Reflection on Refugees with Disabilities

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Sana is responding to this issue paper - Habitat III Issue Paper on Refugees and Migration. Documents offer expert-level snapshots of today’s urban issues. - See more at:

by: Sana Jahani, World Enabled Research Fellow


Starting this assignment, I anticipated that I would find this paper frustrating - and to some extent it was - but as I got through the paper, I forgot about the frustration and had an understanding of why it was written in the way that it was.

These past few days I have been watching a lot of short documentaries on AJ+ about the Syrian Refugee Crisis in the EU. One particular video documented the journey of a family and two single men walking from Hungary to Germany on foot amongst a sea of other refugees. What caught my attention was that one of the men was walking all those kilometers on crutches. This obviously lit up a light for me because I have expressed my interest in researching the plight of refugees with disabilities. At a resting point, the man revealed that he actually wore a prosthetic leg because he lost his leg during the war.

The film showed that many Syrians and Hungarian citizens came to help him when we was limping alongside the highway with his crutches, but no one ever referred to him as a disabled person or a person with a disability. For me, as someone who wears the “disabilities lense,” this was quite shocking. To the outside world this man was just a refugee. He was simply a victim of the war. He was not a person with a disability who deserved the same quality of life and opportunities as his non-disabled peers. He was just a product of war, as was every other refugee marching alongside him. They all held the same, status, rights and privileges (or lack thereof).

Upon having this understanding, that “disabled” and “refugee” had either become synonymous or mutually exclusive, I understood that the Habitat III paper wasn’t simply neglecting the perspective of P.W.D., rather there is a much larger issue at hand here. The reason why the author cannot write with the perspective of P.W.D. in mind is because the author either cannot identify the different needs of refugees and refugees with disabilities or sees that the needs of those two categories of people have somehow become one.


Sana Jahani is from Los Angeles, California and finished her studies at U.C. Berkeley with a B.A. in Architecture and a minor in City & Regional Planning in May, 2015. Sana grew up in a multilingual environment, speaking English and Farsi at home and studying Arabic and Spanish at school. She hopes to drive disability rights across lingual, cultural and socio-economical boundaries while still practicing architecture on a professional level. 

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