Coronavirus: lockdown leaves refugee women at high risk of violence
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Coronavirus: lockdown leaves refugee women at high risk of violence

Credit: UNHCR/Ruben Salgado Escudero

Displaced and refugee women and girls face a higher risk of gender-based violence amid the coronavirus crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned on Monday.

“They are among those most at-risk,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs. “Doors should not be left open to abusers and no help spared for women surviving abuse and violence.”

Due to confinement policies, these women risk ending up confined with their abusers, Triggs said, while others, having lost their livelihoods, “may be forced into survival sex [trading sex for basic needs] or child marriages by their families.”

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“The consequences of Covid-19 also mean limited access to life-saving support, such as psycho-social, health and security services,” according to the UNCHR. Lockdown measures “make it difficult for women to access help while some services, including safe shelters, have been temporarily suspended, re-purposed or closed.”

“Globally, our network of UNHCR protection staff are on high alert. Our life-saving programs for women and girls subjected to violence are being adapted where possible,” said Triggs. “In some locations they are now being managed remotely by social workers with the support of trained community volunteer networks.”

In early April, authorities hired a hotel in Brussels, whose address is being kept secret, to be able to shelter victims of domestic violence during the lockdown.

“Governments, together with humanitarian actors, must ensure that rising risks of violence for displaced and stateless women are taken into account in the design of national COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery plans,” Triggs said.

“All women and girls have the right to a life free from all forms of violence. 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,” the UNHCR concluded.

Jason Spinks
The Brussels Times