Refugee women face greater violence risk during crisis: UNHCR

Displaced women could end up confined with their abusers or forced into survival sex after loss of their livelihoods.

    Syrian women at a camp for displaced people in Atme town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province [File: Aaref Watad/AFP]
    Syrian women at a camp for displaced people in Atme town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province [File: Aaref Watad/AFP]

    Displaced women and girls are facing a heightened risk of gender-based violence during the coronavirus crisis, the United Nations refugee agency has said.

    The UNHCR warned on Monday refugee and migrant women may also be forced into "survival sex" or child marriages.

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    Lockdowns imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 have restricted movement and led to the mass closure of services.

    "We need to pay urgent attention to the protection of refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls at the time of this pandemic," said Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection.

    "They are among those most at-risk. Doors should not be left open for abusers and no help spared for women surviving abuse and violence."

    She said displaced women could end up confined with their abusers, while others, having lost their precarious livelihoods, "may be forced into survival sex, or child marriages by their families", said Triggs. 

    The restrictions imposed in many countries in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean limited access to support services, said the UNHCR.

    It said some safe shelters had been temporarily suspended.

    To counter the risk, the UNHCR is distributing emergency cash to survivors and women deemed to be at risk of gender-based violence.

    Triggs said governments should ensure that the "rising risks of violence" for displaced women are taken into account in their COVID-19 action plans.

    One measure could be ensuring that services for survivors of gender-based violence are designated as essential and remain accessible.

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    SOURCE: AFP news agency