A new report produced by the Karama network ‘Refugee and Stateless Women across the Arab Region: stories of the dream of return, the fear of trafficking and the discriminatory laws' (pdf) is a ground breaking work written collaboratively by women from Syria, Palestine, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Somalia and Morocco. It combines original research and personal testimony with historical and political analysis, to call for a response to refugees that moves beyond relief services to the promotion of rights. The authors address in detail the particular problems faced by Iraqi women living in Syria, Egypt and Jordan, Palestinian women living in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, Sudanese women living in Egypt and Somalian women living in ‘a nation without a state'.
It reveals the realities behind the rise of ‘Muta (temporary) marriage' in Syria, the booming business behind ‘Residence marriages' in Egypt, trafficking, increasing domestic violence as family structures are turned upside down and women become the breadwinners, and abuse by employers in the host country. The report also analyses the ways in which the lack of access to job markets for highly educated refugees in Syria, the lack of access to education for illiterate refugees in Egypt and the male dominance of the reconciliation and justice systems in Somalia, contribute to the exclusion of women and their inability to exercise their human rights. The term ‘survival sex' is now used to describe the sex work an increasing number of young women refugees are driven to.
Farah is an Iraqi refugee living in Syria, separated from her family in Baghdad. She is obsessed with the fear that her family might discover where she is and what she is doing. "I'll commit suicide if they discover the truth of my work, otherwise, my family itself will kill me. I had no other option; we live like the dead. This is not a life for a 15-year-old girl. I'm sure that deep inside, any girl like me has a desire to die." Salwa fled to Syria earlier this year after armed men murdered her husband, who worked as a barber. She turned to prostitution after she failed to find a job in Syria. She says she earns $300 and sometime $500 a week from her new work.
Only nine of the twenty-one member states of the Arab League are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Optional Protocol. Each section of this report analyses the specific ways in which the under-resourcing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), the interplay between international agencies such as UNHCR and national governments, the inadequacy of international legislation in the light of current conflicts, and the cultural, economic and political environment in each country exacerbate the fundamental discrimination faced by refugee and stateless women.
In each of the five countries dealt with, the Arab women authors - all of whom live and work in the region - offer specific recommendations for how to promote the human rights of the millions of refugee and stateless women in their midst.