Friday, July 24, 2009

There's No Place Like Home . . .

It's been some time since refugee organizations have reported on the situation of the Iraqi displaced. Last week, however, Refugees International released a study on female Iraqi refugees and their reluctance to return home given the absence of protections for women's rights and basic security needs.
The Iraqi refugee situation is still one of serious outflow: In Damascus, UNHCR registers around 2000 new Iraqi refugees each month. Moreover, of over 200,000 registered Iraqi refugees in Syria, only 900 signed up for voluntary return this year. Women are particularly reluctant to return; not one of the female refugees interviewed by the study's authors last month expressed an intent to return to Iraq. The reasons vary -- women whose husbands were killed in their homes fear return, especially given the dearth of avenues for economic survival; others, who were professionals before leaving, fear that increasingly conservative attitudes will prohibit them from resuming their prior occupations and social roles. Women who had suffered sexual abuse before leaving also feared return, while many others worried about the safety of their children.
Yet displaced Iraqi women are particularly vulnerable as well. In Syria and northern Iraq, the grave financial hardship faced by displaced families has led to an increase in forced early marriages, “temporary marriages” (muta), prostitution, and trafficking of women and girls. The frustrations of unemployed male Iraqi refugees have led to heightened levels of domestic violence, and female Iraqi refugees with uncertain legal status face serious obstacles in seeking police protection from sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence.
The report's authors recommend several steps to protect displaced Iraqi women: increased cash assistance to prevent poverty and resultant exploitation; reform of Iraqi laws on violence against women; provision of mental health services with special outreach strategies for displaced Iraqi women; education for displaced Iraqi children; and information on resettlement opportunities. It may be a challenge to implement these costly measures in the current economic climate, but the well-being of displaced women should be specifically analyzed and prioritized in efforts to assist and return Iraqi refugees.

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