Introduction Introduction Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Notes for Indicators Notes
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Noties for quotations Notes for quotations
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Notes for boxes Notes for boxes
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Indicators Indicators
CHAPTER 4 Printer Friendly printer friendly version
Chapter 1 By Force, Not by Choice:
Refugee Women and Asylum-Seekers

Expanded Protections and Recognition

Violence Against Women and Girls

Reproductive Health, Including HIV Prevention

Repatriation, Integration and Resettlement

Violence Against Women and Girls

Violence is a reality of camp life. Women and girls are at particular risk when they go outside the camp perimeters to collect firewood, water and other scarce resources. Between 1996 and 1997, in the Dadaab camps in northeast Kenya, approximately 90 per cent of reported rapes occurred while Somali women were out gathering firewood or tending livestock.(25) In the late 1990s, Ethiopian women reported being fearful of collecting firewood owing to local hostility fuelled by competition for scarce resources.(26) In 2001, women living in Zambian camps revealed that it was not uncommon to trade sex for fish-a sought-after staple food.(27) Poorly designed settlements can add to the risk. In some cases, latrines and showers are built along the edge of the camps. Women and girls will often avoid them altogether for fear of rape.

High unemployment, stress and frustration among male refugees can also lead to increased domestic violence. In 2001, in six camps in Guinea, five times the number of domestic violence cases were reported as compared to rape cases.(28) Furthermore, some men may feel resentful over being excluded from projects that focus primarily on women and young people.(29)

Adolescent girls and young women are at particular risk. Armed groups often prowl the camps in search of children to abduct and recruit as combatants and, if girls, as sexual slaves, cooks and cleaners. Near northern Uganda, aid workers report that girls are ingratiating themselves with camp middlemen in order to avoid being passed on to armed groups.(30) In eastern Chad, Sudanese girls charge that locals attack and rape them whenever they try to gather firewood.(31) Community members, families and peers can also pose a threat. Relatives sometimes force girls into early marriage in exchange for money or as a means of securing their own physical safety.(32)

Even protectors have been exposed as abusers. In 2002, the international community learned that young women were being exploited in West Africa's refugee camps. What was really shocking was that it was at the hands of UN and NGO relief staff, as well as international peacekeepers-the very individuals tasked to protect them. Investigators found that staff were bartering humanitarian supplies and services-such as wheat, plastic sheeting, medicine, ration cards and education courses-in exchange for sex, most often with girls between the ages of 13 and 18.(33) Victims included separated children, child heads of household and children in foster care or those living with relatives. Nearly all were young women and girls, and while experts believe young boys were also victimized, tremendous stigma prevented any discussion of the matter.(34) This prompted the UN General Assembly in 2003 to adopt a resolution calling for an investigation.(35) The UN Secretary-General followed up with a bulletin issued that same year urging the international community to step up measures aimed at preventing sexual exploitation and abuse and requiring UN staff and non-UN collaborating entities to comply with international humanitarian law.(36) It also called on UN staff to report any concern or suspicion of sexual exploitation or abuse. The Secretary-General's policy of zero tolerance has reinvigorated efforts and led to the establishment of peacekeeping conduct and discipline units. Investigations of personnel have also resulted in a number of dismissals. By early 2006, between 70 and 90 per cent of civilian police and military personnel also received training on the topic.(37)

Survivors of gender-based violence may face long-term injury, unwanted pregnancies, sexual dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorders and STIs, including HIV/AIDS. In Sierra Leone, it is estimated that 70 to 90 per cent of survivors raped during the 1991 to 2002 war contracted STIs, including HIV/AIDS.(38) In March 2006, UNHCR reported that fully two thirds of the Sudanese women refugees who were being treated in the Abeche Regional Hospital in Chad had been raped. The youngest victim was only ten years old.(39) UNFPA and UNHCR are supporting the hospital to treat women suffering from fistula, which is caused by obstructed labour or extreme sexual violence. Because women are too ashamed to report rape and seek assistance, UNHCR has been working to establish a referral system that coordinates medical and legal assistance.(40) Personnel with the International Medical Corps are also consulting with older women and traditional leaders to discuss post-rape trauma followed by culturally sensitive counselling sessions targeting the entire family.(41) Building on a pilot project for rape survivors in the United Republic of Tanzania, UNFPA and UNHCR trained camp health-care providers in Kenya and Uganda in 2005 on clinical management and post-exposure prophylaxis (to diminish the risks of HIV infection).(42)

With support from the Reproductive Health in Conflict Response Consortium, refugee women living in Thailand have developed a guide to assist survivors of gender-based violence. The guide sets standards of care, including those related to health care, counselling, advocacy and case management. (43) In Sierra Leone's Kono district, where refugees have begun to return home, UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have helped establish women-led community centres that, among other things, offer tips on how to avoid and respond to gender-based violence. Women, men and youth have come together to establish action groups designed to raise awareness and provide an opportunity to discuss related issues. The initiative is part of a larger community empowerment initiative led by the Government, UNHCR and other implementing partners.(44)

In Burundi, UNHCR provides firewood and has installed mills within the camps. Camp security forces now include women.(45) In addition, over 70 older refugee women were appointed to serve as mères volontaires (volunteer mothers) to identify, assist and care for young rape victims. They have, in turn, recruited older men to act as pères volontaires, because men can play a key role when it comes to preventing sexual violence.(46) Elders are also active in Kenya, where they were organized into anti-rape committees in order to discourage attacks on Somali women and girls. Elders embarked on several practical measures-including planting special thorn bushes around the camps in a bid to discourage would-be human predators.(47)



Refugee and displaced women and children are especially vulnerable to trafficking. During the 1990s Tajikistan conflict and its aftermath, displaced women and children were trafficked for sexual exploitation in countries of Eastern and Western Europe and the Persian Gulf.(1)

In Southern Africa, refugees are both the traffickers and the trafficked. The IOM reports that male refugees often recruit their own relatives from their country of origin. In many cases, women and children are forced into sex work with all profits going to family members. Some traffickers assist their victims to apply for refugee status in order to prevent deportation and, thus, protect their "investment".(2)

Strict or inadequate asylum policies can make refugees even more vulnerable. In Thailand, displaced Burmese asylum seekers denied refugee status are often forced "underground", where they are more likely to be trafficked and enslaved.(3)

Women are also playing an important security role elsewhere. For example, UNHCR has trained 90 Ugandan police officers, including 25 women, to work with Congolese refugees. Police officers took turns playing survivors reporting rape. The aim was to improve interview skills, learn how to collect forensic evidence, acquire information on referral services and learn about Uganda's laws involving gender-based violence.(48)