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Living with a disability in a refugee camp


Lalu, 9, was born with cerebral palsy. She and her family are from Myanmar and arrived in Bangladesh last September. Because of her disability, Lalu finds it hard to feel truly included in the refugee camp and to access various services. HI is helping to change that.

© Philippa Poussereau / HI

Difficult to move around

“For Lalu, as for many refugees with physical disabilities, one the biggest problems she faces in the camp is to move around. The makeshift shelters are so tightly packed together, it leaves little room for people to squeeze by. The paths are narrow, potholed and muddy, explains Paola Valdettaro, HI’s head of mission in Bangladesh.

Since there is almost no road drainage, refugees dig channels and make bridges out of sandbags, which makes it almost impossible for people with physical disabilities to move from place to place. Access to various services such as water points, health centres, schools and latrines is also a challenge for disabled refugees; they sometimes have to go to the other end of the camp to find food and sometimes get lost because it’s so big. People with visual and hearing impairments also find it difficult to access information. This makes them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. 

Better living conditions for people with disabilities

Lalu lives with her parents and 10 siblings in a two-room shelter built of bamboo and tarpaulin. Their makeshift housing is isolated from the rest of the camp, making it hard to access various services.

Lalu was referred to HI last October. Since then, she has benefited from rehabilitation care, helping restore some of her mobility. The organisation has also given her a wheelchair so she can sit and spend time outside the shelter. She will need months of rehabilitation before she can sit up properly. In the meantime, her family have cleared the entrance to her shelter, filling holes and uprooting tree roots so she can go outside. HI will also make sure that Lalu is able to go to school.

Prior to meeting HI, Lalu had to stay at home because she did not have the physical strength to move around. She had never received physiotherapy in Myanmar and her condition had worsened. She could not stand or sit up without help. She was totally dependent on her older sister, Halima, 15, her main carer.

HI’s work with Rohingya refugees:

People with disabilities are stigmatised in Bangladesh’s various communities. This adds to the marginalisation of people with disabilities within their families and communities. They are generally neglected and at greater risk of violence and abuse as a result. HI identifies vulnerable individuals, including people with disabilities in camps. The organisation has set up a multi-sector awareness-raising team that monitors the population by making visits to shelters. Individuals identified as vulnerable are given direct support by HI or referred to external services when the organisation is unable to help them. It supplies at-home rehabilitation services, functional devices and psychosocial support to people with disabilities and their families. HI advocates the inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian strategies and plans. An inclusion unit that brings together various humanitarian actors has been set up to further their inclusion.

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