Alice Lucas of Refugee Rights Europe believes 2019 will bring the specific needs of vulnerable groups into sharp focus, and refugee service providers should be prepared to provide tailored support to persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and women.
Across Europe, refugees and displaced people are experiencing alarming and urgent rights violations, with squalid and inadequate living conditions, poor sanitary services and a lack of access to healthcare and timely information. While there is an urgent need for these basic human rights to be met for all refugees and displaced people, it is equally important that the specific needs of vulnerable groups are identified, and that they are provided with access to tailored and specialist support. Here are four top areas of the refugee response that Refugee Rights Europe predicts service providers and philanthropists will be focused on in 2019, based on first hand field research reports from the ground:
1. Support should increase for persons with disabilities in displacement.
Individuals in displacement who suffer from physical or mental disabilities may be at increased risk of hardship and exploitation due to their specific vulnerabilities. Those with disabilities encounter difficulties both during their journey, where they face increased risk of harm as they travel the dangerous routes to Europe, and once they arrive. Several organizations have raised concerns about the identification and registration of those with disabilities in Greece, while there is a stark lack of focused services available at camps throughout Europe, which remain largely inaccessible. In 2019, service providers will be looking to ensure that they are able to deliver services which take into account their specific needs and ensure equal access, which should be made possible through increased funding and strengthened capacity support from the EU and national governments. Such support will help to ensure that the European Union and its Member States meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
2. Protection for LGBTQI+ individuals should be an elevated concern.
The specific protection concerns for LGBTQI+ refugees and displaced people in Europe are often overlooked across Europe, where individuals are at high risk of exploitation, discrimination, and abuse. Within a camp setting, LGBTQI+ refugees and displaced people can face physical violence and are oftentimes unable to access services for fear of further homophobic or transphobic attacks. In some instances, LGBTQI+ individuals have been driven from their accommodation, and while some aid organisations provide emergency transfer to accommodation to protect individuals, service providers have continued to highlight the need for a preventative approach. Of specific concern is the assessment of LGBTQI+ persons during the asylum process, which has recently been highlighted in the UK; campaigners have raised concerns that in the last year 78% of asylum claims which included a reference to sexual orientation where refused by the UK Home Office. Organisations such as Say It Loud in the UK are working to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers, but in the meantime there is a need to ensure that protection concerns are addressed on the ground through specialist support services, revisiting camp design, accommodation facilities, and the training of asylum processing staff.
3. Women in displacement and access to sexual and reproductive health services should be prioritized.
Camps and transit points remain under-resourced and over-crowded, where camp management and service providers often lack capacity and resources to provide adequate sexual and reproductive healthcare services and information, including culturally appropriate sexual health information, discrete access to contraception, vital maternal care, and psycho-social support for victims of gender-based violence. In Greece, our research found an alarming absence of the Minimum Initial Service Package, a set of services and practices which ought to be in place in all crisis situations, resulting in many women and girls having no access at all to quality sexual and reproductive healthcare services.
4. Long-term policy solutions should be pursued in earnest.
Alongside a focus on the service provision for these three groups, there is also a need to work towards a strengthened long-term policy response at the European and national level. The European Union and its Member States must better align its policy response with universally recognised human rights principles, and ought to urgently provide adequate funding to support service providers working on the ground to enable them to deliver focused services, alongside increased capacity support in the form of training and the provision of specialist support staff in camps and transit points. Such high-level engagement will help to successfully ensure that the needs of these specific groups are met and their rights upheld in line with international and national law.
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Featured Photo: Provide Medical Support for Lesvos Vulnerable Refugees by Lesvos Solidarity