The UN Security Council was told on Wednesday that people with disabilities “can’t wait any longer” for more of a say in how the world’s top diplomatic forum for peace and security, factors their needs into its work.
The polite but passionate plea came from 20-year-old wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee, Nujeen Mustafa, who briefed members in a soft but commanding voice, on the acute vulnerabilities of people with disabilities in conflict, describing how once war began in her home city of Aleppo, she lived with the intense fear that she would be responsible for her own family dying in an airstrike.
“Every day, buildings in our neighbourhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds late. My brother called us the walking dead”, she said to the hushed chamber.
You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work - Nujeen Mustafa to Security Council
Even fleeing the country, she had to be carried out of the country by her siblings, as she had no wheelchair at the time. “The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on, is broken down during conflict, leaving us at higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance – especially for women”, said the cerebral palsy sufferer.
Praising Council members for giving her time to tell her story, she said she had three key insights to deliver. Firstly, the crisis in Syria has a “disproportionately high impact” on people like her. Secondly, she said that people with disabilities “like women and girls, seem to be an afterthought”. Finally, she noted that people with disabilities should always be treated as “a resource, not a burden”.
“Count us, because we count too”, said Ms. Mustafa, urging better data collection on how they cope in conflict. “This should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on...You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work – we can’t wait any longer”, she Council members, with a clear, calm, but firm delivery.
‘Litany of horrors’ continues for Syrians, says UN deputy relief chief
Briefing members on the latest humanitarian situation across Syria, deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, said that over eight years, civilians had endured a “litany of horrors” with those in the northeast and northwest, living in fear “of yet another humanitarian catastrophe unfolding”. More than eight in 10 live below the poverty lin and nearly 12 million Syrians depend on assistance.
She said an escalation of fighting around Idleb, the last rebel redoubt, had left well over 200 civilians dead since February, including three children in a school just last Monday.
She described the overcrowded Al Hol camp for more than 73,000 - mostly displaced by ISIL terrorists’ last stand in the north east – as being nearly two-thirds children under the age of 12. She said all children, including those of suspected terrorists, were ‘entitled to special care and protection under international humanitarian law...They must be treated first and foremost, as victims.”
Solutions for the 15 per cent of camp inhabitants who are foreign nationals “need to be urgently found” she said, calling on Governments to “take all measures necessary to ensure that their nationals are repatriated”.
Ms. Mueller also described rising UN concerns for displaced civilians trying to escape the isolated Rukban camp on Syria’s southern border with Jordan, many returning to Government held areas with concern over their fate.
“Colleagues in Damascus have reiterated the UN’s willingness to be directly involved to ensure that core protection standards are met and movements conducted in a voluntary, safe, well-informed and dignified manner”, she said.
Introducing Ms. Mustafa to the Council, the deputy relief chief said that persons with disabilities were “often excluded and highly vulnerable”.
“We must do our utmost to support and protect persons with disabilities and to ensure that their specific and diverse needs are addressed”. She said her own agency OCHA, had an important role, but every entity within the UN needed to make sure that persons with disabilities can “take an active part at every step of planning and decision-making processes.”