Documentation, housing and training, key to the protection of refugee women
Refugees regularly face discrimination, but women refugees are particularly vulnerable to discrimination. Forced to flee their homes, refugee women are often exposed to different types of violence and persecution. For instance, a lack of documentation exposes women to risks of sexual violence.
As JRS Eastern Africa Regional Advocacy Officer, Anne Peeters describes how:
"Many refugee women are forced to live in urban areas like Nairobi. Upon arrival they find casual employment, for instance as housemaids. Alone and without work authorisation, their male employers can beat and sexually abuse them without fear of being brought to justice. These undocumented women frequently fear detention and deportation if they report their abusers. In fact, a lack of documentation even means it is difficult for them to gain access to basic healthcare".
Laws and administrative processes that put their health and bodily integrity at risk should not go unchallenged. For those refugee women who have been victims of abuse, more psychosocial assistance and safe housing needs to be made available. State employees - particularly healthcare staff, the police and immigration officials - need to be provided with more training to understand specific gender-violence issues. Victims need to be protected and encouraged to report these heinous crimes. Judicial systems need to be equipped to bring perpetrators to justice.
JRS Thailand Advocacy Officer, Vera den Otter said:
"When Grace came to our office she was trying to find her husband, Lucky, who had left Sudan a year earlier. Although Lucky had been recognised as a refugee by the UN refugee agency, the Thai authorities had arrested and detained him in the Bangkok immigration detention centre around the time Grace arrived. Without family protection, knowledge of the local language or legal documentation, Grace is in danger of being forced into Bangkok's thriving sex industry or put into a detention centre by the authorities".
Refugee women, like Grace, have a right to be consulted by governments, inter-governmental organisations and NGOs when taking decisions which affect their well-being. Women who are denied this opportunity frequently have much less access to employment training and opportunities. Proper individualised legal documentation, access to education and training programmes, and the right to work, if provided, would enhance the ability of women refugees to live independently in safety, without fear of being arrested or resorting to degrading work.
Notes to the editor:
JRS works in over 50 countries in six continents around the world. It employs over 1,000 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of over 450,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Its services are provided to refugees regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
For further information contact