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COVID-19: HI defends humanitarian aid that leaves no one behind


Advocacy | Emergency | Health | Insertion | Laws | Prevention | Protection | Rehabilitation | International | PUBLISHED ON June 25th 2020
a refugee child doing physiotherapy exercises with an HI professional

A HI physio is conducting rehab sessions during covid-19 crisis in a refugees camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh | ©HI

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, 20 June, HI released its latest report, based on data and testimonies from 19 of our countries of operation, highlighting the need for an inclusive humanitarian response to COVID-19.

Evidence on inclusive humanitarian action from HI countries of operation

The report Covid-19 in humanitarian context: No excuses to leave persons with disabilities behind! compiles evidence from HI countries of operation including:

  • Quantitative data based on assessments on COVID-19 impacts on HI beneficiaries in 9 countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Philippines, Jordan, Lebanon, Somaliland and Togo),
  • Testimonies of beneficiaries and staff to illustrate these impacts from 11 countries (Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Somaliland, South Sudan, Rwanda, Thailand, Uganda and Yemen
  • These data cover different humanitarian contexts in Asia, North Africa, Middle East and Africa, and focus on exacerbated barriers and growing needs for persons with disabilities in various areas: livelihoods, food security, access to WASH, health, protection and COVID-19-related preventive measures.

Shedding light on the specific COVID-19 impacts and difficulties faced by persons with disabilities

In conflict and disaster affected or fragile countries, the pandemic increases the discrimination against certain groups, including persons with disabilities. It triggers disproportionate risks and barriers for men, women, boys and girls with disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities are affected psychologically and physically by the COVID-19 crisis. They are negatively impacted by protective measures; they spend all the day at home because some of them, especially children with disabilities, older persons and persons with some physical impairments, have underlying health issues or poor immune systems. Being at home for a long period of time, unable to access services, can cause stress and depression. Persons with disabilities might feel anxious and fear catching the virus, especially when they cannot afford the protective equipment or depend on a support person for daily activities. Children with disabilities who stopped going to schools can face domestic violence at home due to their isolation or change in routine. Daily workers and those with temporary contracts have lost their source of income. This creates a lot of distress as they do not know how to support their families or buy their medications.” Says Reham, HI Rehabilitation Technical Advisor in the Gaza Strip (Palestine).

Focus on displaced persons and refugees with disabilities

Among 70 million refugees in the world, around 15% have a disability. Globally, an estimated 9.7 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution. In conflict settings, this number is far higher.

The report shares the voices of persons with different types of disabilities residing in different geographical areas, including refugees and internally displaced persons’ settlements and host-communities.

Displaced persons with disabilities face additional challenges to protect themselves and their families and barriers to access services, in camps that were not built for COVID-19. They are overcrowded, squalid, packed with poor, under-nourished people who settled there in panic. This environment, with limited access to basic and specialised services, is particularly conducive to virus transmission.

In Rwanda, 41-year-old Sabiti lives in the Kiziba refugee camp. He has difficulty hearing and speaking, and works as a shoe repairman. At the start of the outbreak, concrete information about COVID-19 was off limits to him, because there was no sign language interpretation. “I could have contracted COVID-19 without knowing it. People started staying home… My family told me that I could not go out and move around, but they could not explain clearly why I could not go to work”. In the camp, there are around 70 people who have speech and hearing difficulties, left without any information.


Due to lockdown and other preventive measures, humanitarian services, including the delivery of basic and specific aid, have been stopped, restricted or hampered. But many refugees with disability totally depend on humanitarian aids (Kakuma in Kenya, Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh, etc.).

In Pakistan, 50-year-old Abdul Baqi, who has an amputation, lives in the Jalala Afghan Mardan refugee camp with his wife and 10 children. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Abdul Baqi also had to close his shop near the refugee camp. As a result, he was deprived of his only source of income that allowed him to feed his family. “I am not afraid that my children will catch COVID-19. My worry is that I won’t be able to feed them,” he says. Abdul is also worried about his house: the heavy rains have damaged the roof, which is in danger of collapsing while they sleep.


On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, HI asked States to unlock humanitarian aid immediately. Hit by the crisis while welcoming refugees, States must ensure that persons with disabilities are not be abandoned nor prevented from accessing humanitarian aid. Humanitarian organisations like HI are the last resort for the most vulnerable people, including displaced persons with disabilities who depend on humanitarian aid to survive. We must not be prevented from reaching people in need.


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