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Refugees with Disabilities Face Hardships in Camps

An estimated 3.5 million displaced people live with disabilities in refugee camps around the world. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children says these refugees have limited access to resources. VOA Correspondent Barbara Schoetzau voices this report by Maha Saad from New York.

The most recent report from the Women's Commission cites refugees with disabilities as an underserved community.

The Director of Protection for the Women's Commission, Dale Buscher, says that these refugees are an invisible group.

"They live in dismal refugee camps," said Buscher. "And they live in squalor, in shanty towns, in urban slums in Cairo, Bangkok, and Amman, among other places. We learned that these people are often not even identified. No one knows they are there or how many of them there are."

The report looks at camps and urban environments in Darfur, Ecuador, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, Thailand, and Yemen finding that refugees do not have access to basic needs, such as water, food, education, and health services.

Buscher talks about some of the difficulties refugees face.

"The displaced in Darfur, for example, report being pushed and shoved and forced to the back of the food line," said Buscher. "In Yemen, refugees show up at 5 a.m. to get in line at the health clinic and wait all day on the floor to be seen by a doctor or a nurse. In addition, we found that there are seldom specialized or targeted services for refugees with disabilities."

Abdi Salah, a Somalian refugee now living in Atlanta, Georgia, was disabled by polio at the age of one. He shares his experience living in a refugee camp in Kenya, where he was displaced after civil war broke out in Somalia in 1990.

"The most difficulties that I faced in the refugee camp were going to school, sustaining my life with the basic needs, such as fetching water, going for ration, and collecting firewoods," said Salah. "All of those were very hard for me at the refugee camp. I had friends who were helping me with all of those, but it was really unhappy for me not to help with them with at least one of those basic things."

Although disabled refugees are struggling in many areas and facing discrimination and harassment, the report also finds that some steps are being taken to accommodate them. These include programs encouraging children with disabilities to go to school and vocational training programs allowing refugees to earn meager incomes.

Buscher and Salah both hope that the report will raise awareness for refugees with disabilities and make their living conditions better.