|Private shelter in rural Haiti|
People who flee their homes to escape sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) often have few options for immediate, temporary housing. Their need for emergency shelter usually outstrips supply even in well-resourced urban centers in the United States, Europe, and Canada. Even more vulnerable are victims swept up in conflicts and natural disasters. In many refugee camp settings, provision of specialized emergency shelter falls to the overall camp management – often the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or large international humanitarian organizations. In some cases, private donors may fund ad hoc SGBV shelters, as well, operating autonomously and sometimes with more goodwill than guidance.
Many of the challenges that arise in these insecure and resource-limited settings are extreme and unique. In addition to severe resource constraints and both internal and external security threats, camp settings also present challenges related to utter lack of privacy – both of individuals and of spaces or structures. It is often impossible to have a “secret” safehouse location. Moreover, transition options are far more limited: a survivor being released from a shelter may have slim relocation or resettlement chances; she may have to return to the same tent or hut she inhabited before fleeing. Without legal status or the ability to move freely within a host country, it is virtually impossible for a refugee survivor of SGBV to fully escape or start a new life.
|Protection huts, Dadaab camp, Kenya|
Despite the myriad challenges they face, SGBV shelter programs in refugee camps operate with surprisingly little practical guidance. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings: Focusing on Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence in Emergencies (2005) is relevant, but more aspirational than practical. The UNHCR’s Sexual and Gender-based Violence against Refugees, Returnees, and Internally-Displaced Persons: Guidelines for Prevention and Response (2003) is similarly on-point but lacks concrete detail about possible shelter models or operations.
HRC’s 4-country study
As part of our Sexual Violence & Accountability Project, the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley's Law School (HRC) is studying existing models, challenges, and best practices in the temporary protection of survivors in forced displacement settings.
Since early 2012, we have been collecting and analyzing data safe shelters and alternative protection mechanisms operating in Kenya, Haiti, Colombia, and along the Thai-Burma border. Through interviews with shelter staff and residents, we are beginning to understand on-the-ground experiences and gather concrete recommendations. We hope to answer the following simple but fundamental questions:
►What models currently provide refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) with temporary protection from SGBV, and where are they operating?
►What lessons are transferable to other displacement settings?
►Might some models work better in certain contexts than in others?
|Tents at Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya|
So far, there appear to be several common challenges faced by these various models. These include:
►Survivors may have countless disincentives to seeking protection outside the home, including the stigma of SGBV, social exclusion for leaving home, the fear of retaliation, lack of resettlement options, and separation from children and support systems;
►Shelter’s exposed locations in camp and lack of relocation options require community buy-in and support for effective transition, which requires obtaining community input in program design, operation, and transition planning;
►Limited law enforcement capacity and disconnect from host country mechanisms can impede survivors’ ability, and willingness to report violence;
►Donor support / relief efforts can have both negative and positive impacts on what support services are provided to whom; funding imbalances can also affect relationships among providers;
►Insufficient tracking capacity limits evaluation of effectiveness;
►Insufficient mechanisms for addressing the specific needs and risks faced by male, LGBT, and disabled residents can create critical protection gaps;
►Diversity of survivors’ feelings, preferences, and needs can outstrip personnel competence or capacity;
►Managing the special housing, psychosocial, and educational needs of children, including both child survivors and minor dependents, can be difficult;
►Managing fraud that may arise due to shelter “pull factors” (better facilities, access to resources, and chances for resettlement than otherwise available, etc.) can be difficult and may contribute to staff cynicism over time.
Shelter staff and survivors have provided frank feedback about their personal roles and experiences, as well. Some staff feedback is predictable: there are never enough beds; it is hard to move someone out to make space for a new survivor; shelter sustainability is difficult; fraud and “double dipping” for benefits are concerns. Other staff feedback is more surprising: there are occasional security breaches by perpetrators; eligibility criteria can fluctuate radically with funding changes; many programs have no way to track residents’ safety once they leave; the work is emotionally taxing and occasionally dangerous - staff members themselves need physical protection and psychosocial support.
|Government-run DV shelter, Thailand|
HRC’s (4) country-specific reports, scheduled for release in fall 2012, will summarize the models, challenges, innovations, and insights we’ve accrued from each case study. Our comparative assessment will be published soon after. This assessment will be accompanied by formal recommendations for the UNHCR and other protection-providing entities. It is our hope that our findings will trigger a constructive dialogue about the unique realities of, and options for, emergency SGBV protection in forced displacement settings. We welcome feedback and expertise as we develop our recommendations.