* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
By Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK
Last week the Home Office decided to suspend the entry of disabled child refugees through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. This was intended to re-settle 3,000 vulnerable children from countries including Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. As someone who has worked directly supporting disabled people in humanitarian emergencies and as the Executive Director of a charity uniquely specialised in this area, I feel it is my duty to speak out by saying how wrong this decision is.
Sadly we know from experience that people with disabilities are often excluded and forgotten during a crisis. We also know that children are the first victims of conflicts and are particularly vulnerable. The government’s decision means that young disabled children who have already witnessed, and sometimes suffered, horrific violence in their home country will still suffer and keep on living in appalling conditions.
Handicap International supports and protects disabled children from war-torn countries. Since March 2011 and the start of the civil war in Syria, neighbouring countries have taken in nearly 5 million refugees who have been forced to flee the violence in their home country.
So far Handicap International has supported more than 550,000 people in the region. We provide vital care for adults and children with disabilities and those injured in the conflict. To date, we have provided over 86,000 people with rehabilitation care. We have distributed mobility aids to over 97,000 people. We have also fitted over 9,000 people with prosthetic limbs and orthoses. We should always make sure that disabled people have access to the care they need.
In 2015, Handicap International submitted evidence and recommendations to the UK government about resettlement of Syrian refugees in the UK. We also helped in drawing up DFID’s Disability Framework, in which humanitarian assistance is one of the priorities. Our aim has always been to make sure that the UK leaves no one behind and that the plans developed by the government meet the needs of disabled refugees. Following our recommendations, the UK government agreed that disabled and other vulnerable refugees are at risk. They acknowledged that adequate processes and funding should be put in place to enable them to be resettled. Resettlement is not a solution for all disabled children, but it is the only answer for some of them.
Now, the government is going back on its stated intention, leaving vulnerable children exposed. Is it a question of lack of funding and processes to make it happen? Or is it a lack of political will?
Disabled refugees are counting on us. We owe it to them to speak out. We must ask ourselves “have we done enough?”
The UK government should live up to their promises and leave no disabled child behind.