Mar 8, 2019

UPDATE: Worst Refugee Crisis for Girls

Amid an unprecedented global refugee crisis, girls are suffering the most, according to a new report released on International Day of the Girl by the humanitarian organization CARE. Titled ‘Far from Home: The 13 Worst Refugee Crises for Girls,’ the report highlights not only the unique threats faced by the more than 17 million girls displaced globally but also the inspiring ways girls are overcoming those barriers. The Syria conflict leads the list, followed by displacement crises in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Lake Chad Basin.

“What’s one of the most dangerous things to do in the world? Be a girl in a refugee crisis,” says Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of CARE. “Girls are strapped with explosives and turned into human bombs in Nigeria, married off at alarming rates in Yemen and subjected to sexual violence in conflicts from South Sudan to Myanmar. On International Day of the Girl, we must recognize that reality, work to change it and celebrate the inspirational girls who, though far from home, are far from helpless.”

CARE’s report highlights the stories of girls such as Walaa, an aspiring Syrian filmmaker who is telling her own family’s refugee story, and Marwa, who was once forced into child labor in Jordan but now has a chance to attend school and pursue her dreams. CARE is urging its supporters to sign a petition and call on lawmakers to protect U.S. foreign assistance that saves lives and equips girls with the tools they need to overcome the threats routinely faced in emergencies.

In concert with International Day of the Girl’s official UN theme this year — empowering girls in crisis — the multimedia report lists the worst refugee crises for girls that have started or grown worse since the UN created that special day for girls 6 years ago. The crises are ranked in order of total girls displaced, both across national borders as refugees and within their countries as internally displaced people, or IDPs. Read the report and share it at

The statistics are startling. CARE has found that as many as two-thirds of women and girls have suffered physical or sexual violence in conflict-ravaged areas of South Sudan. Girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in conflict-affected countries than their counterparts in conflict-free countries. And in Northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram is four times more likely to deploy girl bombers than boys. Meanwhile, early marriage rates have soared during the war in Yemen: now more than two-thirds of Yemeni girls are married off before they turn 18.

“The epidemic of human displacement is the great humanitarian challenge of our time, and girls are bearing the brunt,” Nunn said. “They are strong and courageous, and on International Day of the Girl we must remind ourselves to help them overcome some of the most difficult circumstances on Earth.”


Mar 8, 2019

UPDATE: Rohingya Refugees Still Struggling

Before arriving in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh where more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live, I had expected a refugee camp. Instead I found a sprawling, makeshift city of sorts with tent homes built amid steep, hilly terrain.

I’m an aid worker with the organization CARE. I’ve been responding to humanitarian crises for over 20 years and been to refugee camps in countries like South Sudan and Iraq, but I’ve never seen living conditions like that of the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

I was most struck by how crowded the camps are, spreading along the coastline of a district that was well-known for its beautiful, touristy beaches, but was already very poor and underdeveloped even before the crisis. In a record period, Cox’s Bazar became the world’s highest populated, densest refugee camp on earth.

Hills that accommodate more than 200,000 families are small but steep. The only way to reach them is by climbing, using hands and feet. Just this week, the first storm this season has unexpectedly hit the area. Strong winds caused damage in many camps. Some rooftops were blown off, and some fragile sheds collapsed. Women are particularly vulnerable as many bathrooms have been partly or entirely destroyed.

These people have lost so much already and risked their lives to be here. They suffer from trauma and different psychological issues, making their situation particularly fragile and increasing their need for special care. Yet, they keep enduring one tragedy after another.

Around 80% of the population is women and children. They traveled, sometimes on foot, for long weeks to reach safety. One woman told me she did not have enough to feed her baby every day. I noticed that she did not have a baby with her. She painfully explained why: “We walked for 25 days. How long do you think a baby can survive only on water and very little rice?”

In my conversations with women, they all said that they miss home and wish to go back one day, because a refugee camp, no matter how well prepared it can be, is never home. Yet, not one woman told me she was eager or ready to go home. When they heard a few months ago of discussions about being sent back to Myanmar they were frightened. “I could not sleep for days,” one woman told me. “We would surely be killed once we are back,” another said.

When I talk to distressed women and girls in a state of crisis, and ask them about their needs, I often expect them to demand firewood, menstrual hygiene, or maternal health care. But what those women demanded was different. They were talking about proper burial for their lost ones, and about accountability in addressing the cause of this conflict. When talking about the future, all they were wishing for was education for their children.

But to bring these women’s wishes closer to reality, we cannot afford to have the world’s attention steered away or faded.

In August 2017 when the big refugee influx from Myanmar into Bangladesh occurred, the media coverage was massive. However, we don’t hear about this crisis that much any more. Although the headlines have vanished, the needs have not at all.

Due to the unprecedented magnitude of the Rohingya crisis, there are many organizations responding. Bangladesh is a country that has very strong, national civil society organisations. There are about 145 agencies in Cox’s Bazar helping Myanmar refugees. CARE has been on the frontline of the response almost since day one providing shelter, water and sanitation, and training local agencies’ staff. CARE places a special focus on women and girls whom we provide sexual and reproductive health support.

Although I am thankful for all the support the international community has given to the affected populations by this crisis, I cannot help but feel frustrated as the world’s patience and attention span are limited. Yes, there are too many emergencies competing for attention and support worldwide. The number of people outside their homes is more than it has ever been, even more than post-World War II. Moreover, over 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. That is one in every nine people on the planet. Yet, just by looking at the sheer numbers of Rohingya refugees, and how the international community talks about their commitment to women and children, we need that commitment to be demonstrated.


Author: Deepmala Mahla, Regional Director for Asia, CARE

Originally published March 3, 2019 on HuffPost.



Dec 13, 2018

UPDATE CARE's Support of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

A business incubator for displaced Iraqi women and a mental health mobile service with a smartphone application aiding confidential outreach to domestic violence survivors from Syria were the winners of the inaugural Relay! GBV Challenge, the global humanitarian organization CARE announced at the conclusion of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) campaign.

The Lotus Flower Organisation from Iraq, which runs the business incubator, and the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA) of Turkey, developers of a GBV awareness mobile application, won the Relay! GBV Challenge after a month-long call for the best initiatives addressing Gender-based Violence in the Middle East and North Africa. As the grand prize winners among the 90 applications from Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, Lotus Flower and SEMA will receive additional funds for their programs and a partnership with CARE staff in their countries to further the programs’ work and impact.

The Relay! GBV Challenge began accepting applications in October. The challenge aimed to surface the best interventions that are working to respond, prevent and understand gender-based violence in various contexts throughout the region. CARE identified particular scenarios in each country that detailed target population and GBV specifics, for example, early marriage in Jordan or sexual harassment in Egypt. Local organizations replied to country-specific challenges and highlighted their best initiatives displaying the most promise. Eleven (11) semi-finalists were chosen in November and the final two winners were decided based on a rigorous judging process by CARE senior staff and other international organizations’ leadership.

Gender-based violence is one of the greatest barriers to gender-equity and can encompass a wide range of dangerous and sometimes invisible tactics, from financial intimidation, harassment, to physical abuse and murder. The work to address GBV is critical to save the lives and livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable populations around the word. In 2017 alone, 50,000 women were killed by family members or intimate partners, and statistics show that at least 1 in 5 refugee women experience sexual violence. The needs of women and girls are great, and CARE takes a holistic approach, including awareness training, financial and resource assistance, health care, and counseling.

CARE believes that violence against women is a human rights violation, and knows that preventing and responding to it requires a network of change-makers, allies, and advocates. The Relay! GBV challenge hopes to infuse resources and capacity to work that is making a marked difference in communities. The great work from other organizations and support of the entire community of actors, is pivotal to creating a world of dignity, safety, and security for women and girls. Congratulations to Lotus Flower and SEMA!

Notes on the two winners:

SEMA provides psychological support to individuals through a physical center and, as a RELAY! Winner, will develop a new smartphone application to increase outreach directly and confidentially with GBV survivors, offering a suite of support services.

The Lotus Flower are local implementers that support women and girls impacted by conflict and displacement. As a RELAY! Winner they will use the grant to scale up their Women's Business Incubator to provide a financial foundation and business mentorship for women-led small businesses.




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