In 2010, the UNHCR Executive Committee adopted a conclusion on refugees with disabilities and on other persons with disabilities protected and assisted by UNHCR.

Despite the adoption of that conclusion, UNHCR-Rwanda did not take any action to support the implementation of the strategies and to address the specific needs of refugees with disabilities. The special needs of refugees with disabilities have been a particularly neglected area, while refugees with disabilities are faced with an array of challenges necessitating specific disability- related actions; these challenges include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Lack of action programs to prevent stigmatization and discrimination in the community vis-à-vis children, youth and adults with disabilities on opportunities for access to education;
  • Lack of consultation with the families of children with disabilities who are hidden at home;
  • Lack of sensitization of the key actors dealing with refugees on the issues of disability.

 Initiative for Refugees with Disabilities (IRD) was created in 2012 by some refugees with disabilities, parents of refugee children with disabilities and refugee activists who noticed that the issues concerning refugees with disabilities were not appropriately taken into consideration. Therefore, they initiated IRD in order to raise issues related to the disability of refugees in Rwanda.

It was only in 2015, through Disability Rights Fund (DRF) small grant, that the organization started its advocacy project on access to education for children with disabilities in the Gihembe camp and Kigali city.

IRD initially conducted a survey on the unmet needs and unaddressed challenges faced by refugees with disabilities in Gihembe camp and Kigali city. The results of the survey were shared with decision-makers and key actors working with refugees to set up some recommendations.

Jointly with UNHCR, IRD organized a three-day training workshop for 45 participants to build the key actors’ capacity in order to advocate for inclusion of refugees with disabilities in their programs. 

IRD organized consultation and sensitization sessions for parents of children with disabilities, refugee community leaders and refugees with disabilities to provide them with means to express their opinions and to participate in the decision-making process. 

On 3rd December of every year, IRD joins UNHCR and its partners to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities; nearly 2,000 refugees are sensitized to the concepts of disability.

IRD’s effort has brought enormous positive changes for refugees with disabilities in Rwanda and has become a reference organization for the latter in Rwanda.

Currently, UNHCR has set up a specific program for persons with disabilities; the program is being run by HANDICAP International-Rwanda with the project “Strengthening the integration of person with specific needs in all refugee camps and in Kigali city in Rwanda” in collaboration with NUDOR and IRD. Through that project, refugees with disabilities were supplied with assistive devices in regards to their disabilities.

In addition, UNHCR has begun to influence the Rwandan government to include refugees with disabilities in national programs and policies. MIDIMAR insisted that a refugee with a disability should be a member of the decision-making committee of the refugees in all camps and in Kigali city in Rwanda.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) and NUDOR are committed to mobilizing the refugee community on disability in all camps in Rwanda;

All key actors are aware of the specific needs of refugees with disabilities and have begun to include those refugees in their programs in line with their interventions.

Among other actions, the HI has developed innovative actions in the favor of refugees with severe impairments.

Through sensitization, parents / care givers of refugee children with disabilities are trying to adopt a positive attitude towards their children with disabilities; they agree that children with disabilities can also study like other children.

In 2016, through DRF small grant, IRD, together with Handicap International (HI), conducted “a special and inclusive Education Rapid Feasibility study” to identify barriers to special and inclusive education in Refugee camps in Rwanda, in order to develop an action plan for the promotion of inclusive education for refugee children with disabilities.

IRD and HI organized a national meeting in order to share the results of the survey with 22 key actors (MIDIMAR, UNHCR, MINEDUC (REB), NCPD, ADRA …) who took satisfactory measures to make education accessible to all and implement the policies to remove barriers to inclusive education. These policies include:

  • Identify refugee children with disabilities, who do not attend school,
  • extend the national program of inclusive education in camp schools in the years to come;
  • discuss the importance of inclusive education with parents, teachers, school authorities, school children without disabilities, refugee community leaders and local and religious authorities,
  • Discuss with teachers on how to manage their classrooms,
  • adapt and make effective the curriculum,
  • Involve students as the main agent of change. IRD conducted two sensitization sessions in the Gihembe camp and in Kigali City.

More importantly: IRD wishes to strengthen its advocacy activities with other organizations of people with disabilities at the national level in order to change the culture of education for refugee children with disabilities and that inclusive education be a shared and effective reality .