Imagine what is like to flee poverty, oppression, persecution. Imagine what it’s like to be caught up in a war not of your creating, watching children burn, and seeing hearts breaking. Think about witnessing all you hold dear reduced to ash while batons are wielded, or rubble rains. Then imagine the options for survival you have, probably few, other than to flee, to become displaced. Then imagine facing another persecution altogether, the persecution of just looking for safety and a future without seeing or hearing your child screaming through pain or hunger, without feeling the wrath of a despot because you happen to be gay or of a different religion. Imagine you are reduced to refugee status because of all or some of this, then imagine that you are not only vilified by a world’s media and used as a political pawn but that you also have a disability.
In 2018, The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) estimated that out of 70.8 million forcibly displaced persons globally, over 10 million had a disability. More than 60% of Syrian refugee households include a person with a disability, and 1/5 of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have a disability, according to a study by the Humanity and Inclusion group. Disability is rife in the refugee community. Of course, as awful governments continue to rain down armaments upon their citizens, these numbers will tragically increase.
As we know immigration is the latest tabloid obsession, the latest gaslighting attempt by the media to make us fearful and hateful towards a handful of men, women, and children sitting in a tiny rubber dinghy off the coast of Dover. The sheer bile directed toward people arriving is proof of both a politically illiterate population and that racism is alive and sadly well in the UK. These individuals, arriving on our coastlines, all of whom without a doubt carry a disability of some form (whether it be a limb difference, burns, mental health, or paralysis) are convinced of a better life here in the UK, convinced that being disabled through conflict or prejudice will mean an open heart, mind, and humanitarian support. I hate to disappoint them, a warm welcome is restricted to those kind and beautiful people not fed the mantra of our insidious tabloids.
let’s address the elephant in the room, let’s look at cause and effect, UK Arms, and weapons sales. Between 2011-2020, the UK licensed £16.8bn of arms sales to countries criticised by human rights groups. Of the 53 countries castigated for a poor record on political and human rights on the group’s list, the UK sold arms and military equipment to 39 of them, that’s an awful lot of money and an incredible lack of humanity and morality. As we know, weapons of any sort kill and maim, and usually, the ordinary man in the street is the victim. In Syria where numerous civilians have been killed, and an estimated 160,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, British arms sales were only halted there in 2019, eight years after it started and Syrian refugees now number amongst the highest trying to reach our shores. Our short-sightedness creates the issue of refugees, we are the cause of children being maimed, men and women becoming disabled through grenades or missiles. Arms sales are not “sell and forget”, the responsibility forever lies with those who create alongside those who launch.
The point I’m trying to raise is that the UK has an obvious duty of care, a duty of responsibility to people made physically and mentally disabled by our greed and lack of humanitarian spirit, a duty to make them welcome and fed. If the tools of war we make and happily brand with a tiny union jack are going to continue to rain down on innocents, removing limbs, eyes, etc, then we must and should take in the human collateral, take in those whose lives are forever altered by our obsession with war. I fail to see how we can take any other path, but when you consider that the Home Office publishes Asylum Statistics at a national level giving details of the numbers applying for asylum and their country of origin, it does not collect or record details of disability. Likewise, the new National Asylum Seekers Support Service does not currently record impairments within its database, it’s as if there is a refusal to acknowledge anything else than the tabloid-led terror of just coming here for benefits.
So at present, there is absolutely no Governmental source of data on disabled refugees or asylum seekers here in the UK. This should be of no surprise as the UK Government’s record on disability care amongst its own citizens is apathetic at best. For instance, mental health, probably the most widespread disability globally is not deemed as urgent of refugee assessment or treatment as a physical disability. Refugees must wait an eternity for a mental health assessment as it is not deemed as urgent as a noticeable physical disability, and of course, mental health will only deteriorate further in one of the UK’s less than adequate or hygienic detention centres. It’s a system built from start to finish on greed, immorality, despondency, ignorance, and ableist practice.
The issue does not stop there for a disabled migrant, however. Many of the service providers, volunteers, working with disabled refugees in these harsh and cold detention centres lack the experience of working with disabled people, and the few service providers for people with disabilities lack the experience of working with refugees, catch 22. There is a real oversight of the obvious physiological and physical fallout of war and persecution, disability should be the first thing going through the minds of those charged with collecting terrified and desperate people clinging to a sinking dinghy. Disability awareness training should be imperative as it should be in the work environment. Anyone with an ounce of empathy and brain should see that war creates casualties in all forms, disability training and record-keeping is obvious, isn’t it? Or is there a dark undercurrent of not wanting to acknowledge responsibility? A determination to keep the tiny number of RW commentators happy? No doubt all those angry nationalists who call for refugee expulsion (99% of those refugees whom I guarantee to have a disability of some form) will happily still donate to Children in Need, toss a few coins in the charity pot, but to recognise responsibility and disability in a refugee? No, impossible, to quote the scientific line; “It can’t be, so it isn’t”
The reality is we are as guilty of ablism to those arriving on our shores as we are at home. Throughout the debate on immigration, there is a policy tension between restricting access to services and encouraging integration. Those refugees with disabilities should be ranked alongside children as a priority of care. If the eyes of the terrified media were opened and the various right-wing aggravators silenced, then treatment of all migrants (the majority disabled) would be better handled. Refugees with disabilities need access to health care, assistance to maximise their independence, appropriate housing, and a protected income through work or benefits. Disability is not the individuals’ fault, war and genocide are at fault, war and genocide stoked and profited from by countries like ours.
As I said, there seems to be a refusal to acknowledge the reality of what war does to the human body. Children witnessing horrors beyond computation, saddled with PTSD for eternity through what they have witnessed, men and women violently amputated through grenades and mines. Men. women and children, walking halfway across Europe on makeshift crutches, sat in wheelbarrows, carts, like human flotsam all while being spat upon, beaten, and harassed by the Governments of whatever country they travel through. This isn’t how humanity is supposed to react, people need to look beyond those wild and terrified eyes and think about what these people have witnessed and lost, realise that disability isn’t just a wheelchair, a British condition, it is worldwide, first and third world and the duty to support them is our own.
There are solutions, but none that sit well with venture capitalists or the bloated and chilling arms industry. Stop selling arms would be a start, stop appeasing warlords and despots, open safe routes across the channel, get disability charities involved, stop slashing foreign aid budgets. Military and race-baiting solutions don’t solve humanitarian problems, they increase them.
Destruction causes disability, it is a cause and effect fact, and it’s about time we were more heart than hate, it’s time take to take charge of our responsibilities.