Why Disability Matters to IOM

IOM strives to increase access to humanitarian services for persons with disabilities living in the most remote parts of the world.Photo: Muse Mohammed/IOM

Geneva – In conflict and emergency contexts around the world, persons with disabilities are amongst the most marginalized groups. Their unique protection concerns make them more vulnerable to abuse and during disasters their mortality rate is higher than the average affected population.  

Globally, persons with disabilities are estimated to represent 15 per cent of the world’s population, but in many humanitarian situations this percentage can be significantly higher. In Syria, for example, the UN estimates that 27 per cent of the population has a disability.  

These quantitative trends on persons with disabilities are important to acknowledge, but even more crucial is creating solutions to their plight.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and partner agencies have placed a renewed focus on better addressing the barriers that persons with disabilities face in accessing services and participating in humanitarian interventions. 

In July 2018, the UK’s Department for International Development, the International Disability Alliance and the Government of Kenya co-hosted the first Global Disability Summit to mobilize the international community on disability inclusion. The consensus: persons with disabilities have been hugely neglected, particularly in humanitarian settings, and more can be done to narrow this gap. 

On that occasion, IOM, along with many partner organizations, made multiple commitments on disability inclusion. These included a sharper focus on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in delivering humanitarian aid, but beyond this, IOM committed to eliminating stigma and discrimination within our own ranks, collecting more accurate data on disability trends and taking specific measures to target women and girls with disabilities in our programming. 

Since then, IOM has remained an important and dedicated actor in UN-wide efforts to turn commitments into action. The recently released UN Disability Inclusion Strategy is a landmark in this respect and should help transform the manner we handle disability in the workplace.  

Logically, the first steps we need to take are within the Organization itself. We thrive in more diverse and inclusive work environments, which need to be accessible to all. In our attempt to attract and retain the brightest talent, IOM is stepping up its efforts to become a more inclusive recruiter and employer.  

Meeting the specific needs of persons with disabilities in the workplace has become a top priority for staff welfare. This represents a specific challenge to an organization such as IOM which has offices worldwide, many in deep field locations which offer limited  accessibility for persons with disabilities.  

IOM’s commitments of course extend beyond the workplace to include our work with communities on the move. Several IOM programmes now systematically factor in disability inclusion as they undertake specific humanitarian activities, including camp management and shelter programming, in locations such as Nigeria and South Sudan.  

Our global Displacement Tracking Matrix is also collecting specific data on barriers that persons with disabilities face, which helps inform and influence aid delivery strategies across multiple sectors. Eventually, our hope is that better knowledge of the barriers and better adapted programming will make it much easier for persons with disabilities to access aid. 

These approaches represent tangible actions towards “leaving no one behind.” However, we also recognize IOM may only be successful in translating commitments into meaningful action if it enhances cooperation with humanitarian partners, especially those with dedicated expertise in disability inclusion. We fully expect these efforts to gain further momentum as we begin to implement the newly launched Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, to which IOM was a key contributor.  

Whilst these initiatives are valuable and positive steps in the right direction, real transformation in the way we understand disability inclusion requires more than strategies and guidelines. It requires personal commitment from each of us to do more than pay lip service to the principle of inclusion. It requires championing by IOM managers, at global, regional and national levels. It requires solid evidence. It requires a new approach to our operations. It requires results.  

This article was written by Vincent Houver, IOM Deputy Chief of Staff