The need to address the dire situation of female refugees in Arab states is prompted by the aggravated suffering which they endure, and which calls for the evocation of three fundamental rights derived from the principles of international humanitarian law: the right of refugees to return to their original homeland, the right to be compensated for their material losses and psychological trauma, and the right to have their property restored.
Fourteen-year-old Lafif still looks like the young girl she is, with innocent features and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She lives in Syria with her mother and two young brothers, and works as a prostitute in a nightclub. Not allowed to work legally in Syria, the family lived on savings until they ran out of money. Then her mother was forced to look for other ways to earn a living. “A woman came to my mother and offered her to send me to these places and my mother agreed,” says Lafif. “We were in need of money.”
Report on Refugee and Stateless Women across the Arab World: Stories of the Dream of Return, the Fear of Trafficking and Discriminatory Laws
Karama partners who took part in Karama’s Regional CEDAW Consultation decided collectively to carry out investigations into the situation of refugee and/or stateless women in their respective countries. The exercise was intended primarily for Karama members with widely disparate experience of refugee issues to familiarize themselves with the problems refugee/stateless women face as a result of discriminatory laws and attitudes; insufficient support from relevant governmental, international and civil society actors; and the failure of parties to the conflict to find a political solution that would enable their return.
It was the first step in a longer process that would see Karama members become better able to pay attention to non-citizens’ needs alongside those of their traditional constituents, helping to break down barriers between these communities and to advocate that the rights of both be equally respected. And it would allow members of a Karama delegation at the 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women to focus attention on refugee and stateless women during the Commission’s discussion of financing for women’s rights.
The research was thus not exhaustive, but conducted primarily through desk reviews of available literature and interviews with a variety of actors, including staff from UNHCR, UNRWA and civil society organizations that work with refugees and asylum seekers in the region. Briefs were compiled about Iraqi refugee women in Syria, Egypt and Jordan; Palestinian refugee women in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria; Sudanese refugee women in Egypt; and Somali women made de facto stateless by the collapse of the Somali government. These were presented and reviewed during the preparatory meeting held in Cairo ahead of CSW, and then collated into a single report that was distributed during the session in New York and made widely available, in English and Arabic, through Karama’s website and its first e-newsletter.
In evaluations submitted after CSW, Karama delegates (all of whom participated in drafting the report) praised the strategy of focusing their advocacy on a pivotal issue and developing a file on that issue through a collective process. They noted that the report is important not only because it allowed Karama delegates to distribute a tangible document as part of their CSW advocacy efforts—thereby drawing attention to Karama, the Arab region, and the issues in focus—but also because it would influence Karama member organizations and encourage them to put refugee and stateless women’s issues on their own agendas.