Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Profile and historical context
Estimates on the numbers of persons with disabilities in Iraq vary but are most commonly quoted as 4 million. It is not known how many of this number belong to minority ethnic and religious communities. For people attempting to register a disability within Iraq, there have been noted difficulties across the country, with the Ministry of Health adhering to inconsistent and unclear criteria. The initial report submitted in 2017 by Iraq representatives, under the Convention of the Rights of Person’s with Disability (CRPD), stated that in 2014 the city of Nineveh was home to the second-highest amount of registered persons with disabilities after Baghdad.
For persons with disabilities the effect of the widescale conflict, destruction and displacement across Iraq has been particularly damaging, especially for those from minority religious and ethnic groups, who have been disproportionately affected. Targeted minority communities became victims of severe sexual abuse, widespread executions and kidnappings. Injuries resulting in life-long impairment and disabilities were more frequently reported following ISIS targeting of civilians, including the loss of limbs, extensive burns, blindness and paralysis.
Due to the widescale conflict across Iraq and destruction in particular of minority settlements, the affected communities have been struggling to cope effectively with the numbers of victims. As of June 2020, there were almost 1.4 million displaced persons across Iraq. Although exact figures on minorities or persons with disabilities is unknown, minority groups were particularly affected by the crises of displacement. Displaced persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable as they face multiple physical, psychosocial and bureaucratic barriers to accessing services. Examples incude lack of documentation, lack of suitable facilities for healthcare, recreation and education within an accessible distance and poor mobility and access in camps which can be heightened during bad weather conditions. Minority women with disabilities also face particular challenges as reports indicate them to be vulnerable to sexual-based violence and gender-based exploitation on a much larger scale compared to those who are non-disabled. Despite their acute humanitarian needs, there has been little support from the authorities.
Victims of the conflict have been left with a range of physical and psychosocial health issues, yet access to adequate healthcare services for minority persons with disabilities is complicated by high costs, limited services and a lack of local healthcare centres. Mental health issues are common particularly within the camps and in women and girls who have experienced trauma and sexual violence. However, specific services that are essential to treat and rehabilitate victims effectively such as physiotherapy, prosthetics, gynaecological and mental health services are limited or inaccessible. Due to camps being unable to accommodate appropriately the needs of persons with disabilities, families are unable to care effectively for relatives who have disabilities. A majority of internally displaced persons with disabilities have been unable to access any services since becoming displaced.
The Iraqi government reported that around 1,249 schools were offering specialized education for children with disabilities in 2013/14. However, it is not clear if the locations of these schools ensure accessibility for children with disabilities from minority communities. In areas such as Mosul, Kirkuk and Dohuk, a vast difference in the standard of specially targeted educational materials and other available resources has been reported, especially for those with hearing and speech impairments. Generally, the overall negative perception of disability and stigma, limited accessibility to buildings and lack of transportation can prevent persons with disabilities from enrolling or cause withdrawal. Minority persons with disabilities may also face the additional issue of not being taught in their native language, which may act as a deterrent for them choosing to pursue further education.
Ongoing problems caused by the conflict and internal displacement have exacerbated the financial and economic instability faced by many minority persons with disabilities. Employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the private sector are few, and although the public sector observes a job quota for persons with disabilities, it is reported that those persons with disabilities employed are mainly in low-ranking positions. Although the government provides specific financial aid and state provision for both persons with disabilities and those affected by the conflict, there are issues in accessing these benefits owing to lack of awareness, discrimination and extensive bureaucratic processes. It is to be noted that there are specific barriers for minority women, who are unable to receive social security benefits if they are married or if their father is alive. For women whose male family members’ whereabouts are unknown, this can prevent access to financial aid and disability benefits.
Updated December 2020
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