International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Targeted by violence, Syrian refugee women don’t know where to turn for help

As many as 150,000 refugees have found refuge in Jordan since the start of the Syrian conflict 17 months ago, 75% of them women and children.  International Rescue Committee (IRC) vice president Michael Kocher recently spoke at Capitol Hill briefing (“Syria in Crisis: Refugees & the Challenges of the Humanitarian Responses," July 31) about the unmet humanitarian needs of Syrians who have fled the escalating violence in their country. The following is an excerpt of his remarks:

More than 75% of assisted Syrian refugees are women and children. The targeting of civilians is well documented. But sexual violence against women and girls receives little attention. Cultural norms often prevent survivors from reporting sexual assault. Yet the facts are stark, and we cannot do them justice here. 
 
In March and again in July, IRC conducted assessments of gender-based violence against Syrian refugee women and girls and also the availability of psycho-social and other support. Gender-based violence is clearly identified as a key reason why women and girls flee Syria. 
 
Further, many female refugees must flee Syria alone with their children, which can put them all in unsafe situations. Coerced early marriage of Syrian girls has become a noticeable trend in Jordan as families buckle under financial stress. 
 
Other protection issues confront Syrian women and girls. In Jordan and elsewhere, many are now held in transit centers or camps near the border. This can place unaccompanied Syrian women and girls in danger of trafficking, abuse and exploitation. 
 
An overwhelming majority of the women we surveyed did not know who is providing services or how to access them. 
 
Many women – particularly those heading households – are isolated and depressed due to recent trauma and anguish about the future. These women are strong, but they need assistance. Thus far, response to the needs of survivors of gender-based violence is inadequate:
 
They need better coordinated and more formal protection mechanisms.
 
The emergency relief community must create more accessible, private safe spaces for women and girls to seek gender-based violence services. And services must be enhanced.
 
Further, host states should remove any obstacles hindering women and girls from safely registering as refugees. And, registered or not, Syrian women and girls must have access to free and confidential health, reproductive, and survivor services. 
 
Host states should ease overcrowding in transit facilities and camps by providing more and better housing. 
 
They should partner with civil society, media, law enforcement, and humanitarian groups to prevent early marriage, exploitation and trafficking.
 
Donor states too should emphasize women and girls’ protection as a priority and work with host governments, the UN, and NGOs (non-governmental aid organizations) toward this end. Dedicated funding is required to establish comprehensive programs for survivors of gender-based violence and for women and girls generally. 
 
Related to this, refugee women need access to safe economic opportunities. Most have little or no money.
 
Lastly, donors should encourage UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) to lead a more robust and coordinated response to the refugee crisis and gender-based violence specifically -- and ensure that it devotes staff and funding to this critical area.
 
I cannot emphasize these things enough.
 

Help for Syrian Refugees

The IRC is planning to expand our programs for Syrian refugees in Jordan to boost psychosocial assistance and counseling for women and girls.  Get updates on our work.>>

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