Refugees as a vulnerable group Find themselves in double

jeopardy: they escape from human rights violations in their

countries only to find themselves without protection in asylum.

In spite of regional and international instruments of refugee

protection 4 being gender-neutral, it is almost indisputable that

women refugees are everywhere confronted with a double jeopardy.

Over and above the common human rights dilemma which

this vulnerable group faces, refugee women have to contend with

an additional persistent problem: their physical safety. Women have

been attacked by pirates, bandits, common criminals, security officers,

as well as their fellow male refugees. Yet, violence against

women is seldom reported.

Much ground has been covered by various agencies and groups in

elaborating the guidelines for the protection of women refugee

rights. In the 1990’s the UNHCR for example, adopted detailed

guidance on equitable protection of and assistance to (refugee)

women to prevent their marginalisation. The guidelines say in part:

Refugee women who are unable to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves
and their children will be more vulnerable to manipulation
and to physical and sexual abuse in order to obtain such necessities.
Refugee women who must bribe guards to obtain firewood,
water or other essential goods will be more susceptible to sexual
harassment. Moreover, refugee women who formerly had a means
of expressing their views in the community may find themselves
unable to do so in the camp management committees established
by assistance organisations.”

The poor states – which also have the lion’s share of global caseload

of refugees – have resorted to such policies as closing borders to

those seeking entry, detaining refugees, violating their freedom of

movement by restricting them to closed camps, and forcibly returning

some to their country of flight. Women have received the

full butt of the prevailing systematic erosion of asylum policies by

the state.

One consequence of conflict is the break-down of social structures

which protect women from violence thus exposing them to rape by

soldiers during flight and to bandits in asylum. Warring factions

have used rape as a weapon against women from rival, ethnic groups

or clans. Women become chips in a wider political game and targets

by fellow refugees who often infiltrate the camp in order to dominate

and punish members of rival groups. In many African

societies, victims of rape are considered outcasts and are no longer

able to marry. Thus rape becomes a double-tragedy for women and

girls. This is the case with the Somali Community in Dadaab


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