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Roundtable Discussion on the Support for Deaf Refugees from Ukraine

EUD & WFD Seminar

Recently, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities highlighted that the continued military attacks against Ukraine are putting the lives of an estimated 2.7 million people with disabilities, at risk, even though the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by both the Russian Federation and Ukraine, requires State Parties to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of people with disabilities in situations of risk, including armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies.   

The European Union of the Deaf (EUD) and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) are united in condemning the war initiated by the Russian Federation in Ukraine, recognising that in times as such it is more important than ever to provide support to those seeking refuge and safety. For this reason, on 26th May, at the EUD General Assembly held in Marseille, France, EUD, in collaboration with the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), held a Roundtable Discussion on the Support for Deaf Refugees from Ukraine which discussed a variety of topics, such as the specific barriers and risks faced by deaf refugees, and how EUD and WFD can offer support. The roundtable discussion was led by WFD President, Dr Joseph Murray, and the President of the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf, Iryna Chepchina was present to facilitate the discussion.  

Ms Chepchina highlighted some of the main barriers currently faced by deaf refugees, such as the need for funding for interpreters, the need for data i.e., how many people are fleeing the country who are deaf, how many women and children etc., and the need for information from the UN Refugee agency to be accessible in Ukrainian sign language. 

To facilitate mutual learning, the delegates were then divided into groups to discuss the best practices when supporting deaf refugees. The delegates raised several points were raised in terms of national support. For instance, there is a deaf refugee welcome group in Sweden, deaf children are being sent to deaf schools, there is an organisation which supports deaf students, it helps to provide job opportunities for them, and there are activities provided for the children. In Germany, there is a social services centre that provides sign language interpretation. However, unfortunately, in Spain you must provide proof you are deaf and have a disability, for this you must go to the doctor which involves a long waiting list, so therefore it prolongs the waiting period to receive support. 

The main point raised by the delegates was the importance of having national sign language interpreters available to support deaf refugees at the various support hubs which receive refugees from Ukraine. One issue raised was how to integrate children into the education system given they do not know the other national sign languages. In terms of preparing for the next crisis, it was highlighted that information must be accessible in the national sign language, for which the delegates, EUD and WFD should liaise with relevant bodies and governments to ensure this is the case for the next time. Further, the importance of gathering data, at this stage, was emphasised, so that we can be more prepared for the next emergency as to which groups to target. 

Dr Joseph Murray, President of the World Federation of the Deaf, explained that their website has a central information hub for deaf refugees. EUD President, Mr Mark Wheatley, listed EUD’s actions in response to the war. For example, EUD issued a statement of support to the deaf community in Ukraine and sent a letter to the Commission on the lack of accessible info from EU for deaf refugees. EUD and WFD continue their advocacy at the European and international levels respectively to ensure that the response from the European and international levels is inclusive and the humanitarian support is accessible.   

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