Lebanon News

Displaced women receiving little protection

Syrian refugees prepare their documents before receiving aid from a charity in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on March 6, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/STR)

BEIRUT: The rape of Syrian women and girls is being largely ignored by the international community and there is little assistance available to help them in Lebanon and other refugee countries, Refugees International reported Friday.

The report issued by Refugee International found that many Syrians chose to leave their country primarily because of the prevalence of rape used as a weapon during the battles between the Syrian regime and armed opposition groups.

“Armed actors routinely entered homes and rape women and girls in front of family members, sometimes killing them afterwards,” the report read.

That trauma receives little treatment after flight to another country.

“Survivors are extremely reluctant to report sexual violence or seek treatment because of stigma and strong social norms that treat rape as a dishonor to the family. Even if they seek help, survivors in Syria have very limited access to medical or psychological services,” the report said.

According to a report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Friday there are now 122,000 registered refugees in Lebanon and around 350,000 registered refugees in the region.

The refugee population has grown so quickly over the 20-month conflict that aid organizations have had to quickly increase their operation size and appeal to the international community for more funds.

Those refugees have faced shortages in adequate housing, an increase demand for food, instability due to border clashes and unresolved status issues. But one of the worst problems that UNHCR and Refugee International have both highlighted is violence against women that is being under reported and not being addressed.

While the Refugees International report focused on refugee issues in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, refugee advocate Marcy Hersh said aid workers were reporting many of the same problems in Lebanon.

“The kinds of issues we are seeing are exactly the same as we are seeing in other countries,” said Hersh, senior advocate for women and children at Refugees International.

Hersh said women who are raped or beaten have few psychological and health services available to them and are forced into difficult social situations.

There have been many reports from aid organizations in Lebanon of domestic abuse, survival sex and forced marriages caused in part by the difficult conditions the refugees are forced to live in.

UNHCR and humanitarian organizations need to do much more to provide women specific services for the refugees in the region and in Lebanon, Hersh said.

“It’s a question of making sure there is appropriate funding in place and that there are senior level experts who are working inside of UNHCR who can apply pressure to make sure these issues are prioritized,” she said.

UNHCR has recently increased its focus on gender-based issues as well, noting in its latest report that many women are being forced into marriage by families who are trying to secure their future.

Aid organizations met this week to plan aid for women affected by “gender-based violence” the report reads.

“These will include the provision of technical training to social workers dealing with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and the expansion of the referral of vulnerable cases to specialized services including alternative accommodation,” the report read.

The latest UNHCR report noted that 5,000 Syrian refugees have registered in the country over the past week, and that the group is in the process of reviewing the country aid operations with its partner organizations.

The UNHCR provides thousands of food and health kits as well as food vouchers to refugees across Lebanon every week. The organization is also working to increase health care for refugees with the approach of the winter months as well as enroll refugees in school. So far, 8,470 refugee students have been registered.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 17, 2012, on page 3.

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