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UN Urges Increased Protection for Haitian Refugees

  • Larry Freund

A woman stands next to makeshift tents at a camp set up for earthquake survivors left homeless in Port-au-Prince, one month after a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti, Feb 2010 (file photo)

Responding to criticism of the United Nations-directed humanitarian response in Haiti, a U.N. spokesperson has urged increased protection for Haitian refugees facing sexual violence.

A new report by Refugees International, a Washington-based refugee advocacy group, is sharply critical of conditions in the refugee camps in Haiti. Nearly 10 months after the earthquake devastated the country, the report says the people of Haiti are still living in a state of emergency, with a humanitarian response that appears paralyzed.

Refugees International says sexual, domestic and gang violence in and around the refugee camps is rising. The report adds there is an urgent need for experienced U.N. personnel and resources for humanitarian protection, and says that action is urgently needed to protect the basic human rights of people displaced by the earthquake.

Questioned about the report, U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky said it highlights some very important matters including the protection, especially, of women.

"That has been a major concern for everybody right from the start," said Nesirky. "And we obviously share those concerns and we also want to see increased protection capacity when it comes to tackling sexual violence, which, as you know, is primarily against women and girls. Measures have already been taken, as you know, to improve protection - and that includes patrolling camps and having a 24-hour presence of U.N. troops and police officers in some camps where the problems are particularly serious."

The U.N. spokesperson said 559 U.N. police officers are permanently present in six of the Haitian refugee camps and that 614 U.N. military personnel are stationed in six of the largest camps.

"It is worth noting that sexual violence has been a serious problem in Haiti long before the earthquake, and it also continues to be a serious problem outside of the camps, as well. As I say, this is no comfort for the people in those camps and we need to work very hard on that," said Nesirky.

Refugees International also acknowledges gender-based violence has always been a problem in Haiti, but notes there has been a significant increase in sexual violence reports since the January earthquake and there have been reports of increasing domestic violence in the stressful living conditions in the refugee camps.