For women refugees, the violence doesn’t end once they flee a homeland that has become a war zone.
An in-depth study by Islamic Relief UK on Syrian refugee women who have fled to neighboring countries shows that even when no longer endangered by bombs and bullets, they face fatal despair under the weight of poverty and alienation. Military violence has been replaced by long-term psychological trauma, community violence, and, over time, a generation of social regression.
Focusing on refugee communities in Lebanon (with 1.5 million Syrian migrants) and Iraq (with about a quarter-million refugees in Kurdistan alone), the report shows how barriers to work and education silence refugee women inside and outside their embattled communities.
About 70 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, just over half of them women and girls, are living in poverty, up from 48 percent in 2014. Their families often lack basic social resources and women are formally or informally excluded from job markets. Women refugees suffer an estimated two-thirds unemployment rate, and those who do work pull in less than half the legal minimum wage on average, and are highly exposed to labor and sexual exploitation at work.
Previously refugees in Lebanon had been legally barred from working, but the policy was recently amended to allow limited work authorization. But discrimination pushes many toward the underground economy, so “the vast majority of Syrians work with no legal rights.”
Women refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan have considerably more job opportunities in various restaurants and retail stores, but joblessness and poverty wages are endemic, especially in isolated refugee camps where women suffer extreme discrimination inside and outside the home.
The limited research available on refugee populations shows intense risks of sexual harassment and sexual assault, along with more hidden problems such as domestic violence and sexual exploitation. In one survey in Lebanon, nearly three-quarters of reported incidents of gender-based violence took place inside the household, with young mothers and girls facing especially high risks. Many women without other options are drawn into sex work or survival sex to earn income.