabilities and host-country Disabled
People’s Organizations (DPOs), linking them to the
wider disability movement.
Next Steps: What Works Where and Why
in Disability Inclusion
WRC is now seeking to expand the evidence base on
effective strategies for disability inclusion in different
humanitarian operations—such as prolonged refugee
settings, emergency or complex crises, and post-
conflict reconstruction—for women, children and
youth with disabilities. Our current activities explore
the factors that make someone more vulnerable or
more resilient to protection concerns in a humanitarian
crisis. In this way we can identify effective strategies
that will be better tailored to the diverse needs and
capacities of persons with disabilities. We are:
• promoting change in practice at the feld level
through the provision of technical support to
humanitarian partners in different operational
contexts and strategic sectors, including the
current Syrian crisis;
• piloting and evaluating strategies for disability
inclusion in gender-based violence programming
in humanitarian settings, and designing technical
tools and resources for field practitioners;
• supporting DPOs to engage more in refugee
issues at country, regional and global levels through
awareness-raising, training and the provision of
sub-grants in selected contexts or projects;
• promoting policy and practice change within
the broader humanitarian community through
the dissemination of findings and reports from
field work, and targeted communication and
advocacy campaigns with UN agencies,
nongovernmental organizations, donors and
humanitarian practitioners.
To learn more about our work on refugees with
disabilities, go to:
António Guterres,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Too often invisible, too
often forgotten and too often
overlooked, refugees with
disabilities are among the most
isolated, socially excluded and
marginalized of all displaced
populations...Yet, refugees
with disabilities possess
valuable skills, knowledge
and experience, and they wish
and deserve to be given the
opportunities to use them.

An estimated 6.7 million persons with disabilities
are currently displaced.
Women, children and older persons with disabilities
are particularly vulnerable to discrimination,
exploitation and violence, and they may have
difficulty accessing support and services that could
reduce their risk and vulnerability.
Their potential to contribute and participate in
solutions is seldom recognized.
Published a groundbreaking report documenting
gaps in services, produced a resource kit to support
service providers and successfully pushed for policy
change within UNHCR to promote access and
inclusion for refugees with disabilities.
Provided technical support to UNHCR and its
partners in eight countries, promoting the translation
of policy and guidance into practice at field levels.
Documented and shared lessons learned with the
wider humanitarian community.

Expand the evidence base on effective strategies
for disability inclusion in different humanitarian
operations for women, children and youth with
Pilot and evaluate strategies for disability inclusion
in GBV programming in humanitarian settings, and
design technical tools and resources.
Support Disabled People’s Organizations to
engage more in refugee issues.
Advocate for improved programming for women,
children and youth with disabilities at the
international level.
The Issue
Our Response
Next Steps


OUR MISSION: To improve the lives and protect
the rights of women, children and youth displaced by
conflict and crisis. We research their needs, identify
solutions and advocate for programs and policies
to strengthen their resilience and drive change in
humanitarian practice.
OUR VISION: A world in which refugee and
internally displaced women, children and youth are
safe, healthy and self-reliant; have their human rights
respected and protected; and inform and drive their
own solutions and development.
HOW WE WORK: Through research and fact-finding
field missions, we assess and identify best practices
and find solutions on critical issues that include
lifesaving reproductive health care, dignified
livelihoods for refugees and, in the U.S., fair treatment
of women, children and families seeking asylum.
On Capitol Hill, at the United Nations and with
humanitarian organizations and governments, we
push for improvements in refugee policy and practice
until measurable long-term change is realized.
GET INVOLVED: Learn about the ways you can help
ensure that our far-reaching, life-saving advocacy for
women, children and young people continues. To sign
up for our action alerts and to make a tax-deductible
donation, please go to:
Photo credits:
Cover: WRC/Emma Pearce
UNHCR/R. Gangale; WRC; Andre Lambertson;
IOM/Jeff Labovitz; UNHCR; WRC
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
212.551.3115 | info@wrcommission.org
Women’s Refugee Commission

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