Reported cases of sexual violence have quadrupled among refugees

Posted on 17 July 2011

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Tuesday, 12 July 2011 10:39

Female refugees fleeing conflict and hunger in East Africa are facing another threat: rape and sexual violence. According to UNHCR reports, the numbers of sexual and gender-based violence cases have quadrupled: 358 incidents reported from January until June 2011, in comparison with 75 during the same period in 2010.

At CARE’s reception centre in two of the refugee camps numbers have more than doubled. In the first six months of this year, since the refugee influx began, 136 cases have been documented, compared to 66 in the same period in 2010.

The most dangerous period for refugees is when they are on the move. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to rape, abduction, illness and even death on the journey. Many women set out on the journey alone with their children, leaving husbands behind and they may walk for weeks in search of safety.

CARE has set-up a screening tent at reception centers in Ifo and Dagahaley camps in Dadaab to help identify survivors of sexual abuse or other violence on their journey. Upon identification, counseling and referred emergency medical attention is administered.

When women arrive in Dadaab, they face camps that are already full and are settling in a scattered, unplanned way on the outskirts of the camps. Often, these women are forced to set up wherever they can find space, often far from emergency services, such as clinics, water sites or latrines, further exasperating their vulnerability to violence.

“Without a designated place to settle, women and children are scared, especially at night,” said Caroline Saint-Mleux, Emergency Team Leader in Dadaab. “CARE has been working with the refugees to explain where they can receive help and is ensuring the most vulnerable household are getting the support they need. Through CARE’s partnerships on the ground, we are encouraging other groups to take into consideration the specific needs of women and children as well.”

The world’s largest refugee camp, located in Dadaab, Kenya, is coping with an influx of nearly 1,500 new arrivals each day as a result of a severe drought in East Africa. Since January 2011, approximately 70 per cent of those arriving are women-headed households. To support the newly arriving refugees, CARE has increased its capacity to respond, particularly for vulnerable of women and girls.

“The deep psychological affects that drought and subsequent movement can have on woman refugees is immense. We have witnessed high levels of anxiety, panic and trauma due to loss of family members along the way and women are sharing stories of rape, violence and hunger,” said Wilson Kisiero, CARE’s gender and development officer in Dadaab. “CARE is providing immediate psychological support to the newly arrived women and girl refugees and we are doing all we can to ensure follow-up visits.”

CARE is the lead implementing agency in Dadaab. Along with its support to the refugees that have been in Dadaab since 1991, CARE is distributing food, water, jerry cans, plastic sheeting, and soap to the newly arriving refugees. CARE also provides psychological support and counselling to survivors of sexually-based violence.