THE BLOG

Reflecting on World Refugee Day 2016

24/06/2016 09:09 | Updated 24 June 2016

Last week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security (APPG-WPS) hosted the Free Yezidi Foundation at the Houses of Parliament and I had the honour of sharing a panel with the incredibly inspiring Pari Ibrahim, Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation. She told the audience that she has 19 Yezidi girls and women in her family alone who have been abducted by ISIS and she does not know where they are. Pari inspired me with her passion and her determination. She said, "Once I stopped thinking about myself I just knew what I had to do.' She set up her organisation to help Yezidi women in Khanke camp in the KRI. 20th June was World Refugee Day and an important moment to articulate really clearly what we all need to do.

Displaced Syrian and Yezidi women in northern Iraq are facing deepening crises and lack of critical support that threaten their basic security, economic well-being, and survival. Working with at-risk women in the region, we urge immediate investment in services that target women and families to help them stabilise and begin to rebuild their lives.

Globally, more than 80 percent of refugees are women and children, and 80 percent of refugees live in developing countries like Iraq that have limited resources to assist them. In Iraq, the scale of the challenges is growing. With the third largest internally displaced population in the world, Iraq expects the total number of refugee and displaced people to soar to 4.1 million by the end of the year. In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), where we work, the region's population has increased nearly 28 percent in 5 years, placing unsustainable strains on the resources of a host community that has extended its hand to those seeking refuge.

Women, who are among the most disadvantaged, have become responsible for protecting and providing for themselves and their children with next to nothing in hand yet they bring enormous resilience to the task of survival and step courageously outside traditional roles to keep families afloat. That's why we must continue to invest in these solutions.

The sudden and prolonged influx of refugee and displaced populations to the KRI has strained the local economy and left many women living in extreme fear and highly precarious situations. Rising unemployment and soaring living costs are particularly affecting Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs in host communities. More than 50,000 people - or one-third of households - cannot afford food, water, fuel and clothing. Worryingly, 60 percent of Syrian refugees living outside of camps are entirely dependent on savings, and may resort to unsustainable coping strategies such as arranging the marriages of their daughters for a bride price.

Syrian and Yezidi women and girls also face daily threats of sexual harassment, assault, and violence within their families, camps, and host communities. UN Women found that over 80 percent of refugees live in daily fear of abuse, and over two-thirds know someone who has been abused. Women and girls report feeling unsafe in their own homes, with a significant increase in domestic violence, early and forced marriage, and temporary marriages, particularly in households where male relatives are unemployed and suffering from displacement-related stress. Fear and insecurity restrict women's and girls' ability to attend school, or even leave their homes. Women for Women International has also heard reports of women who have turned to extreme methods of self-harm.

In response to this crisis, Women for Women International is working with local organisations like the Free Yezidi Foundation in the KRI to reach the most vulnerable women in need of support, including those suffering severe emotional trauma, at high risk of violence, and living in extreme poverty. Over the next three years, Women for Women International is working to provide psychosocial support services, and life and business skills training to 3,000 Syrian and Yezidi women in the KRI to help them overcome trauma and find the resources needed to rebuild their lives.

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