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Displaced, Stateless Women and Girls at Greater Risk During Pandemic, UNHCR Says

Syrian women who were displaced by the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria line up to receive aid and food supplies, at the Bardarash refugee camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.

As COVID-19 is taking lives and effecting communities around the world, displaced and stateless women and girls are at heightened risk of gender-based violence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Monday.

"We need to pay urgent attention to the protection of refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls at the time of this pandemic. They are among those most at-risk. Doors should not be left open for abusers and no help spared for women surviving abuse and violence," the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs said.

Lockdowns and quarantines imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 have led to worsening socio-economic conditions due to restricted movement and closure of services, Triggs said, adding that under such circumstances women and girls “may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.”

The UN Refugee Agency is calling on governments to ensure that the "rising risks of violence" for refugee women are considered with priority in their action plans to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

One of such measures could be to designate services for survivors of gender-based violence as essential and keep them accessible.

In the meantime, UNHCR is distributing emergency cash assistance to support survivors and women-at-risk.

The agency is also coordinating sectoral humanitarian interventions to mitigate the risks of sexual and gender-based violence, including but not limited to the emergency health response.