Johnson apologises after minister who uses wheelchair denied entry to Cop26 venue
Israel’s Karine Elharrar could not attend summit on Monday due to lack of accessibility
An Israeli government minister has received an apology from Boris Johnson and the organisers of Cop26 after she could not attend the summit on Monday due to a lack of wheelchair accessibility.
Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister of energy and water resources, described how she was denied entry to the summit because as a wheelchair user she was unable to access the Glasgow venue, criticising the refusal to accommodate her as “outrageous”.
Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, waited for two hours outside after organisers refused to let her enter the compound in the vehicle in which she had arrived, she said.
Her office said she was eventually offered a shuttle transport to the summit area, but the shuttle was not wheelchair-accessible, forcing her to return to her hotel in Edinburgh.
She wrote on Twitter: “I came to Cop26 to meet with my counterparts around the world and promote a common struggle in the climate crisis. It is sad that the UN, which promotes accessibility for people with disabilities, in 2021, does not provide accessibility to its events.”
An official in the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett’s delegation said they had formally complained to organisers, the Times of Israel reported. Bennett reportedly said Elharrar’s vehicle would arrive at the summit area on Tuesday as part of his official convoy, thus ensuring her entry.
Johnson later apologised personally to Elharrar when she joined a meeting between him and Bennett, saying he was sorry for the “confusion”. Bennett thanked his British counterpart for his “quick intervention on this unfortunate incident” and called it a “learning opportunity for all of us in the importance of accessibility for all”, a statement backed by Johnson.
Cop26 organisers tweeted: “Regarding minister Elharrar’s experience at the entry point yesterday, this was a genuine mistake and we have apologised for that. We are pleased to see her in attendance at Cop26 today. Cop26 must be inclusive and accessible to all and the venue is designed to facilitate that.”
Elharrar told BBC News she had gone into the climate summit on Tuesday “very easily” and it was “quite a different experience”.
Earlier the UK environment secretary, George Eustice, said: “We deeply regret that incident.” He added there appeared to have been a miscommunication and organisers had not been aware of Elharrar’s requirements in advance and so had not made the right provisions at the particular entrance she was coming to.
“I know that at most of the other entrances, wheelchair access is there. It was because she came to an entrance where they didn’t have that provision,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that action should have been taken to resolve the issue.
A spokesperson from the Israeli embassy in London told BBC News the country’s delegation to the summit had “communicated over the past several weeks all the details about the minister’s requirements”.
The UK ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, tweeted that he had apologised “deeply and sincerely” to the minister. “We want a Cop summit that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone,” he wrote.
The Foreign Office minister James Cleverly tweeted: “I am deeply disappointed and frustrated that minister @KElharrar could not access Cop today. The Cop venue is designed to be accessible for all. I have spoken to the minister about this and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow.”
Elharrar told Israel’s Channel 12 news: “The only way they said I could come in was to walk on foot for almost a kilometre, or to board a shuttle which was not wheelchair-accessible.”
She told Ynetnews.com that organisers blocked all roads leading to the conference and left her out despite the Israeli delegation’s best efforts to convince security to let her in.
“It was impossible to get in with a car and I could not make that distance independently,” she said. “It’s outrageous conduct and it should not have happened. I came for certain purposes and could not achieve them today, but there will be other opportunities.
“The UN calls on everyone to act in accordance with the international convention and to make places accessible, so it is fitting that its events should be accessible. I sincerely hope that today’s lesson will be learned so that tomorrow promoting green energies, removing barriers and energy efficiency will be the only things I have to deal with.”