Refuge: Humanity & Inclusion

The Refuge series, a production of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, aims to chronicle how Coalition members are addressing the global refugee crisis. The first film in the four-part Refuge series features Humanity & Inclusion’s work to improve the lives of disabled Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

To see how Humanity & Inclusion impacts the lives of Syrian refugees, watch the first film in the series, Refuge: Humanity & Inclusion, and read the article below by Jeff Meer, the U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. In his reflection, Jeff overviews the gap in care for disabled refugees and explains how HI seeks to close that gap. 


Refugees and Disability
By Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion

Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion

I recently received an urgent message from a large provider of refugee relief services in a Middle East country.  “We have an urgent need in the Za’atari refugee camp,” the message read, “one of the refugees there needs to be fitted for an artificial leg, and we hope Humanity & Inclusion (HI) can help.”

This sort of request for assistance by HI is incredibly common.  Why?  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that roughly 15 percent of people on earth (or one in seven of us) live with a disability.  At the same time, the total population of displaced individuals has climbed to the greatest number ever recorded, more than 65 million globally, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

This means that the minimum number of persons with disabilities who are also displaced comes to nearly 9.8 million people, approximately the population of the Bay Area in California, and just slightly smaller than the population of Jakarta, Indonesia, one of the world’s largest cities.  But even this number is almost surely an undercount of the need.

In 2013, HI and HelpAge surveyed thousands of displaced Syrians living in Jordan and Lebanon, and calculated that at least 30 percent (almost double the WHO estimate) had a specific need related to a disability.  One in five displaced Syrians living in Jordan and Lebanon was affected by a physical, sensory or intellectual impairment; one in seven was affected by a chronic illness, and one in 20 suffered from a conflict injury.  Perhaps not surprising in such a population, almost half had problems accomplishing simple daily activities and were twice as likely as the general population to report signs of psychological issues from post-traumatic stress, an important and growing cause of disability.

If this were the case in every displacement, we would find that the global estimate of those living with a disability of some sort would be at least double the WHO disability estimate.  However, the fact is that we lack comprehensive statistics on the scope of this vast population.  Gathering statistics on disability in refugee and relief settings is not a priority and is therefore not done in many cases.

Even if we are not completely sure about the precise size of the disabled population in crises, why would organizations with well-developed capacity in emergency response find themselves without any capacity to do disability work?  Much of this has do to with a lack of technical knowledge and capacity.  There are just not that many organizations working in relief capable of offering the rehabilitation services needed to recover from an amputation, nor capable of fitting an artificial leg, and then ensuring that the person can learn to use the leg well. But part of the barrier is also related to stigma – even relief workers inured to difficult conditions and calamitous health issues can harbor unconscious biases about disability, preventing them from discovering the sometimes simple solutions to what can feel like complex needs.

HI, with its global mission and mandate, works in many conflict zones to ensure that the needs of individuals with disabilities are met.  But HI cannot be present everywhere, so the organization is establishing norms and protocols for other emergency response and relief organizations who come in contact with individuals with disabilities.

Among other recent initiatives, HI collaborated with other organizations to create a “Charter on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action.” HI has also worked collaboratively to create the “Minimum Standards for Age and Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action,” which was co-funded by DfID and USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.  HI also recently worked with UNICEF to create a series of guidebooks for those who work with children with disabilities in humanitarian settings.  This resource enables relief staff to conduct the vast majority of interventions when working among children with disabilities.

Much of HI and our partners’ work underlines a central point: assisting people with disabilities in refugee camps and humanitarian settings is not so different from helping other groups.  An essential first step is engaging people with disabilities in the planning and execution of assistance.  And making sure that those offering the assistance are confident that they can already meet many of the needs of those with disabilities.

Are we done?  Not by a long shot.  The calls keep coming, and HI keeps responding.  We do this on our own, sometimes in collaboration, and always with the needs of the people with disabilities foremost.  I am delighted to report that even before I received the email from Jordan, HI staff had already visited the individual in the refugee camp and had measured him for a new leg.  By the time you read this, he will be well on the way toward his new life, standing tall once again.


About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit, or contact Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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