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France's disabled forced into 'exile' in Belgium

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France's disabled forced into 'exile' in Belgium
Wheelchair users take part in a demonstration in France to call for improved accessibility for people with disabilities. Photo: AFP
14:53 CEST+02:00
A group supporting France's disabled community has handed a "file of shame" to the French government as it has emerged that thousands are forced into "exile" in Belgium where facilities and support are considered far better.
Some 6,500 French people with disabilities - 1,500 of whom are children - live in Belgium thanks to the better care they receive across the border. In France, there are close to 50,000 living in need of similar care but who have stayed. 
 
These struggles are unacceptable, say the members of Unapei, a national union fighting for the families of France's disabled population.
 
The group has gone on the offensive in an attempt to highlight the French government's failings, releasing a dossier listing statistics about France's mentally and physically disabled community.
 
It published stories about sufferers, some of whom are forced to live in Belgium up to 1,000 kilometres away from home, as well as others who are stuck in France and not getting the care they need.
 
One woman, whose 21-year-old son suffers from epileptic spasms, said that she refused to send him abroad for treatment.
 
"It's a scandal to have to send our children to Belgium," she said.
 
 
Another mother said: "Just because I've given birth to a disabled girl, does that mean we're not allowed to have normal family relations like everyone else?"
 
The group is now demanding a serious cash injection in the 2016 budget for better healthcare for the disabled on home soil.
 
Christel Prado, the president of the union, said that the healthcare delays in France were "decades long" for those suffering from both mental and physical disorders.
 
"Our fellow citizens who are disabled - and most notably those who are the most severely disabled - have been banished from our republic, and it's now reached an unacceptable level," she told AFP.
 
Many families are forced to travel hundreds of kilometres just to spend time with their relatives, she noted. 
 
The union has asked the government to create facilities in France that allow both the community in Belgium and in France to be closer to their loved ones in facilities in France.
 
While the government has already announced plans to add €15 million to the national healthcare budget for the disabled next year, the union says this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the €250 million that France puts into Belgian healthcare. 
 
Indeed, recent negotiations have seen tighter cross-border healthcare ties that allow French healthcare authorities to carry out quality checks at Belgian clinics. 
 
But that's not good enough for the French families who have been torn apart, and several have taken the matter through the courts. Those who have succeeded have seen compensation payouts as high as €70,000 ($79,400). 
 
But this is hardly the solution, argued Prado from Unapei. 
 
"It's not compensation that we want for our children, it's a life," she said. 
 
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