“I really, really appreciate this workshop … I had no one to meet and talk to – no chance like this.” Soe Meh* was quiet and attentive, making valuable contributions while keeping a watchful eye on her baby as she was passed among many admirers. She presented her unique perspective to the participants attending the Women’s Refugee Commission/UNHCR workshop. As a young woman and mother with disabilities, she illuminated some of the challenges, skills and capacities that 6.7 million displaced persons with disabilities have in accessing and contributing to humanitarian programs.
Twenty-five years ago, a small group of women traveled from the United States to Hong Kong to bear witness to atrocities occurring in "closed camps" that were holding refugees who had fled Vietnam.
Actress and director Liv Ullmann was a member of the group. She recalls "barbed wired cities, thousands upon thousands of terrified people.... men, women and children crammed on top of each other, stacked together on shelves often three levels high. Like spoons in a drawer."
Shocked at the barbaric treatment of the refugees - 80% of whom were women and children - these dynamic women brought the situation to the world's attention and returned to the United States with a clear demand: that the humanitarian community listen to, and truly address the needs of, refugee women and children.
On March 13, President Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would conduct a review of enforcement procedures to investigate how deportations can be carried out more humanely.
This announcement followed a particularly unproductive week in Congress during which the House of Representatives not only failed to move forward with productive immigration reform, but rather focused on undoing any existing efforts to address the obvious shortfalls in our immigration system.
The Women's Refugee Commission is highly disappointed in the actions of some members of Congress who are actively trying to dismantle positive executive polices that help keep the children of immigrants in deportation proceedings out of foster care and with their families, measures that help hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement accountable to the public through their public engagement office, and policies that allow the president to exercise discretion with respect to the prosecution of young people brought to the United States as children.
Read the blog on Huffington Post.
On International Women's Day, the Women's Refugee Commission reviews the humanitarian response and throws light on the harsh realities of refugee life
As the crisis in Syria rages into its fourth year with no political solution in sight, the human consequences grow ever more serious – with Syrians set to overtake Afghans as the world's largest refugee population.
International Women's Day (March 8) is a good opportunity to reflect on whether humanitarian organizations helping those fleeing the war-torn country are getting it right for the largest, and most vulnerable, group of refugees – women and children.
Read the blog on Huffington Post.
The basement was cold and dank. The Iraqi refugee women huddled around the single kerosene heater – gloves on, scarves wrapped tightly around their necks. They began to speak. "We can do anything. We have to." "Our husbands sit at home depressed and do nothing," they said. Fierce. Tough. Reticent. We were in the grim, industrial city of Zarqa, some 30 miles north of Amman. It is a place where many Iraqi refugees relocate when they start to deplete their savings: the rents are cheaper than Amman; the city, shrouded in smog, is less desirable.
I was here on behalf of the Near East Foundation (NEF), a partner organization, to assess home-based enterprises: Are they viable? If so, which sectors provide the most realistic and lucrative opportunities?
Originally published on Women's eNews
At the end of our visit to the camp for internally displaced people, we thanked the women for sharing their stories. But then they said: visitors come, we talk to them, they listen, leave. Nothing changes for us.
In Myanmar's largest city of Yangon, at a conference bringing together women from around the country, women spoke confidently of their vision for a better future and their role in the political process.
But only a few hundred miles away, in the state of Rakhine, the second poorest in the country, in a crowded camp for families driven from their villages by ethnic and religious violence, the women feared for their lives and their uncertain future.
2013 brought hardship for refugees and unprecedented challenges for those of us seeking to help them. But the year also held moments of success: discoveries, epiphanies, and achievements. Below, our staff have identified some of the Women's Refugee Commission’s biggest and brightest victories. And they've shared what we look forward to accomplishing in 2014.
"Eduardo" was 17 years old when he was apprehended by United States Border Patrol. When we met with him, he told us his shocking story.
Eduardo was crossing the desert near the McAllen Border Patrol Station in Texas, along with a pregnant woman, two boys and a man. When they caught him, Border Patrol agents abused him physically and verbally. They grabbed him by the neck and dragged him along the ground, using their Tasers even though he had not resisted or attempted to run. Eduardo was distressed to see the Border Patrol agents use Tasers on the other people in the group, including the pregnant woman. They took him to la hielera—"the freezer"—as ice-cold holding cells at Border Patrol stations are known. There, guards continued to verbally harass him and the other exhausted children while they tried to sleep.
What is it that, despite the world falling down around us, allows us to lend a hand? What is it that allows us to laugh, to smile, to pick up and go on? Whatever it is, the past week has shown me that Filipinos have got it in their bones.
When I arrived in Guiuan, my host was Renee Patron. A Filipino-American business woman, she was visiting her parents in their home in Guiuan when Typhoon Yolanda struck. Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in Guiuan, and more than half of its housing stock and town center were destroyed or damaged. Further from the town center, out near the beautiful beaches, villages were reduced to rubble. Where they can, the residents have sheltered in their previous plots. They have cleared the debris and salvaged what they could. However, these improvised shelters provide very little real protection from the extreme sun and temperature, and the intermittent rain.
“Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all” is the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, marked today, December 3rd. A critical component of “breaking barriers” and “opening doors” must be that we look for and engage those who are less visible, those who have less voice, in the disabled community. As December 3rd also falls in the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) is calling attention to the needs and capacities of women and girls with disabilities in situations of conflict and crisis. We must learn more about their concerns and ideas to make both humanitarian and development programs accessible to and inclusive of them.