The United Nations estimates there are 42 million refugees now living in 115 countries.  Women and children comprise the vast majority. While all displaced people experience loss and face danger, women and girls are vulnerable to exploitation, rape and abuse.  

Protecting displaced women and girls will require more money and long term commitment, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other refugee organizations. The officials expressed their concern at a meeting with US congressional aides on  Wednesday.

More help needed

When a humanitarian crisis occurs, the international community is quick to respond with food and shelter for refugees in immediate danger. But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres says more needs to be done to protect women and girls.

He told the story of a woman who was attacked at a refugee camp in Congo.  

"She was raped by a group of armed men, one after the other, after the other, after the other," he explained. "At a certain moment her son about 18 or 20 years old came and he was shot and killed by the ones that were raping her.  And when the news was given to her husband, he died with a heart attack."

Guterres says more needs to be done to save the lives of women and girls in refugee camps.  More direct assistance, more security, more training and more economic opportunities are needed.

Funding not keeping up with problem

The U.S. leads the world in providing refugees assistance.  President Barack Obama recently pledged $110 million to help the two million Pakistanis who have fled fighting in the country's Swat Valley.
But Refugees International President Kenneth Bacon says funding is not keeping up with the scale of the problem.

"I do think that the displaced person and refugee story is a very universal story that tugs on all our hearts, and I think people appreciate the cost and pain of displacement and want to respond to it as well as they can.  The ability to respond now during hard economic times by countries and by individuals more difficult than it was before but I think that the desire to do that is still there," he said.

Darfur remains major concern

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says there are places like Darfur where the international community's ability to operate is limited.

"But to be honest, I say, I feel I would say skeptical but very doubtful that there will be any meaningful progress in the near future. So my expectation about Darfur is that things will get worse before they will be able to get better," said Guterres.

To protect displaced women and children, he says the international community must maintain pressure on oppressive regimes and support assistance programs long after the media spotlight has moved on or the immediate crisis has ended.