By Barbara Filaih
World Refugee Day is observed by 100 countries to raise awareness of the struggles faced by refugees around the world. According to the UNHCR Statistics in 2018, 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. There were staggering 37,000 new displacements every day in 2018, nearly 4 out of every 5 have fled to neighbouring countries.
The UNHCR encourages public involvement in events to mark the day such as attending World Refugee Day events, watching videos and sharing them on social media. The theme this year is Global Compact on Refugees, which calls for investment in communities that host refugees to help alleviate the pressure on the hosts and help refugees to become self-reliant.
86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries, this number has increased by 16% in the last decade. The world’s largest refugee camp is located in Dadaab, Kenya which is home to more than 329,000 people. The Dadaab refugee camp was threatened with closures due to potential security risks.
In refugee camps food items like rice, dried beans and grain are distributed but there are no facilities for cooking, and fuel is not provided. The refugees build fires in their tents to cook food and the task of collecting wood usually falls on women and girls. When they go out to collect wood for fuel women and girls face gender-based violence on a regular basis from militants, locals and men and boys from the camp. The authorities rarely punish the perpetrators. The trees cut down for firewood exacerbates environmental damage. The fires used for cooking in tents creates toxic smoke that lead to respiratory infections and death. Nearly half of death among children under five are caused by respiratory infections inhaled from these indoor fires.
Gender based violence occurs both inside and outside the refugee camps. Worldwide 50% of victims of sexual based violence are 15 years old or younger. Displaced girls are even more exposed to exploitation and sexual violence. According to international guidelines male and female toilets in refugee camps are supposed to be separate and marked as such. The toilet doors are supposed to have locks to prevent sexual attacks, but these requirements are rarely enforced.
In developing countries girls have few opportunities to attend school or get a job. In conflict affected countries their chances are even more limited. In refugee camps only about 30% of girls attend secondary school. The majority of young girls living in refugee camps have little options but to get married. More than 60 million girls and women in developing countries get married before the age of 18. They are more likely to experience gender-based violence, to drop out of school and to contract sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. These young girls do not have access to family planning and face pressure to get pregnant. Adolescent girls whose bodies are not fully developed risk fatal complications during pregnancy and child birth. The risk of pregnancy related death is twice as high for girls between 15 – 19 years and five times higher for girls ages 10 -14 years. Infant mortality is 60% higher when the mother is under 18 years old.
On June 11, 2019 Astraea, the African Women’s Development Fund, the Red Umbrella Fund and Urgent Action Fund Asia and Pacific co-hosted a global Twitter chat on #FeministFunding about how philanthropy can support activists to make social change. Funding is vital to empower women and girls living in refugee camps by helping them to learn new skills and earn an income which will alleviate the poverty and improve their lives.
Get involved today in supporting a woman or a girl in her education through our work or another organisation, learn more about the lives of refugee women and girls, and international conflicts that cause forced migration.