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People with disabilities are invisible in asylum information

People with disabilities are invisible in asylum information

Understandings of and responses to disability vary widely. In the field of international protection, the approach to disability tends to reflect policy and decision-making practices within host states, as well as the understandings and “unconscious biases” of decision-makers, legal representatives, and country of origin researchers. Asylos and ARC Foundation have been aware for some time that there is a critical need for better quality country of origin information (COI) on persons with disabilities, for use in asylum procedures in the UK and beyond.

Significant information gaps on persons with disabilities

The lack of good quality COI on disability issues stems from the way international protection claims are commonly presented. The focus is on medical responses to an impairment, with a failure to take a holistic and intersectional approach to identifying the relevant issues and an absence of relevant material or sources. The lack of relevant source material is itself linked to the limited visibility of persons with disabilities in societies around the world.

This lack of visibility is also an issue in the COI and has been repeatedly raised with us. For example, lawyers representing Nigerians with dependent children with disabilities identified this as a critical information gap. A subsequent review of all of the country policy and information notes on Nigeria found little to no information relating to persons with disabilities. The word “disability” was not mentioned in a single report.

We were advised that this information gap risks asylum claims involving children and young people with disabilities being refused because of a lack of objective and relevant evidence that might support their case. This is all the more relevant following the recent case of DH (Particular Social Group: Mental Health) Afghanistan [2020] UKUT 223 (IAC), which recognised that a “person living with disability or mental ill-health” may qualify as a member of a particular social group.

As a consequence, we have now published a detailed report on children and young people with disabilities in Nigeria, as part of a series covering issues faced by young asylum seekers.

Nigeria as case study: multiple layers of discrimination

The nine core sections of the report highlight pressing issues relevant to protection claims from children and young people with disabilities, and include risks from state and non-state actors alike. Our findings paint a troubling picture of the situation for children and young people with disabilities in Nigeria, despite the recent adoption of legislation to comply with the country’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sources highlighted the multiple forms and layers of discrimination, both by state actors and within communities and families, and the prevailing lack of protection or access to redress, that affect children and young people with disabilities in Nigeria, severely impairing their lives and in many cases putting them at risk of further exploitation and harm.

The full report and a summary of the findings are available here.

Intersectionality of the experience of persons with disabilities

Throughout our research we were aware of the heterogeneity of persons with disabilities and the impact of aspects of their individual identity, as well as barriers to participation, that shape their life experiences. In addition to the form of impairment, aspects of individual identity may include age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion and geographic and temporal location, as well as political opinion or status as a migrant, indigenous, or internally displaced person or returnee. Intersectionality plays a critical role in understanding the situation of persons with disabilities — adult or child — with each experience being unique and dynamic.    

This heterogeneity did make it challenging to produce a generic report: it is not possible to provide information to cover every potential permutation. However, we hope that the report spotlights and provides non-exhaustive but illustrative and relevant information on pressing issues common to persons with disabilities in Nigeria. In this way it can stand as a solid baseline from which individualised, case-specific research can begin. The list of sources and databases consulted for and provided in this report will assist users to conduct such further research.

Based on our learnings from this project, we have also developed eight Principles for Conducting Country of Origin Research on Disability. We hope this resource will encourage COI researchers, legal representatives and decision-makers to take a more holistic and informed approach to international protection claims involving persons with disabilities.

Asylos will be offering free training sessions in early 2022 for those conducting or engaging with COI research on disability-related issues.

Maya Pritchard has been supporting migrant young people and families in the UK since 2007, having worked in advice, support, research and administrative roles across the sector. She has been working as a Youth Caseworker for the South London Refugee Association since 2013 and as a researcher with Asylos since 2015. She now also works for Asylos as their UK Consultant and coordinates the Afghanistan and Pakistan research team. She is a Level 2 OISC accredited immigration and asylum caseworker, has a BA in politics and an LLM in Human Rights Law.