Archive for the ‘Refugee Asylum’ Category

Domestic violence among North Korean defector couples is much more serious than that among South Korean couples, according to the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, Tuesday.

The frequent violence in marriages is because of the patriarchal custom back in North Korea where domestic violence is connived, it said.

The ministry’s research based on 302 defectors from the North — 102 men and 200 women — showed that 85.2 percent of defector families experienced some sort of violence between husbands and wives over the last 12 months.

Most of the couples are comprised of both a North Korean defector wife and husband, while the rest are made of a defector wife and a South Korean husband, or vice versa. In most cases, violent acts were carried out by men on women.

The percentage of domestic violence was much higher than the 53.8 percent for average South Korean couples.

When multiple replies were allowed, 51.3 percent of the defectors said they had suffered physical violence, and 75.5 percent suffered from emotional violence, meaning verbal abuse, threats of physical violence or destruction of the spouse’s property.

It showed 43.8 percent had endured “economic violence” — not giving living costs to a spouse or disposing property without the partner’s consent; 33.6 percent suffered from sexual abuse; and 59.5 percent suffered from negligence.

“Compared with average couples, every type of domestic violence took place more frequently between North Korean defector couples. The frequency of physical violence between those couples was three times higher than the average,” Kim Kwang-yun, the ministry official, said.

“The frequent violence stems from North Korea’s patriarchal custom. The society accepts violence especially towards women,” he said.

At the resettlement center of Hanawon, defectors receive education on South Korean etiquette, but Hanawon instructors say it is not easy to change North Korean men’s macho character, according to Kim.

“Those from the North, especially women, learn about the wrongfulness of domestic violence after coming here. But only about half of them are aware of the law preventing domestic violence and other ways to help them. We’ll try to boost the awareness and propose Hanawon educate the women more on domestic violence,” Kim said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi unveiled measures targeting immigrants and prostitutes last week, drawing derision from the Italian opposition who want him to resign in a scandal involving teenage girls at his villa.

A decree passed by his cabinet allows authorities to deport citizens of other EU states after 90 days if they do not meet conditions such as having a suitable income and an address.

The move will extend a crackdown on Roma people, which has been criticised by rights groups as discriminatory, and follows similar moves in France earlier this year when dozens of Roma were put on flights to Romania.

The new measures will also allow police to expel any immigrant working as a prostitute on the street but not affect prostitutes working indoors.

Berlusconi is at the centre of a scandal involving an 18-year-old Moroccan runaway named Ruby. Ruby has said she was paid 7,000 euros ($9,900) after she attended a party at Berlusconi’s private villa near Milan when she was 17 years old.

Ruby has denied having sex with Berlusconi and said she had told him she was 24 years old.

His wife filed for divorce last year, accusing him of associating with minors.

The prime minister has shrugged off the storm of criticism which has come his way over the incident, even stoking the outrage with his trademark brand of provocation by remarking “it’s better to like beautiful girls than to be gay”.

Part of a longer article at

See earlier postings:


Persecution experienced by women often differs from that experienced by men, but the asylum system still tends to regard it through a lens of male experiences. Gender-related persecution may give rise to claims for international protection. However, states do not always take it into proper account. To this must be added inappropriate interview settings, the use of irrelevant country of origin information and lack of training of officials. Although member states are stepping up their work in order to streamline a gender understanding into public decision-making, policy and operations, this effort is not always reflected in the asylum procedure.

Certain forms of harm (gender-based forms of harm or violence) are more frequently or only used against women or affect women in a manner that is different from men. These include, inter alia, sexual violence, societal and legal discrimination, forced prostitution, trafficking of human beings, refusal of access to contraception, bride burning, forced marriage, forced sterilisation, forced abortion and (forced) female genital mutilation and enforced nakedness/sexual humiliation.

A woman may be persecuted because of her gender (gender-related persecution), for example where she refuses or fails to comply with social, religious or cultural behaviour expected from a woman (floggings for refusing to use a veil, female genital mutilation, honour killings of adulterous women, etc.)

The Parliamentary Assembly is invited to call upon member states to ensure that gender-based violence and gender-related persecution is appropriately taken into account in any asylum determination process. They are also called upon to set up their asylum system in such a way as to ensure gender sensitivity. The Assembly also calls on the Committee of Ministers to, inter alia, instruct the appropriate inter-governmental body in the Council of Europe to carry out a study on the approach of member states to gender-related claims in the asylum process and provide them with guidelines.

Read the report in full at

Many women at the Jean-Marie Vincent site for displaced people (IDPs) in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince wash themselves inside their makeshift tents because the only alternative is to do so out in the open. Given the overcrowding and meagre security, this exposes them to the risk of attack or rape.

Going to the site’s latrines is also risky, especially at night, for there is no lighting and some toilets are isolated.

“We have not yet reached a standard of organization that respects women’s rights,” Smith Maximé of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Haiti told IRIN.

“We have registered rape cases that occurred when women were in the latrines. When toilets are not secured – as in many of the camps – women are often attacked there,” he added.

The failure to meet established minimum disaster relief standards [,english/] is “creating serious security, privacy and dignity concerns”, according to the Gender in Humanitarian Response Working Group*.

“Increased lighting surrounding those latrines should be an immediate priority to ensure the safety of women and girls using sanitation facilities at night,” the Group said in a statement issued in late February.

“Increased attention must be paid to the provision of dedicated and private bathing facilities to reduce women’s current vulnerability to sexual violence. Though many women and girls bathed outdoors prior to the earthquake, the nature of many IDP sites (crowded living conditions, living near strangers) is creating new vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation, in particular at night, that did not necessarily exist before,” it said.

Overcrowding and lack of lighting in camps are part of the problem. In many camps there is no space between tents. Aid organizations and the government plan to move people from 21 of the most congested sites either back home, to host families or to land recently allotted by the authorities. In the meantime aid agencies are putting some security measures in place, such as installing lights.

“Protection is one of the major issues of concern when sites are over-congested,” Sara Ribeiro, protection coordinator with the International Organization for Migration, told IRIN. IOM is the lead agency for the group of agencies collectively tasked with organizing the management of camps for displaced people.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), [] a group of UN and non-UN organizations that since 1992 has worked to harmonize humanitarian best practice, stipulates [] that humanitarian actors must ensure that the route to water and sanitation facilities is safe and that latrines are well lit and lockable from the inside.

Ribeiro said another major problem was a lack of camp management agencies. As of 4 March just one-fifth of the 400 camps for displaced families had such agencies in place, she said.

Community watch groups are forming in many sites; OCHA states in a 4 March report that these groups will need training to increase the protection of women and girls.

UNFPA is working with the authorities and local NGOs to revive a system of reporting sexual violence cases. “But our immediate focus is to disseminate information on available medical and psycho-social support, and to [put first] the rights and choices of the survivor,” Lina Abirafeh, GBV coordinator for UNFPA in Haiti, told IRIN.

The agency is compiling a list of hospitals and NGOs that provide medical and counselling services for distribution in the camps.

UN aid workers say no comprehensive statistics of rape in the camps are available but rape and impunity have long been widespread in Haiti, as IASC notes. In 2008 Amnesty International reported “shocking levels” of sexual violence against girls. []

* The group comprises representatives of MINUSTAH-Human Rights, MINUSTAH-Gender Unit, UNIFEM, UNFPA, World Food Programme, IOM, UN Children’s Fund, and several NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, American Refugee Committee, and International Medical Corps.

Edited version of report at

When Canada Border Services agents entered a downtown women’s shelter Feb. 27 in search of “Jane”, a non-status rape victim and single mother from Ghana, all they accomplished was her re-victimization and re-traumatization, allege a collective of anti-violence against women advocates last week.

With a banner declaring “deportation is violence against women” above their heads, seven representatives of organizations supporting the Shelter Sanctuary Status campaign spoke out against the “unprecedented attack” at an emergency press conference at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.

“Why target these women? This smacks to me of lazy policing – it’s easy to go after the people who are very vulnerable; easy to go after the people who have few resources,” decried Anna Willats, a 10-year veteran professor with George Brown’s Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate Program.

“The Canada Border Service Agency’s policy (of entering shelters to look for non-status women) is one that contributes to violence against women and it must be changed…deportation is a system that tears families apart, that takes women, uproots them from communities where they’ve established roots, and sends them back to horrific violence – to violence that could lead to their death.”

In the case of Jane, whose real name was withheld for the sake of her safety, that life of horrific violence began was she was just eight years old. Her parents, faced with the prospect of losing their daughter to grave illness, turned to a rural voodoo doctor in Ghana for help. The cost of curing her, however, was lifelong ownership of the girl.

Thus abandoned by her parents, young Jane spent the next decade of her life “held hostage” as a virtual sex slave, she said. She was raped on an almost daily basis. She escaped once, but was tracked down and brought back for more abuse.

It wasn’t until ten years of such abuse had passed that Jane was finally able to break free, she said. She fled to Canada in 1999 on a visitor’s visa. Here, she had an apartment, a car, a job, a life. She gave birth to her daughter here in Toronto. She was relatively happy and totally independent.

All that changed in 2006, when Jane’s refugee application was denied. An appeal saw the same result. A deportation order was filed, and Jane became desperate.

If deported back to Ghana, Jane fears those who took away her innocence as a young child will reassert their ownership rights over both her and her three-year-old daughter. She wants a much happier childhood for her daughter and a better life for them both. That’s why she went to Beatrice House, a downtown shelter, in the first place – as a refuge against the prospect of deportation back to a life of misery and violence, she admitted.

But the sense of safety and security she once felt in the arms of Toronto’s shelter system were shattered Feb. 27 when Jane received word that CBSA officers entered Beatrice House looking for her.

“I wasn’t staying there anymore, but one of the residents from the shelter called me. She told me that immigration officers came into the shelter looking for me,” she recalled, sitting huddled in a back room of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, away from prying camera lenses and shrouded by a scarf and dark sunglasses.

“I never thought Immigration would actually do something so low. I am not a criminal. I am a human being and shouldn’t be treated like this. I have the right to be in a shelter without being afraid that they will come to get me.”

The CBSA, however, begs to differ. In an email to The Guardian, the agency’s communications manager Anna Pape said that, while uncommon, CBSA does hold the authority to access shelters “in order to enforce outstanding immigration warrants.”

“The CBSA would only enter shelters in cases where a proactive investigation leads them there. In these rare cases, when entry to a shelter becomes necessary, the situation is always approached with sensitivity and discretion,” she said, noting that, to date, none of their visits have involved direct contact with residents, searches of living quarters, or physical altercations.

The problem with that policy, advocates contended Monday, is that the resultant threat of detention and deportation might force women and children to remain in an abusive situation.

Eileen Morrow, coordinator of the Ontario Association for Interval and Transition Houses, said the practice must stop.

“When enforcement officers violate the safety of a women’s shelter to execute their orders on any one woman, they send a message to other women that the shelter is not a safe or confidential space,” she said.

“Enforcement activities of the CBSA should not trump the women’s right to safety. With or without immigration status in this country, women have a human right to safety from violence, and with or without warrants the CBSA must stop looking for migrant and refugee women at shelters and other women’s services.”

Jane, meanwhile, has decided to remain in hiding; to shelter-hop until CBSA authorities give up trying to find her.

“I’m like a mouse, I’m still hiding. I want my status – to get my permanent residency to stay in Canada, but I’ve been denied for everything. That’s the struggle,” she said. “It’s been very difficult and I go through a lot of pain. I don’t sleep in my life. Even my baby, too, she is going through a lot of stress. She is Canadian but does not enjoy a Canadian’s life.”

The Shelter Sanctuary Status Coalition, a growing movement of more than 120 anti-violence against women organizations across Toronto, is demanding the CBSA immediately stop visiting or waiting outside shelters or organizations that provide services to women; that women fleeing domestic abuse and violence be given status immediately; and that a full and inclusive regularization program be implemented.

For more information, go to–women-s-advocates-want-an-end-to-shelter-searches

As UNHCR offices around the world marked International Women’s Day, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said it was vital that all people of concern to the agency, male and female, are given equal opportunities and are able to realize their individual rights on an equal basis.

Guterres, in a special message to staff, added that this year’s theme, Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All, was “a principle UNHCR has already committed to implementing through, for example, its strategy for Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming.”

The High Commissioner, noting that nearly half of all people uprooted by conflict are female, said inequality between women and men, and discrimination on the basis of sex occurs during all stages of the displacement cycle. “Moreover, difficulties accessing and enjoying rights are likely to be worsened during displacement leading to even greater gender inequality,” he added.

Guterres stressed that UNHCR was also dedicated to ensuring women’s equality within the organization. He said UNHCR’s three-year-old policy on gender equity reflected the organization’s determination to achieve gender parity in staffing.

UNHCR staff in offices and refugee camps around the world have arranged various programmes for today and the rest of the week to commemorate International Women’s Day. In the agency’s Geneva headquarters, female staff were selling handicrafts made by Iraqi refugees in Damascus for programmes aimed at the prevention and response to sexual violence.

Later in the week, Ugandan refugee Kate Ofwono from Kakuma camp in north-west Kenya is due to take part with Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller in a panel discussion in Geneva entitled, “Listen to Women for Change.” Ofwono will also show a film she made, with UNHCR’s support, about her life and challenges in Kakuma and how she has made use of the opportunities available for skills development and employment.

Luisa Cremonese, a senior UNHCR gender specialist who is helping organize the events in Geneva, said forced displacement often led to many human rights violations against women, both during flight and in camps. She added that in some cases abuse occured “even when they return home and the rights they have gained as refugees are no longer respected.”

Meanwhile, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad UNHCR and a local partner, Struggle for Change (SACH), convened a special International Women’s Day meeting on Monday of local and refugee women to discuss the day’s theme of equal rights and equal opportunities.

A 48-year-old Somali woman, Hadja, told the gathering that she had been abducted and held by a militia group for four years in her homeland before managing to escape. “I was subjected to a lot of physical and mental violence and the numerous scars on various part of my body are a reminder of the pain and hurt I had to endure,” said Hadja, who has been living in Islamabad for the past three years.

Her husband, a former UN driver, was killed by militiamen in Somalia along with her father and eldest son. She said that she had been warned that she would be killed if she returned to Somalia because Hadja had refused to marry her brother-in-law. She lives in Pakistan with one of her daughters, but her three other children remain in Africa.

Hadja survives largely on an allowance of 4,500 Pakistani rupees (US$52) a month from SACH. She has a refugee card from UNHCR, but no right to work or permanent residence. Despite this, Hadja’s strength has made her a leader among the Somali women in Islamabad.

Sharing her story at Monday’s event, she said that “in spite of the traumatic experience and violence inflicted on me, I still have a will to live and hope for the future.” She added that her “passion is to assist the weak, the needy and the voiceless.”

Humaira, a 21-year-old refugee from neighbouring Afghanistan, told the meeting she had come to Pakistan when she was only four years old. “I feel Pakistan is my home country. I speak Urdu very well,” said the maths teacher. “As a woman, I feel I can strive harder toward a better future,” she said.

In Bogota, UNHCR marked the day by launching a video, “Sin Nombre (Nameless),” which tells the story of displaced Colombian women. The groups Mesa Mujer and Armed Conflict, meanwhile, presented their ninth annual report on socio-political violence against females in Colombia, which shows forcibly displaced women to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.

In Venezuela, UNHCR was taking part in an International Women’ Day fair at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. The UNHCR office in Zulia was scheduled to make a presentation on international law at a conference on women’s rights, with the focus on indigenous communities in the region.

Women displaced by war should be given a greater voice in decisions directly affecting their future, especially those taken by humanitarian organizations and others helping internally displaced people (IDPs), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

In the run-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, the ICRC drew attention to the extraordinary strength and resilience of millions of women displaced by armed conflicts worldwide.

In situations of war and displacement, women’s voices often go unheard and their specific needs are overlooked.

“The stereotype of women as passive beneficiaries can result in their being excluded from decisions that affect them directly,” explained Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC’s adviser on issues relating to women and war.

“Failure to consult women about their needs and how best to address them diminishes the quality and efficiency of the aid provided.” The ICRC has been increasingly involving women in planning, implementing and evaluating aid programmes.

For example, since women are often responsible for their families’ food supplies, the ICRC consults them before deciding what type and quantity of food aid to distribute and to ensure that locations for food distributions are safe and accessible.

Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation.

Many face poverty and social exclusion as well.

International humanitarian law therefore includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children.

Iraq, where an estimated 2.8 million people have had to flee their homes in recent years (1), is a case in point.

Deprived of traditional sources of income, many displaced women are forced to defy social expectations, and adopt a new role as the family breadwinner, in order to earn money and put food on the table – through whatever means possible, including manual labour.

The situation is especially serious in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where displaced women such as Marie (2), a 22-year-old rape victim, fight to overcome hardship and despair.

In addition to the trauma she suffered, Marie was rejected by her community.

Nevertheless, with help from the ICRC, she managed to start her own small business and take care of her three children independently.

“Far too often, women are victims of horrific violence and cruelty in times of war,” said Ms Puechguirbal.

“But this is not the whole story.

Many women also show remarkable grit and determination in coping with their problems, and build new lives for themselves and their families.”


See also:

The displacement of populations is one of the gravest consequences of today’s armed conflicts. It affects women in a host of ways. But far from being helpless victims, women are resourceful, resilient and courageous in the face of hardship. Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC adviser on women and war explains.

The international community must act to ensure the safety of women and girls following the earthquake in Haiti, ActionAid said on Thursday.

With an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, ActionAid is concerned that women are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

In one of the camps ActionAid is working in, several women have reported cases of rape or sexual abuse to our staff. Natural disasters can result in vulnerable women being forced to exchange sex for food to feed their families as well as heightened levels of sexual violence as a result of an absence of the rule of law.

In the camp, women have organised a system for the most vulnerable women to be guarded by volunteers at night. Every afternoon a Haitian police officer visits the camp and residents report whoever has been accused of rape. This has significantly lowered the threat and is a positive sign of community self-organisation, but thousands of other women in Haiti remain at risk.

In the coming weeks, ActionAid will be working to strengthen this women’s committee and set up similar systems in other camps.

The example of this camp shows that Haitians are acting themselves to protect women when they can. However, international efforts in the relief operation and in the longer-term rebuilding of the country must include the safety of women as a high priority.

Myra De Bruijn of ActionAid in Haiti said: “Women are always in danger after natural disasters such as earthquakes and we are already hearing reports of rape. Currently these are isolated incidents but they highlight the fact that women are at risk and must be protected.

“After the 2004 Asian tsunami we saw rape, sexual abuse, sexual discrimination and harassment, as well as domestic violence in camps and we have to make sure that does not happen in Haiti.”

ActionAid, which is part of the relief operation in Haiti, will also ensure that women receive appropriate emergency supplies such as clothing, undergarments and sanitary towels, and that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding receive enough food and nutrients.

After suffering 10 years of horrific abuse at the hands of her husband, Rody Alvarado fled her native Guatemala in 1995 and applied for asylum in the U.S.

Last week, in a one-page decision, an immigration judge finally granted her request. It was the culmination of a long personal odyssey for Alvarado and of a thorny legal case that inflamed passions on both sides of the immigration debate.

The Obama administration now says it is crafting regulations to allow entry by other victims of domestic violence who feel they have no choice but to flee their homelands to protect themselves.

If adopted, the regulations would mark the first time the federal government formally recognized domestic abuse victims as qualifying for political asylum.

“The issue is highly complex, and we are moving ahead to develop regulations that will address these cases,” said U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler.

No details were disclosed regarding the types of cases that would warrant asylum.

In her first interview since the court decision, Alvarado told The Associated Press she is proud of paving the way for women in similar situations.

“I never lost hope,” said Alvarado, a deeply religious woman who left behind two young children when she fled Guatemala. “God never abandoned me.”

Domestic violence claims are controversial in the fight for asylum. Currently, nearly all asylum applications allege persecution by a government rather than an individual. In addition, successful asylum applicants have to show they were persecuted because of religion, political beliefs, race, nationality or membership in a particular social group.

Advocacy groups and politicians calling for tighter borders complain that expanding asylum protection to domestic violence victims would distort the intent of refugee policy and open the borders to increased immigration.

“How are asylum authorities going to substantiate these claims when we know that domestic violence in this country can be a complicated thing,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the advocacy group Federation for American Immigration Reform. “This is getting us into personal relationships, and that’s not where asylum law ought to go.”

Mehlman said his organization opposed expanding the asylum law, which was created in 1980 largely as a means for Communist Bloc citizens to defect while visiting the U.S. in a diplomatic role. Backers of the law at the time estimated that claims would average around 5,000 a year and drop off significantly after the Cold War ended.

In fiscal year 2008, the government received 47,459 asylum claims and granted 10,743 — a decrease over the previous year’s 54,957 applications and 12,807 approvals.

Immigration attorneys insist that asylum applications won’t spike if the administration expands protection to battered women.

Alvarado’s lawyer Karen Musalo, who runs the University of California, Hastings Law School’s Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, predicted few domestic violence victims would apply for asylum.

She said it is difficult for such women to flee their countries, and once in the U.S. they still have a high legal burden to win asylum.

Musalo said immigration numbers remained the same after women fleeing countries that practice genital mutilation won formal asylum protection in 1996.

In Alvarado’s case, Musalo presented testimony from several experts and other evidence showing women in Guatemala faced persecution on several levels and that law enforcement officials and the judiciary offer no protection to domestic violence victims.

“The overwhelming evidence is that it is widely, generally and almost unanimously accepted that abuse against women in Guatemala is considered normal and is absolutely tolerated,” Musalo said.

Alvarado said in court papers her physical, mental and sexual abuse began soon after she married a former military man when she was 16. Her husband pistol-whipped her, routinely beat her, and kicked her in the spine to abort her second pregnancy, she said.

He also tracked her down and beat her after she fled several times to other areas of Guatemala, threatening to kill her each time. He once beat her into unconsciousness in front of her two children.

She was so desperate and fearful that she fled to Brownsville, Texas, without her children. She said she was stopped by a Border Patrol official but allowed to proceed after promising to report to an immigration office. She boarded a flight to San Francisco because it was the destination of other Guatemalans traveling with her.

She randomly met a native Guatemalan awaiting the arrival of her daughter-in-law. The woman invited Alvarado to spend the night, and she ended up staying with the family for two years.

“I believe in guardian angels,” Alvarado said in the interview, as Musalo interpreted.

Still, Alvarado said her legal victory is bittersweet. She has not seen her children since she left her native country. Her son is now 22 and her daughter 17. They speak on the telephone occasionally, but the relationship is estranged.

The children were raised by their father’s parents and do not understand why she left.

See aso: Asylum in US for survivors of domestic violence

After fleeing abuse at Fort Campbell, a lesbian now living in Canada is hoping for asylum on the unusual grounds of anti-homosexual persecution within the U.S. military. Her case could affect other claims by asylum seekers from democracies.

For months, Pvt. Bethany Smith silently endured taunts and physical abuse from her fellow soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., for being a lesbian. But when she received an anonymous note one day with a threat against her life, Smith decided she had to get out of the Army.

More than 12,000 service members have lost their jobs because of the U.S. military’s so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. A disproportionate number of those discharges are women, according to 2008 statistics gathered by the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network from the government under the Freedom of Information Act.

With the help of an acquaintance, Smith abandoned Fort Campbell and drove for two straight days to Canada, where she hoped to seek asylum. She crossed the border on Sept. 11, 2007.

More than two years later, Smith, now 21, is fighting to stay in Ottawa, where she works for a call center.

Her efforts to obtain refugee status were boosted in November when a Canadian federal court judge decided her case should be reconsidered by the country’s refugee board, which had earlier rejected her claim.

Smith assumes she would face a court martial for desertion in the United States and possibly further charges for having same-sex relations. She also believes that a court martial would consist of her peers, who would likely share the same views about her sexual orientation as her tormentors.

Smith’s case, believed to be a first, is based on anti-homosexual persecution within the U.S. military, says Liew, rather than on a reluctance to serve overseas, as has been the case for a multitude of other U.S. soldiers who have fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even so, the court’s decision in Smith’s favor could have far-reaching implications for other refugee claimants, Liew said.

“One of the most important things that came out of this case is that every case should be looked at individually and on its own merits and facts,” she said.

Canada has been reluctant to offer asylum to U.S. soldiers avoiding war in Iraq and Afghanistan, though it had welcomed defectors during the Vietnam War. In 2008, Jeremy Hinzman, the first U.S. Army deserter to seek asylum in the country, was ordered to be deported after the Federal Court of Appeal decided he would not face serious punishment upon his return.

Under the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which has been officially followed since 1993, gay and lesbian individuals are allowed to serve in the military as long as they do not engage in homosexual conduct.

Federal Court Justice Yves de Montigny, however, noted this policy had mixed results in quelling anti-homosexual discrimination. He pointed out that a soldier, Pvt. Barry Winchell, who was believed to be gay, had been beaten to death in 1999 at the same base where Smith was posted.

He also noted that the military code still makes it an offense to have sexual relations with a person of the same sex.

In his decision, de Montigny wrote that Smith “provided evidence that she was afraid that her superiors may have been involved in the harassment and threats targeted at her.”

The judge also said her case aligned with evidence indicating that U.S. military commanders are too often complacent and sometimes even actively abusive toward gays and lesbians.

He said Smith offered evidence that the military is not discharging as many gay and lesbian personnel as it did before 2001 due to the need for more soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

De Montigny disputed the refugee board’s earlier findings that Smith had not presented “clear and convincing” proof of the inability of the United States to protect her and had not proved she faced “a risk to her life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment upon return to the United States.”

In its earlier ruling, the board had also concluded that the acts of harassment and intimidation and written threats did not constitute persecution in this particular case, according to court documents.

Liew said she and her client will now go back to the refugee board for another hearing, but did not know when.

Extracts from a longer article at

Survivors of human trafficking spoke at the U.N. recently as part of a new institutional effort to have their input on policymaking. Panelists said a major problem was not being seen as trafficking victims when they suffered their ordeals.

The U.N. has held hearings and sessions on human trafficking many times before, where professional advocates and police authorities have offered evidence.

But an Oct. 22 gathering before an audience of several dozen, which included U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was different.

For the first time trafficking victims were invited to speak, reflecting the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ effort to promote a victim-centered approach.

One of the victims was Rachel Lloyd, who grew up in the United Kingdom. She survived forced sexual exploitation, which began after she quit school at 13 to care for her alcoholic mother. It led to a cycle of sexual abuse, drugs and prostitution that lasted through her teenage years.

After moving to New York, she founded GEMS: Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which she said helped 279 young women escape prostitution last year. She also actively lobbied for New York State’s Safe Harbor Act for Sexually Exploited Youth, the country’s first law to end the persecution of child sex-trafficking victims.

“This is a big and significant step for the U.N., and my hope is that this is the beginning of some real and substantive action on this issue,” Lloyd told Women’s eNews after delivering her testimony.

Three other survivors also spoke at the gathering–each from different corners of the globe, each with a very different ordeal to recount.
Different Stories, Common Theme

But there was one common theme: The official world often failed to see them as trafficking victims.

“One of the largest challenges that we have . . . is the lack of identification and the lack of recognition of our victim status,” Lloyd told the gathering.

Charlotte Awino of Uganda told the panel about her eight-year imprisonment at the hands of Ugandan rebels, who kidnapped her and three dozen others from a boarding school when she was 14. Forced to march for days, she and other prisoners were “traumatized and often near death from beating and starvation.”

Awino escaped at 22, having borne two children. She pointed out that often people in her position are viewed by authorities as being there voluntarily, mistaken for complicit terrorists rather than prisoners.

Buddhi Gurung of Nepal–the only male in the group–said his passport was confiscated when he answered a recruitment ad for work abroad. Instead, he was held for about a month in Amman, Jordan, then told by his supposed recruiters that he was going to work on a military base in Iraq. On the way there, a van in front of him carrying other trafficked Nepalis was ambushed and his 12 countrymen abducted. They were later killed, their beheadings broadcast over the Internet.

After serving 15 months at a U.S. base in Iraq, he was given his passport and sent home. He is currently suing the U.S. government. Although he may have looked like any immigrant worker, his circumstances did not match those of a voluntary worker. Instead of being sent to work in the U.S. for $500 per month as his recruiters had promised, he was brought to a war zone, paid a pittance and fed even less, he said.

Gurung and the families of the murdered Nepalis have taken the Houston-based defense contractor KBR, Inc. and Daoud and Partners, a Jordanian subcontractor, to federal court on human trafficking charges.
Forced Into Prostitution

Kikka Cerpa of Venezuela said that in 1992 she followed her boyfriend to New York City expecting a job as a nanny. Instead, he and his cousin forced her to “work off” her debt to the boyfriend by prostituting herself in his family’s brothel.

“The first night was the worst. I had to service 19 men. They lined up for the new girl,” Cerpa told the panel. She said her “boyfriend” told her that if she turned to authorities for help she would be arrested and deported.

She said that police sometimes raided the brothel and demanded sex. At other times, police arrested her. But either way, no officer ever seemed to look at Cerpa as a potential crime victim.

Cerpa eventually escaped by marrying a customer. When he started beating her she sought refuge in a shelter for abused women, which steered her toward Sanctuary for Families, a New York nonprofit that assists abused women and their children. In 2007, Cerpa received the annual Susan B. Anthony Award from the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women for her victim-advocacy work, which she continues to do while earning a living as a housekeeper.

Ruchira Gupta, a former BBC reporter who has spent the past 20 years working with prostitutes in India, many of whom are trafficked, moderated the panel.

In opening the session she offered her own example of public officials not recognizing trafficking victims as people in need of their help.

She said public health workers in Bombay try to prevent disease within brothels by giving out condoms, when official efforts would be better focused on helping to free the women in the brothels. Gupta was struck by the plight of these women when she first met them in the 1980s, women who had been sold into sex slavery in their teens or earlier. Her work has helped bring the issue to the forefront globally, and in September she received the 2009 Clinton Global Citizen Award from former President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative foundation for her work.
More Concern Over Protecting Men

“Some of them actually told me, ‘If the brothel didn’t exist, where would we distribute the condoms?'” said Gupta, referring to the public health workers in Bombay. “They are more interested in protecting men from disease than protecting women and girls from the men.”

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons presented a report on trafficking to the General Assembly on Oct. 23, the day after the hearings.

Human trafficking, it said, encompasses slavery, debt bondage, forced labor and sexual exploitation.

The Geneva-based International Labour Organization, or ILO, estimates that at least 12.3 million adults and children are being trafficked at any given time.

The majority of these people are women and girls forced into sexual slavery, according to the ILO and other agencies.

“There are millions out there who are still victims, many of whom have not been discovered,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo told the panel.

The key, she said, is giving visibility to victims, keeping track of those who go missing, offering them assistance once they’re rescued and making a commitment to eliminate trafficking in the first place.

Countries, she said, must also levy harsher punishment on traffickers and compensate victims for the time lost.

“It will be irresponsible if we fail to act. We are humans and we should not support inhuman action,” Ezeilo said. “The slave trade has been abolished and we can’t accept that in our world today.”

For more information:
* Girls Educational and Mentoring Services
* Sanctuary for Families
* Report of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, presented to the General Assembly on 23 October 2009 (pdf)
* 2009 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

See also:
* She came to America with dreams of a better life, but became a victim of human trafficking. Now her case is believed to be the first prosecuted under the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Some immigrant women’s advocates are concerned that legislation, drafted by Canadian immigration authorities earlier this year, may be detrimental for some females wanting to move to Canada.

Bill C-45 would give Canadian visa officers the right to reject visa applications from live-in caregivers if they have any reason to suspect they will be exploited or mistreated by their employer.

Although the legislation is designed to protect female immigrants, Cecilia Diocson from the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada is one of many immigrant women advocates who believe the bill could do more harm than good.

She claimed that the new bill will actually act as a barrier to women who want to work in Canada in the care industry. She claimed the bill gives the visa officer, “the power to refuse entry if he thinks or she thinks the person is not desirable to come.”

However, Jason Kenney, the Canadian immigration minister, says the bill would not be used as a barrier to stop people moving to Canada. He claims it will only be used, “in really extraordinary circumstances where a caregiver may go into an abusive situation.”

Kenney added that further legislation to protect immigrant caregivers is on its way.

Palestinian women in one of Lebanon’s largest refugee camps say that with no rights in the country or even within their own community, they feel they are treated “worse than dogs.” (MAP)

Offering a unique insight into life in one of 12 refugee camps in the country, Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British charity working for the health of Palestinians in Lebanon, released the study by the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organization, Wednesday, on the disenfranchisement of Burj al-Barajneh’s women.

The study, entitled “Palestinian Refugee Women in Lebanon: Conditions and Challenges in Burj al-Barajneh Camp,” reveals that, degraded and abused, wo­men feel “buried alive” by rep­ressive conditions in the camp.
The report claims the services provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), marking its 60th anniversary this year, are insufficient to secure dignified living conditions for the roughly 21,000 residents living in the square kilometer on the outskirts of Beirut.

Female Palestinian refugees in particular bear the brunt of this, facing double discrimination: first for their refugee status and second for their position as women. “They have experienced refugee status differently than their male counterparts at all levels of the public sphere,” the report reads, specifically referencing marginalization in the work force, education and political representation as well as the more private domestic sphere.

The study notes that Lebanon has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) but has not committed itself to Article 16, which governs equitable marriage and family relations, which undermines the purpose of the treaty.

The monitoring of CEDAW for Palestinian refugee women is particularly difficult, with the number of different institutions accountable for their welfare, such as the Lebanese state, UNWRA and other civil societies complicating governance.

Lebanese law forbids Palestinians from working in 72 professions, including engineering, medicine, law and public-sector jobs. But Palestinian women face further obstacles in the workforce, such as discriminatory conditions favoring men who lack familial responsibility. These structural challen­ges have been codified to become standard practice in Lebanon.

Ninety-one percent of those interviewed by Women’s Humanitarian Organization (WHO) for the study said they did not get to spend enough time with their children because of harsh working conditions, and a large majority said they felt unable to take any time off for maternity leave.

The study offers that inequality between the genders has also been exacerbated by the reinterpretation of the Koran on religious duties to excuse the marginalization and abuse of women. They put the rise in fundamentalism in the camps down to the disempowerment of women, who have been stripped of decision-making power.

Not only barred from participating in Lebanon’s politics, refugee women in Burj al-Barajneh also find themselves ex­cluded from the Popular Committee, the internal decision-making body responsible for electricity, water supply and the overall running of the over-crowded camp. But almost 40 percent of the women said that such formal decision-making was, culturally, a man’s duty.

The holy book represents a crucial tool for education and the pursuit of equitable communities, yet the WHO find that it is now being used to restrict rather than maximize the contribution women make to society. The study particularly refers to long-standing cultural traditions that recognize domestic violence as a custom.

Ninety-three percent blamed the problem on the environment in the camp, which serves as an excuse for such destructive behavior.

The study showed that 93 percent of women ask permission from a male family member before leaving the house, as it would be haram to do otherwise, and 94 percent are asked to be back before dark.

Forty-one percent of women indicated that either they or women close to them are exposed to physical violence, including hitting, slapping or pushing. Given the widespread view that violence must remain private, the most common coping strategy for women facing abuse was to “keep silent and stay patient.”

Twelve percent of the women were found to be illiterate, with half of those surveyed leaving education before entering high school. Only 11 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and less than 1 percent obtained a master’s degree.

Comments in the focus group with WHO underlined the sheer desperation women in the camp felt, with many saying they felt “buried alive” and often comparing their lives with animals, stating, “Dogs have better lives than we do.”

Despite the camp’s proximity to Beirut, 91 percent of women responded that they did not see themselves as part of Lebanese society, while 100 percent reported feeling isolated from the outside world.

Sixty-two percent said they would like to live outside the camp, in order to benefit from better living conditions, but 38 percent reported that they would not like to move, as they feel lost beyond its borders.

Eighty-six percent of the women said they lacked a sense of belonging within the camp, where most of them had spent their entire lives.

When asked what they would change if they could go back, one-third said they would have had fewer children, reasoning that it would be better to have fewer or no children because of all the unfairness of bringing children into such poor conditions.

The idea of the future offered little more optimism: 83 percent indicated that they expected the status of refugee women to remain “very bad,” while almost all of the women said they no longer wanted to be refugees, and 79 percent said they would change everything about their lives.

Recent political developments in the region and the new policies of Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet suggest that the right of return for Palestinians is highly unlikely in the near future.

Yet at the same time President Michel Sleiman, addressing the UN General Assembly last week, rejected any form of settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, saying that their position will be “neither compromised nor reversed.”

The position of Palestinian refugees therefore remains as uncertain as it does unsettled, with no chance of naturalization in Lebanon and little chance of returning home.[157]=x-157-565480

Read the full report here:

Last month UNHCR staff visited the detention centre at Pagani on the Greek Island of Lesvos. They were shocked at the conditions in the facility, where more than 850 people are held, including 200 unaccompanied children, mostly from Afghanistan.

The centre has a capacity of 250-300 people. The UNHCR staff described the condition of the centre as unacceptable. One room houses over 150 women and 50 babies, many suffering from illness related to the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the centre.

The Deputy Minister of Health and Social Solidarity has given UNHCR his assurances that all the unaccompanied children at Pagani will be transferred to special reception facilities by the end of the month. The Ministry has already taken some measures to that effect.

The situation in Pagani is indicative of broader problems relating to irregular migration and Greece’s asylum system. Last year, UNHCR, with the support of the Greek Ministry of Interior, presented recommendations for a complete overhaul of the asylum system, including specific measures to protect asylum-seeking children. To date, these proposals have not been implemented.

In 2008, the Greek Coast Guard reported the arrival of 2,648 unaccompanied children, but many more are believed to have entered the country undetected. Greece has no process for assessing the individual needs and best interests of these children. While the government has made efforts to increase the number of places for children at specialized, open centres, arrivals outstrip these efforts and children remain in detention for long periods.

UNHCR is participating in an EU funded project that aims to improve reception facilities on the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos and at the Evros land border.

Displaced Iraqi women are reluctant to return home, despite relatively improved security in the country and the tough conditions in camps, because of continuing uncertainties, says an NGO advocating for displaced people.

“Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families’ well-being,” the Washington-based Refugees International (RI) stated in a field report released on 15 July.

The RI report covered internally displaced women in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and female refugees in Syria and concluded: “Not one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return.”

According to the report, some women said they would not return because they belonged to targeted minority groups, or because of injuries. Many widows told RI they feared returning to homes where their husbands had been killed, and where they now had no means of economic survival. Some feared rising conservatism would restrict their ability to participate in civic and professional life.

“This tent is more comfortable than a palace in Baghdad; my family is safe here,” a displaced women in northern Iraq told RI.

A 2 July report by Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement on the prospects of mass returns of Iraqis, said more than four million people are estimated to have been displaced, including approximately 2.8 million internally in 2008 and the balance living as refugees mainly in neighbouring countries.

Yanar Mohammed, head of the Baghdad-based Organization of Women’s Freedom NGO, said real protection guarantees from the government were needed to persuade displaced women to return home.

“There are still no real guarantees offered to these women to protect their rights and their children alike,” Mohammed told IRIN. “In these conditions, it is impossible that these women will return to the death and humiliation they have left behind.”

She said militant groups that were largely responsible for anti-female violence “are only in dormancy and are hiding behind different political forms because of the forthcoming [30 January] national elections”.

Meanwhile, Ferris said the experience of return was often different for men and women as well as for young people and their elders. However, “most refugees and especially IDPs return spontaneously – without international assistance – when they judge that the situation back home is secure enough or when conditions in exile become unbearable”.

Ferris also said returns to areas where individuals would be in a minority were much slower than to places where they would be part of a majority.

Female immigrants who have experienced domestic violence can now seek asylum in the United States, thanks to a decision made by the Obama administration in a recent immigration appeals court filing, the New York Times reported July 16.

The case involved a Mexican woman who said her husband had repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her prisoner and once tried to burn her alive while she was pregnant in Mexico. She escaped with her children and came to the U.S. in 2004, the Associated Press reported.

Just last year, the Bush administration insisted in the same case that the woman did not meet U.S. asylum standards.

The new standards set forth by this decision require women to prove that they were abused, treated as subordinates or property and that they could not find help or safety in their own country, the New York Times reported.

Rwandan refugee women in Uganda face particular hardships under a repatriation push that started in April, with a July 31 target date for completion, a local advocacy group finds. Second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.

Rwanda’s post-conflict recovery has a number of impressive signposts.

One is the economy, which grew at an annual rate of about 11 percent last year, according to the country’s national bank.

Another is the political empowerment of its women. In 2008, Rwanda elected the world’s first majority-female parliament and today a woman leads the country’s Supreme Court. One third of the cabinet of President Paul Kagame is female.

Most recently is the April agreement–among Rwanda, Uganda and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees–to target July 31 as a date to repatriate over 30,000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda. It’s a sign that the three authorities consider Rwanda sufficiently stable and prosperous enough to begin closing the country’s post-genocidal chapter.

But Moses Crispus Okello, head of research and advocacy at the Refugee Law Project, a nongovernmental organization in Kampala, finds little consolation is these milestones, particularly not the new repatriation target date.

Okello says repatriation is alarming for refugees and that women have special economic, health and safety concerns.

Most Rwandan refugees live in four large settlement camps in southwestern Uganda. However, others have made lives for themselves in Uganda’s urban centers, such as Kampala.

The repatriation process began in 2003, but was not taken seriously, according to Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister. Now the Office of the Prime Minister has said that transportation to Rwanda will not be guaranteed for refugees who leave after the July 31 target deadline. The U.N. will also begin withdrawing support for Rwandan refugees in the camps in August, according to the Tripartite Agreement, which means a disruption in routines that many refugees have been following for years.

Okello says domestic violence could rise and women will lose financial security as they leave the land they have been farming at the camps, which gave their families a source of income.

During the transition back to Rwanda, they could be particularly vulnerable to high rates of poverty, since many women returning to Rwanda have described difficulty in accessing the land their families left behind, he says.

Another major concern is that Rwandan women–disproportionately vulnerable to HIV in the camps due to sexual violence–might lose access to the free antiretroviral drugs the Ugandan government provides through public hospitals and clinics.

Although Rwanda runs public programs that distribute the drugs free of charge, many women fear that their access to the medication will be interrupted as they move through the transit camps and back to their former homes.

Clarifications Sought on Repatriation Process
The Refugee Law Project recommends that the Ugandan government and U.N. clarify the voluntary nature of the repatriation and inform refugees about alternative options if they are unwilling to return to Rwanda.

Despite the general prevalence of peace in Rwanda–and diplomatic assurances of protection for those returning–individual refugees have legitimate concerns about their safety, the project said in a recent press statement.

It also pressed the U.N. to continue assistance for refugees who decide to stay, particularly since all Rwandan refugees in the camps have been advised to stop farming.

Over 2,800 Rwandan refugees were repatriated as of July 10, according to the country’s Office of the Prime Minister.

But the Refugee Law Project and news reports say that many of those have reversed course and come back to Uganda, citing poverty, loss of their families’ land and fear of being wrongly accused of genocide.

Most of the refugees in the Ugandan camps are Hutu, the ethnic group whose leadership helped plan and execute a genocide that killed between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

“In the past, the Rwandan government has accused the refugees in Uganda of being genocidaires,” said Okello. “Some unscrupulous people also used the courts that were trying genocide suspects to amass property of those who had left Rwanda, linking them to the genocide. When they returned, they would accuse them of genocide in order to possess their land.”

Return should be voluntary, according to Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act.

Individuals who fear ethnic or political persecution back in Rwanda may appeal their cases to the U.N. and the Refugee Eligibility Committee, based in Kampala, which has representatives from the two countries.

H.E. Kamali Karegasa, Rwanda’s ambassador to Uganda, acknowledges that refugees are fleeing the camps and doing what they can to avoid repatriation.

Press reports describe people posing as refugees from the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, while others try to bribe local Ugandan officials to pass as Ugandan citizens. According to some reports, up to 20 people a day have been fleeing the Nakivale refugee camp, anticipating the July 31 deadline.

“We are aware of these people, but we are encouraging them to go home,” Karegasa said. “For many who have gone back, they have been welcomed by their communities.”

This is the second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.

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The U.S. government should reform immigration enforcement policies that inflict needless suffering on immigrant women and their families, a former immigration detention center nurse, a former detainee, and a group of leading human rights advocacy and research groups said at a Capitol Hill briefing.

Immigration detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States. On any given day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds 33,000 immigrants in detention, about 10 percent of them women. Detainees include asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, pregnant women, and mothers of children who are U.S. citizens.

“The vast majority of women I interviewed posed no security threat or flight risk,” said Nina Rabin, director of border research at the Southwest Institute for Research on Women and director of the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program at Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. “One of the most effective ways to deal with immigration enforcement is simply not to detain so many people and instead use a wide range of alternatives.”

The hosts for today’s briefing are the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights; American Civil Liberties Union; Human Rights Watch; Legal Momentum; National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

The briefing will be held in cooperation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Kathleen Baldoni, who worked as a nurse at Willacy Detention Center, the largest immigration detention center in the country, said that women there often are subjected to extreme temperatures, inadequate nutrition, medical staffing shortages and long delays for critically needed health care.

“I was prevented from providing the level of care ethically required of me as a health care provider,” said Baldoni. “Nursing and medical staff are genuinely caring people who want to do the best for their patients but we are often hampered by the system. Not only are the detainees in danger but the medical staff, who face liability issues are as well.”

A March 2009 report by Human Rights Watch found that while current standards allow for emergency medical care and treatment for detained immigrants, they are insufficient to cover women’s unique physical, social, emotional, and health care needs. These include gynecological exams, pre- and post-natal care, and treatment for those who have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“It is appalling that ICE does not provide women in its custody with enough sanitary pads to keep from bleeding through their clothes, to say nothing of sufficient Pap smears, mammograms, and the other most basic elements of women’s health care,” said Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “It is bad enough that these women are locked up. The least the government can do is to give them decent care.”

Emily Butera, program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said that ICE’s focus on emergency care and keeping detainees medically ready for deportation is misplaced. “ICE needs to take into account the pressing humanitarian needs of individuals not held on criminal charges,” she said. “In addition to poor conditions in detention facilities, our immigration and enforcement policies are needlessly endangering the well-being of vulnerable people and tearing apart families.”

In fact, the advocates point out, women are being separated from their children, permanently in many cases, at great cost to society. In some cases, mothers are detained and taken to detention facilities hundreds of miles away without being given the opportunity to make the most basic arrangements for the care of their children. While in detention they are denied access to telephones and the legal materials necessary to locate their children and communicate with family courts to preserve their parental rights.

“ICE took me from my home while my children watched in fear,” said Marlene Jaggernauth, a single parent who was separated from her four children, all of them U.S. citizens, and who will speak at today’s event. “Had I not experienced a year in immigration detention, I would never have believed that such inhumanity existed.”

To read the January 2009 University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women report, “Unseen Prisoners: A Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities in Arizona,” please visit:

To read the March 2009 Human Rights Watch report, “Detained and Dismissed: Women’s Struggles to Obtain Health Care in United States Immigration Detention,” please visit:

Female internally displaced persons (IDPs) will again be able to learn job skills, take literacy classes and receive awareness programmes on reproductive health after the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) helped reactivate women’s centres at an IDP camp in the Sudanese region.

UNAMID’s Gender Advisory Unit has worked with the North Darfur state Ministry of Social Affairs to relaunch the centres at the Abu Shouk IDP camp on the outskirts of the state capital, El Fasher. The centres, which will be run by a local non-governmental organization (NGO), had closed last year.

The Abu Shouk centres are expected to carry out several activities aimed at helping women gain livelihoods, including tailoring, candle-making and handcrafts. There will also be adult literacy classes, and awareness programmes on women’s reproductive health, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Police urged to show more empathy

As many as half of women who have moved from Thailand to Finland are believed to be living “underground”, beyond the reach of social safety nets, according to a fresh report on how Thai women have adapted to Finnish reality.

A large proportion of the 800-1200 Thai women living in Finland are apparently pleased with their lives as housewives in this country. However, hundreds of them are either living at the mercy of violent husbands, or are employed as sex workers in “massage parlours”.

According to the report, one in ten of the women do not have a fixed place of residence, and some do not even have a valid residence permit.

Minister of the Interior Anne Holmlund (Nat. Coalition Party) requested a report on what might be done to improve the lot of Thai women in Finland after a furore two years ago over revelations that Thai massage parlours used as fronts for prostitution.

“We still do not know how many are genuinely marginalised”, admits Tiina Pesonen, the writer of the report.

Foreigners who come to Finland through marriage do not have access to official integration services, and sometimes their husbands deliberately try to prevent their foreign wives from adapting to their new environment, the ministry’s report says.

Domestic violence in Thai-Finnish families is commonplace, the report finds. It is also one reason why many Thai women end in the sex trade.

The women are afraid to file for divorce because they fear that they will lose their residence permits. Consequently, they often prefer to go underground, especially if they have children. In a divorce, the children usually stay with the husbands.

The women are usually unaware that even after a separation, they can get a new residence permit if children are involved, or if there are other important humanitarian reasons.

Police also have differing views on the obligations that officials have in helping those in trouble.

Helsingin Sanomat has learned that even many high-ranking police officials believe that once the reason for applying for the permit disappears, the permit itself is nullified.

The report suggests that if police were to act more diligently to help victims of domestic violence to get assistance, and to grant new residence permits, then the women might not feel that they need to go into commercial sex.

Minority Ombudsman Johanna Suurpää proposed to the police already last autumn that there should be more uniform standards for granting residence permits, and that more consideration should be given to the humanitarian aspects of each situation, within the framework of the law.

The Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior has been urged to instruct local police dealing with permit issues on procedures, but nothing has happened.

Last week, acting permit administration chief Minna Gråsten said that local police will be given instructions by the end of May. Helsingin Sanomat has repeatedly asked the Interior Ministry’s Police Department what the police have done to help Thai women who are in a vulnerable position.

Gråsten admits that the police should have more sensitivity to recognise the situations of those who have become victims of domestic violence.

Social worker Miira Hartikainen, who works at a women’s shelter, and who has written a study on domestic violence suffered by Thai women, confirms that violence is commonplace in Thai-Finnish marriages.

Finnish spouses do not always understand that their wives are expected to send money to the families back at home in Thailand. Finnish men do not always understand that a marriage with a foreigner is seen as a joint project by the wife and her family.

Remittances from abroad are seen as one way to secure a parents’ old age in Thailand. Usually the money is used to build a house with enough space for the whole family.

Sometimes women who are married end up as sex workers, either secretly, or sometimes with their Finnish husbands’ knowledge.

Vanitsi Tirkkonen, a Thai project worker for the Monika organisation, which helps women of different nationalities in Finland, tries to help her compatriots. She says that none of the women whom she has met actually want to work in massage parlours. They find that sex work pushes them further away from mainstream society.

Minna Huovinen, who has worked with Thai women at the Pro-tukipiste, which promotes the civil and human rights of sex workers, says that women who come to the organisation for help often have their lives in a mess. Sometimes they have been pushed outside their own communities and really feel alone.