Disability and asylum: 3 key measures the Global Compact for Migration should commit to

Friday 9 March marked the beginning of the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games. During the next few days, hundreds of athletes living with an impairment will inspire the world with their outstanding performances. This is the perfect time to call policy-makers to take the necessary measures to improve disabled people’s living conditions, notably those fleeing to safety. Years ago, Both the EU and its Member States ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). As 10 million disabled persons are currently estimated to be forcibly displaced, it is urgent that signatories comply with their obligations. In this context, the upcoming Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a remarkable opportunity to finally make refugees with disabilities a priority.

So much still remains to be done to ensure that disabled people’s fundamental rights are respected during their journey to safety, asylum and integration. We have selected the 3 crucial and concrete measures negotiators at the 2018 Global Compact should commit to now!

  1. Identify disabilities

Displacement + Impairment = Challenges by Paola Mikaba

In war-torn regions, deaf individuals are for example left behind when villages evacuate because they can’t hear bombings nor sirens. Or simply because they are isolated. When people with disabilities do manage to flee, screening processes in host countries often fail to identify their impairments upon arrival. This is in complete violation of the UN Convention – signed by all EU Member States – which sets out their obligation to design asylum processes in a way that enables persons with disabilities to fully and fairly represent their claims. The lack of identification has disastrous consequences. It prevents asylum seekers from being accommodated in adapted housing and from accessing healthcare, psycho-social support or assistive technology for better mobility and communication. To address these barriers linked to the lack of identification, signatories of the CRPD urgently need to train agents responsible for the screening and processing asylum applications so that they can effectively identify impairments, including less visible ones like mental disabilities.

  1. Collect data

The World Health Organization estimates that around 15% of all 65 million displaced people live with an impairment. But estimations are not good enough. Why are there no precise data being collected on them while statistics on victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable groups are available? All are entitled to specific rights. However, in practice, refugees with disabilities do not enjoy these rights enshrined in the CRPD, as described in our December article featuring stories of disabled refugees. This multiplies the already enormous challenges linked to the process of fleeing a country and settling in another. In order to better prepare reception, plan concrete measures and anticipate capacity issues in the provision of psycho- social support and services, Members States need to put in place infrastructures that enable data collection during the screening process: which type of impairment? How many people? Which Difficulties do they encountered? Etc.

  1. Put aside dedicated funds.

The European Union ratified the CRPD in 2010 and consequently has the legal obligation to establish instruments and measures that protect people with disabilities in situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters. 5 years after its signature however, the “refugee crisis” of 2015 revealed the unpreparedness of the EU. Since then, no concrete measure has been taken and no specific directive has been adopted to address particular barriers and hurdles people with disabilities are confronted to in the process of seeking and fully benefiting from international protection.

The UN Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities encouraged the EU to explain how it will ensure that humanitarian aid and relief are inclusive of- and accessible to all persons with disabilities. Human Right Watch also urged the Commission to ensure that the allocated aid benefits all refugees, including people with disabilities. On 27 February 2018, the EU Commissioner of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, pointed out that the EU has an important role to play in the adoption of the Global Compact. He emphasized that a proper screening of new arrivals and use of databases are central in that context. One of the most effective tool for the EU will be for it to earmark dedicated financial resources for persons with disabilities.

In the lead up to the new Global Compact for Migration to be adopted this year, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities released a Joint Statement calling upon States to ensure that the intergovernmental negotiations leading to the adoption of the framework align with- and reflect core international human rights. Several other voices, including the European Disability Forum, also expressed the need to make refugees with disability a priority of this framework. The Global Compact for Migration should outline the requirements to identify persons with disabilities in reception and detention centres in order to adopt appropriate standards of living and support services, to collect data to enable a better assessment of needs and to put aside dedicated funds to ensure proper identification and data collection.

Testimonies of refugees with disabilities describing the hardship of fleeing their countries of origin have made headlines. Now it is time to shed light on actions that need to be taken to ensure a dignified reception of displaced people with disability.