Dis­abled refugees ‘over­looked’ in Greece, Hu­man Rights Watch says

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY KAROLINA TAGARIS

Dis­abled refugees and mi­grants are not prop­erly iden­ti­fied in Greece and have poor ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices such as toi­lets, show­ers, food and med­i­cal care, Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW) said in a re­port yes­ter­day.

About 60,000 refugees and mi­grants live in for­mal and makeshift camps in Greece and Hu­man Rights Watch said con­di­tions there were “de­plorable and volatile.”

“Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are be­ing over­looked in get­ting ba­sic ser­vices, even though they are among the refugees and mi­grants most at-risk,” said Shan­tha Rau Bar­riga, dis­abil­ity rights di­rec­tor at New York-based HRW.

The group urged au­thor­i­ties to move any­one with a dis­abil­ity liv­ing in tents dur­ing win­ter to heated pre­fab­ri­cated homes, and said their dire sit­u­a­tion was “a wake-up call for the UN and the EU to start tak­ing the is­sue more se­ri­ously.”

It also called on the Euro­pean Union to step up its ef­forts and pro­vide ad­di­tional re­sources to aus­ter­ity-hit Greece.

HRW said out­door taps and show­ers were not ac­ces­si­ble for wheel­chair users in the camps it vis­ited. An 85-year-old Syr­ian woman in a wheel­chair told the group she had not show­ered in a month be­cause she could not reach the fa­cil­i­ties.

Sev­eral camps also lacked ramps to the toi­lets and else­where, an un­even, rocky ter­rain pre­vented some peo­ple from even reach­ing toi­lets with ramps, it said.

Dis­abled refugees face vary­ing hur­dles, it found. In one case, a 24-year-old deaf Syr­ian man whose hear­ing aids were dam­aged when he crossed the Aegean Sea by rub­ber boat in Fe­bru­ary re­ceived new aids only in Oc­to­ber.

Asked to com­ment on the re­port be­fore its re­lease, a gov­ern­ment spokesman, Gior­gos Kyrit­sis, said Greece was “do­ing its best” and ac­knowl­edged “it’s highly likely we have not yet suc­ceeded in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the needs [of those with dis­abil­i­ties].”

Roland Schoen­bauer, a spokesman for the United Na­tions refugee agency (UNHCR) in Greece, said: “UNHCR agrees that most of the gov­ern­ment-run sites do not meet the stan­dards for ac­com­mo­dat­ing peo­ple with spe­cific needs... That’s why we have pri­or­i­tized peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in our ac­com­mo­da­tion scheme.”

The re­port, based on in­ter­views with 40 refugees, asy­lum seek­ers and mi­grants across Greece, said rushed reg­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dures meant many dis­abled were not iden­ti­fied prop­erly.

“If you don’t say it your­self, no one will ask you,” a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional work­ing for Medecins Sans Fron­tieres was quoted as say­ing. “If it is a dis­abil­ity that is not ob­vi­ous, vis­i­ble, even if a refugee re­ports it, it won’t be reg­is­tered.”

“Greek au­thor­i­ties, the EU, the UN, and aid or­ga­ni­za­tions should make sure that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are no longer an af­ter­thought,” Bar­riga of Hu­man Rights Watch said.

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