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The polite but passionate plea came from 20-year-old wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee, Nujeen Mustafa, who briefed members in a soft but commanding voice, on the acute vulnerabilities of people with disabilities in conflict, describing how once war began in her home city of Aleppo, she lived with the intense fear that she would be responsible for her own family dying in an airstrike.
“Every day, buildings in our neighbourhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds late. My brother called us the walking dead”, she said to the hushed chamber.
Even fleeing the country, she had to be carried out of the country by her siblings, as she had no wheelchair at the time. “The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on, is broken down during conflict, leaving us at higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance – especially for women”, said the cerebral palsy sufferer.
Praising Council members for giving her time to tell her story, she said she had three key insights to deliver. Firstly, the crisis in Syria has a “disproportionately high impact” on people like her. Secondly, she said that people with disabilities “like women and girls, seem to be an afterthought”. Finally, she noted that people with disabilities should always be treated as “a resource, not a burden”.
“Count us, because we count too”, said Ms. Mustafa, urging better data collection on how they cope in conflict. “This should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on…You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work – we can’t wait any longer”, she Council members, with a clear, calm, but firm delivery.