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Working with Refugees Engaged in Sex Work: A Guidance Note for Humanitarians



Refugees engaged in sex work are little discussed within humanitarian circles; while there is some awareness that the practice is not uncommon, few know how to respond. The Women’s Refugee Commission developed this Guidance Note in partnership with the Organization for Gender Empowerment and Rights Advocacy (OGERA), a grassroots organization of refugee sex workers in Kampala, to raise awareness and initiate a conversation about how we strengthen protection and access to vital services for refugees engaged in sex work. The main audience of this Note is humanitarian actors operating at the global and field levels. This refers to staff working in health and protection and/or for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or one of UNHCR’s implementing or operational partners.

The Guidance Note lays out 14 steps for taking a rights-based approach to working with refugees engaged in sex work, including:

  • Develop tailored referral pathways for legal, health, and support options for these refugees, as well as targeted programming that is based on existing evidence on ‘what works’ for strengthening protection and SRH for persons engaged in sex work.
  • Ensure refugees engaged in sex work have meaningful participation in the design and implementation of referral pathways and programming.
  • Know international standards relating to the rights of persons engaged in sex work, as well as recent evidence-based guidance and resources developed outside the humanitarian sector.
  • Build the skills and capacities of humanitarian actors to facilitate access to information and service options (e.g., GBV, SRH) for these refugees, and to do so in a way that reduces stigma, in accordance with existing nondiscrimination principles and individual-centered standards of care.
  • Identify and reach out to local, national, and regional organizations or service providers who have experience working with local sex worker communities, including sex worker-led organizations.
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