By Melanie Hung, Gender, Sexuality, Identity Program Intern
June 20 is World Refugee Day, a day on which we celebrate the strength and resilience of refugees. It is also a day we raise awareness about the current refugee crisis with 21.3 million refugees worldwide, more than at any time since World War II.
All refugees are vulnerable to abuse and deserve a safe space, but women and girl refugees are twice as vulnerable to violence and exploitation simply because of their gender.
As Amnesty has documented, women and girl refugees face physical abuse, harassment, and sexual and financial exploitation from smugglers, security staff, other refugees, or police during their journeys. Last year, Syrian refugee women in Lebanon reported that Lebanese men, knowing that many refugees live in poverty, offered money or “help” in exchange for sex. In 2015, Lebanon made it more expensive for refugees to renew their residence permits, without which refugees are considered to be breaking Lebanese law. As a result, refugee women are reluctant to report harassment and abuse to the authorities for fear of arrest, detainment, or deportation. According to an International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, restrictions on the movement and privacy of refugee women increase the risk of rape, abduction, and kidnapping.
Women and girl refugees around the world face similar risks. Earlier this month, Amnesty International called on Greek authorities to consider the specific needs of women and girls in the evacuation of three unsafe refugee camps in Elliniko, Athens. While conditions in the camps were unacceptable for any refugee, they were particularly dangerous for women and girls. Thankfully, due to international pressure, Greek authorities and the IOM started a registration process to identify the residents’ individual needs before the evacuation. Residents were later informed about the services. Such approaches are a start to ensuring every refugee, including women and girls, receives the services and safety they need and deserve.
The increased vulnerability of women and girl refugees is not inevitable. Refugee camps can can make many changes to ensure the physical and emotional safety of their residents. Homes, sleeping areas, and toilet facilities should be safe, well-lit, and comprise single-sex structures that include proper partitions, doors, and locks. Camp committees and community patrolling groups should be gender-inclusive to ensure that the voices of women and girls are heard.
As in many areas, there’s a long way to go: 91% of refugee camp committees assessed by the IOM in 2016 had no female representation. In addition, programs and services that work to improve the financial security and livelihood of refugees can reduce the risks of child labor and child marriage, which is often exacerbated in refugee situations.
Especially on World Refugee Day, we must take action to protect the safety and dignity of all refugees and make sure the voices of women refugees are heard.
Here are three things you can do to stand with refugees
1. If you are in the Washington, DC area, join Amnesty International at our co-sponsored World Refugee Day Rally at the White House to denounce the discriminatory policies of the Trump Administration.
Tuesday, June 20 at 5pm
Lafayette Square, Pennsylvania Ave NW & 16th St NW
2. Demand the US to help refugee and migrants by urging Congress to oppose Trump’s discriminatory Muslim Ban.