New research suggests migrants with disabilities are not being identified and given adequate treatment when arriving in Europe. However, guidelines and examples of good practice are available.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has recently published a report focusing on migrants with disabilities. In the wider refugee crisis, this is a topic that has received little attention. The FRA undertook research across nine EU countries to investigate this matter, the main findings of which will be presented here.

Identifying Migrants with Disabilities

Identifying migrants with disabilities is an essential step for ensuring that special care is provided where required.
However, the FRA outlines concerns about health screenings conducted in reception centres for migrants. In Germany for example, screenings neglect consideration of disabilities. Whilst, physical and sensory impairments tend to be readily identified, mental health problems go unnoticed.

This is troubling because anecdotal evidence collected by the FRA suggests psychosocial disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, are most common. This can be linked to trauma experienced in the country of origin, on the journey, or a pre-existing mental health issue.

Care for Migrants with Disabilities

The European Social Network (ESN) research presented in: ‘The impact of the refugee crisis on local public social services in Europe’ highlights that of 17 countries surveyed, less than half provided access to care for migrants with disabilities.

When describing available care, the FRA points to examples such as the National Asylum Seekers and Refugees Protection System (SPRAR) in Italy which can intervene to provide specific assistance. However, a significant flaw in the provision of care is limited resources. For example, in Germany there exists a variety of specialised care including that for victims of torture, yet there is limited capacity to treat the number of disabled migrants.

 What Can and Should Be Done?

EU and UN legislation obligates EU Member States to provide specialised care for migrants with disabilities. Article 26 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights outlines that Member States must ensure the independence and integration of persons with disabilities. Article 11 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that it is necessary to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk.

To provide guidance for member states, there are initiatives that help them identify migrants with disabilities. For instance, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) provides an identification support tool. Similarly, the Protect-Able project encourages effective early screening of asylum-seekers.

The FRA report highlights examples of successful programmes on the identification and treatment of migrants with disabilities. In Sweden, health screenings must address past and present physical and mental health, plus ascertain whether the person has been a victim of assault, rape or torture. The Swedish Migration Agency has also developed an internal handbook advising how to identify persons with special needs.

Conclusion

It is clear that health screenings of asylum-seekers must consider disabilities which may not be obvious. Failing this, migrants with disabilities will continue to go unnoticed by authorities and in statistics. As with the wider refugee crisis, resources and trained personnel are needed to meet demand. Despite these issues, legislation and guidance is available to Member States who require greater help.