Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, thank you Gopal [Mitra] for your kind introduction.

I am honoured to conclude what has been, I think, a fantastic session by outlining Australia’s efforts to mainstream disability inclusion through our humanitarian response to the Syria crisis.

We pride ourselves on being world leaders on disability-inclusive development and humanitarian action.

The Foreign Policy White Paper that the Australian Government launched last year identifies disability as a key cross-cutting priority for Australia’s international engagement on human rights, development assistance and humanitarian action.

In May 2016, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, I was proud to help launch the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disability in Humanitarian Action.

Now the signatories to this Disability Charter – nations, multilateral organisations and organisations representing people with disabilities – have made clear commitment to leaving no one behind in our collective efforts to respond in humanitarian emergencies.

People with disabilities are often disproportionally affected in situations of crisis and often experience barriers in accessing information, protection and assistance.

At particular risk of going unnoticed are those whose disabilities are not immediately apparent to humanitarian responders, or even to the individuals themselves.

Mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety as well as trauma and fatigue, are widespread in protracted and complex humanitarian crises and frequently overlooked by needs assessments.

For the past seven years, we have all seen the papers report on the protracted conflict in Syria – but it is still hard to wrap our heads around the true scale of suffering on the ground.

Many have experienced overwhelming physical, psychological and emotional trauma.

Children have lost family and friends, lost years of schooling and lost freedom from responsibilities that far outweigh their years.

Research commissioned by Australia in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion has determined that almost one quarter of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon experience some type of disability.

Over 60 per cent of households surveyed have at least one member with a disability. Refugees with disabilities are 40 per cent less likely to be employed. Children with disabilities are twice as likely not to attend a school.

And while disability-focused initiatives are necessary to address these challenges, it is impossible for technical agencies alone to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

We in Australia are doing what we can to play our part.

We have made our funding to multilateral partners responding to the crisis contingent on improved disability inclusion and associated data disaggregation.

And today I am pleased to announce a commitment of AUD 16.4 million for inclusive humanitarian initiatives that address the needs of people with disabilities in Syria and the region.

In Syria, we are working with the UN Mine Action Service to deliver risk education and provide assistance to survivors to mitigate the devastating impacts of landmines, cluster munitions and other explosives.

In the neighbouring region, we are working with Humanity and Inclusion and other NGOs to ensure people with disabilities have access to livelihoods and educational opportunities and address barriers to their access to assistance and services.

In Lebanon, our partnership with Humanity and Inclusion will support the Ministry of Education to implement their new Inclusion Policy. 

Australian funding will assist teachers to support almost 1,000 children with disabilities and provide the necessary materials to facilitate their participation in the classroom.

In Jordan, we will support Humanity and Inclusion to foster partnerships with humanitarian actors and improve disability-inclusion mainstreaming in their day-to-day operations.

We are working with our implementing partners to ensure they can better understand the needs of people with varying types of disability, tailor interventions accordingly and increase their participation in decision-making.

In so doing, we can break down stereotypes about the capacity of people with disabilities to make a meaningful contribution to their families and to their communities.

Australia is committed to strengthening disability-inclusion in humanitarian responses, as well as in our broader development efforts.

We look forward to working with likeminded people and organisations, such as you here today.

Thank you for your kind attention.

[ENDS]

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