The number of Palestine refugees registered by UNRWA recently grew to 5.7 million (from 5.5 million in 2019) in all its five field of operations in Jordan, Lebanon,
Syria, Gaza and the West Bank. Among them are Palestine refugees with disabilities, who have long-term impairments, which in interactions with attitudinal, institutional, and environmental barriers prevent their full and effective participation on an equal basis with others in society. Persons with disabilities constitute an estimated 15 per cent of the global population1, and may constitute a higher percentage in humanitarian contexts, such as Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, in particular, which are UNRWA fields of operations.
The findings of the Summer 2020 Report Series: Disability Overview (Humanitarian Needs Assessment Programme, Syria) indicated that 25 per cent (23 per cent of females; 27 per cent of males) of persons above the age of 12 in Syria has a disability. Among them are Palestine refugees. The higher prevalence is connected with the ongoing armed conflict. While 31 per cent of households have a family member with a disability, only 43 per cent of persons with disabilities compared with 50 per cent of individuals without a disability reported a paid employment in the past 3 months in Syria.
Persons with disabilities experience barriers which make it difficult to participate in their societies daily. They are, therefore, often excluded from basic services such as, education, health, employment, water, sanitation and hygiene. Disability, a social disadvantage, also operates in a vicious cycle with respect to poverty. When people are poor, they may be prone to acquiring permanent impairments due to inadequate access to healthcare services, malnutrition, high-risk jobs, and unwholesome living conditions. And when they acquire long-term impairments, they face barriers to basic services and livelihood. These points are true for Palestine refugees with disabilities.
When crises happen, the associated insecurity, disruption of services, breakdown of infrastructure and loss of social networks impacts negatively on everyone.
However, for individuals with disabilities, this may be exacerbated by the attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that they face. They are most likely to be left behind, to lose their assistive devices and essential medications and to be denied access to their regular environment which they had adapted to over the years. They are also likely to feel the impact of losing their support networks and access to critical services.
The current COVID-19 crisis has further worsened the situations of Palestine refugees with disabilities. The pandemic has further exposed the structural barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing basic services. For example, many children with disabilities are unable to access remote learning on an equal basis with their peers with disabilities. Due to closure of services, the distribution and maintenance of assistive devices became difficult, and access was rationed at times due to limited supplies. For example, findings of the socioeconomic impact assessment conducted in Syria Field Office revealed that Palestine refugees with disabilities in the surveyed households experienced tension and fear; lack of medical supplies and lack of medical services. Head of households with disabilities were also less likely (35%) to have a job than heads of households without disabilities (57%). Besides the limited access to services, persons with disabilities may be more prone to contracting the COVID-19 virus due to their dependence on others for caregiving and support, as well as the need to touch surfaces more than usual due to the nature of their impairments. Although official data is scarce, there are anecdotal reported cases of COVID-19 infection among Palestine refugees with disabilities. This stresses the importance of inclusive humanitarian assistance and enhanced protection to Palestine refugees with disabilities.
This report, therefore, provides a summary of UNRWA activities toward inclusion of Palestine refugees with disabilities from 2020 quarters one to three