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Children living with Disability in East African Refugee Communities

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

It’s no surprise that specific social groups have more difficulty than others in refugee communities, especially those with disabilities. In a study done by Islamic Relief Worldwide, it is noted that, ‘The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15% of the world’s population are living with some form of disability […] Furthermore, about 9.3 million persons with disabilities are forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations” (2021, p.7). ; Unfortunately, this displacement comes with another set of excruciating challenges: lack of specialized healthcare and centers of operation, struggling to construct access to education for children with disabilities (p.8). , as well as seemingly specific struggles for females with disabilities within the walls of refugee shelters, who are even more likely to experience acts of SGBV (Sexual and Gender-based Violence) (p.17). Sadly, the physical structures of these refugee camps are tightly-knit, overcrowded, and do not offer accessibility to water resources, latrines, and bathing areas that PWD (People with Disabilities) need to acquire (p.17).

Moreover, challenges occur regarding the identification process for refugee registration, and “a lack of access to mainstream assistance programs due to institutional, attitudinal, physical and information and communication barriers” (Islamic Relief Worldwide, 2021, p.7). The UNHCR remarks that struggle with stigmas and discrimination plays an immense role in the lives of PWD; according to findings collected for BioMed Central, “The Women’s Refugee Commission found that emotional abuse faced by children with disabilities [were worsened] when [they were taught] in segregated classrooms” (Werner et al., 2021, para.6). But community-based sessions, in partnerships with local governments and NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) are attempting to change this conversation.

“In Zimbabwe, referral networks were formed with the Government of Zimbabwe and NGOs outside of the camp in order to provide training to[PWD as well as social support and training to caregivers of children with disabilities […]” (UNHCR, p.22);. and organizations, like Humanity & Inclusion, aim to assist individuals in refugee camps, including advocating for PWD by creating regional projects in places like Kenya and Tanzania to “help implement the International Convention of People with Disabilities” (para.9). and provide provisions like wheelchairs to those in need (para.5). Education and training surrounding PWD is forging a path towards compassionate community and accessibility to support, like “the National Fund for the Disabled of Kenya (NDFK), [where PWDs are now receiving] trade tools for income creation and livelihood” (Miriti, 2021, para.2-1).

Article by: Avery De Cloedt


Division of International Protection, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees . (2016). UNHCR Age, Gender and Diversity Accountability Report 2015. Geneva 2.

Humanity & Inclusion. (n.d.). Kenya. HI. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from https://www.hi-

Islamic Relief Worldwide. (2021, October). Islamic Relief Worldwide: Tigray Refugees with Disabilities in Eastern Sudan Camps. Birmingham.

Miriti, S. (2021, December 14). Scores of persons with disabilities in Marsabit get various tools of trade . MyGov. Retrieved August 27, 2022, from act=article&id=792

Werner, K., St. Arnold, G., & Crea, T. M. (2021, July 23). Using a community-based system dynamics approach for Understanding Inclusion and wellbeing: A case study of special needs education in an eastern African refugee camp - conflict and health. BioMed Central. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from


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