Refugee women facing greater violence risk during crisis, UNHCR says

Displaced women could end up confined with their abusers, while others have lost precarious livelihoods

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 10, 2019, a woman sit at the door of a tent in the Vial camp on the island of Chios which has only 1,000 places, but houses nearly 5,000 asylum seekers in unsanitary conditions and many camps  situated in the nearby olive groove are without toilets, bathrooms, electricity and water. A fire ripped through one of Greece's largest migrant camps leaving widespread damage and many people homeless after the death of an Iraqi woman sparked unrest, officials said on April 19, 2020. The blaze late April 18, at Vial camp on Chios island destroyed the facilities of the European asylum service, a camp canteen, warehouse tents and many housing containers, Migration Ministry Secretary Manos Logothetis told AFP.
 / AFP / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI
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Displaced women and girls are facing a heightened risk of gender-based violence during the coronavirus crisis, the UN Refugee Agency said on Monday.

The UNHCR said they may be forced into "survival sex" or child marriages.

Lockdowns imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 have restricted movement and led to the closure of services.

"We need to pay urgent attention to the protection of refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls at the time of this pandemic," said Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection.

"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."

She said displaced women could end up confined with their abusers, while others, having lost their precarious livelihoods, "may be forced into survival sex, or child marriages by their families", said Ms Triggs.

The restrictions imposed in many countries in response to the coronavirus pandemic meant limited access to support services, said the UNHCR.

It said some safe shelters had been temporarily suspended.

To counter the risk, the UNHCR was distributing emergency cash to survivors and women deemed to be at risk of gender-based violence.

Ms Triggs said governments should ensure that the "rising risks of violence" for displaced women were taken into account in their Covid-19 action plans.

One measure could be ensuring that services for survivors of gender-based violence were designated as essential and remain accessible.

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