Refugee Women and Girls

Special Populations

Special populations

Asylum Access provides direct assistance to over 10,000 refugees annually. Under international law, refugees are those who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, are outside their country of nationality and are unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country. They are a highly vulnerable population, often denied access to their fundamental rights to safety, employment, education, and protection. Among refugees, there are subgroups with special needs. This section describes their unique protection needs and how Asylum Access works to address them:

Refugee women
Refugee children
LGBTI refugees
Survivors of human trafficking

Refugee Women: Women and girls comprise at least 40% of our refugee client population in Ecuador, Thailand and Tanzania. Often perceived as outsiders, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, forced prostitution, labor exploitation, and other cross-cutting hazards. While sexual violence prevention programs exist, they are often aimed at broader populations and fail to include the unique needs of refugee women and girls.

Many refugee women and girls left their home country fleeing sexual violence, and must overcome this trauma to successfully build a new life. In addition, refugee women may lack access to legal status and consequently, access to the protection of local security forces. They may not report rape and remain disempowered to seek psychosocial assistance due to fear and mistrust of local authorities. We provide direct legal assistance to help women and girls respond to these rights violations, connecting them with external psychosocial specialists to fulfill to other critical needs.

In Ecuador, our Encuentros de Mujeres” (Convenings of Women) provide a safe haven for refugee women to focus on healing and find the strength to pursue their rights. Held regularly at our offices in Ecuador, this year, our women’s workshops have helped 270 women overcome trauma and take back control of their life, enabling a holistic approach to refugee women’s empowerment beyond legal assistance.

In Tanzania, our Women’s Empowerment Groups meets bimonthly  for workshops led by external specialists on microfinance, reproductive health, and other topics specific  to refugee women’s needs. Each session hosts between 12-20 women. Watch this short video to learn more about our Women’s Empowerment Groups in Dar es Salaam.

In Thailand, we have launched women’s empowerment groups for Pakistani, Iranian, and francophone African women (Congolese, Cameroonian and Angolan), with additional groups forthcoming. These groups enable refugee women to access psychosocial support from external specialists, such as how to cope with the unpredictability of living in a challenging refugee environment. As refugees in Thailand come from over 20 countries, many speaking a different language, each women’s empowerment group can only be provided to a specific refugee women’s community.

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Refugee Children:

More than half of all refugees are children. A considerable number are below the age of 18 and arrive unaccompanied by a responsible adult, or are left unaccompanied after they have entered the receiving country.

Refugee children arrive for a host of reasons. Some flee wars and persecution, and may become separated from their family during the journey. Others leave to be reunited with extended family members, or are survivors of human trafficking who remain unable to return home safely. Often dependent on the support of others or charity, they are more vulnerable to exploitation and face far greater protection needs.

Asylum Access helps unaccompanied minors obtain legal status and protection, including additional advocacy and direct engagement with UN refugee agency or government authorities to highlight their individual needs.

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LGBTI refugees

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees are one of the most vulnerable and isolated groups of refugees. In countries where same-sex relations are criminalized or illegal, LGBTI refugees face a heightened risk of violent attacks and discrimination. For this reason, LGBTI refugees may choose to flee their countries and seek protection elsewhere.

Once in the countries where they have sought protection, LGBTI refugees may still face persecution and may be abducted, tortured and raped due to their sexual orientation. Fearing further attacks, many LGBTI refugees forgo reporting threats or attacks to local police and instead live in hiding.

Asylum Access helps LGBTI refugees seek legal status and protection, and access critical resettlement opportunities where local laws criminalize their sexuality or are unable to offer protection. We have also helped LGBTI couples resettle quickly due to heightened security risks in the host country.

Watch the video testimony of Mary, one of our LGBTI clients, who we helped through legal representation.

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Survivors of Human Trafficking

Many survivors of human trafficking might have legitimate refugee claims, but remain unaware of the means to seek protection. They may seek the help of human smugglers to flee for safety, and require assistance to avoid deportation as ‘illegal migrants’. Moreover, refugees are also vulnerable to trafficking in their host country, forced into work or prostitution by unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit their fear and lack of access to assistance.

Asylum Access helps refugees who are also survivors of human trafficking seek durable solutions to their displacement, including legal assistance to obtain refugee status, access resettlement, and secure the protection of local security forces where the individual continues to be pursued by their traffickers.

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