UNHCR: Refugee women, girls losing abuse protections during pandemic

Lockdowns and quarantines adopted across the world in response to the coronavirus pandemic have created "massive" risks for displaced and stateless women and girls, the United Nations Refugee Agency said Monday.

The UNHCR said refugee women and girls are at much higher risk of violence at the hands of domestic partners due to isolation and social distancing requirements and the closures of services have reduced their protections.

The lockdowns are also generally worsening refugee women's socioeconomic conditions, said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection.
"We need to pay urgent attention to the protection of refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls at the time of this pandemic," she said. "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."

Because of the coronavirus restrictions, some women and girls may become trapped with abusers at homes and shelters without the option to call for help, she said, and others may be forced into "survival sex" or child marriages by their families.

Health and security support for refugee women has been temporarily suspended or closed in many countries, the agency added, and the UNHCR is distributing emergency cash assistance to support them.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres decried "a horrifying global surge in domestic violence" amid the pandemic. Triggs on Monday called on world governments to take the women's plight into consideration when formulating their national responses to the pandemic.

"All women and girls have the right to a life free from all forms of violence," she said.

"We must stand with displaced and stateless women and girls as we reiterate the secretary-general's message and urge all governments to put all women and girls' safety first as they respond to the pandemic."



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