• September 2011

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    Research. Rethink. Resolve.

    September 2011

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    Worsening Crisis in the Horn of Africa: It’s Time to Act

    The situation in the Horn of Africa remains alarming: recent forecasts suggest that over the next few months rainfall will continue to be lower than average in the most drought-affected areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Already struggling to cope with the huge influx of refugees, camps like Kenya’s Dadaab—the largest refugee complex in the world—will be even further strained. The U.S. government and other donors have increased funding, but not to the level that is required. Read a Huffington Post blog by Women’s Refugee Commission board members Samuel Witten and Kristin Wells calling for a heightened response to the crisis and explaining why the world needs to act now. Executive director Sarah Costa recently published a piece on the high levels of sexual violence that women and girls face in, and on their way to, the camps. She argues that it’s time to put the lives and safety of women and girls at the top of the humanitarian agenda.

    New Project Focuses on Adolescent Girls

    Life can be unbearably hard for refugees of all ages, but adolescent girls are an especially vulnerable and underserved group. Often unable to attend school and forced to marry at a young age, they lack the skills, self-esteem and confidence to assert and support themselves, putting them at risk of exploitation, domestic abuse and physical and sexual assault. Yet, despite their unique needs and potential, these girls are often overlooked by international humanitarian agencies. To help address this gap, we have launched a new initiative, “Building Agency and Social Capital in Adolescent Girls.” The project will look at new ways to build the life skills and social support networks of girls aged 10 to 16 who live in crisis and post-crisis settings—so they can take more control over their own well-being and safety. Learn more about the project.

    Notes from the Field: Community-based Family Planning Project in South Sudan

    Recently returned from wet and muddy South Sudan, reproductive health program officer Mihoko Tanabe writes in this blog about her perspective on a community-based family planning initiative we launched with our partner, the American Refugee Committee. In the town of Malakal, the project delivered family planning information and services to communities where access to health facilities is severely limited. “I have the utmost respect for our team members who walked every day from their homes to our meeting location, and then through the rugged land for miles to interview women in their homes,” writes Mihoko. “Moreover, it became all the more real to me how critical community-based distribution of family planning is in this area, where the nearest health clinic is miles away, on unusable roads.”

    View a slideshow of highlights from the trip.

    The Challenges of Women Immigrants Detained in the U.S.

    Sonia (not her real name) sought asylum because she was raped in her home country by the man she was being forced to marry. Five months pregnant, instead of finding safety in the United States, Sonia was sitting in a rural jail in Georgia, without decent medical care, and far from legal assistance.

    Our Detention and Asylum Program staff recently met Sonia and got a first-hand look at the many hurdles that detained immigrants, particularly women, face in the southern U.S. The team visited three immigration detention facilities in Georgia and Alabama to assess the conditions there and to learn more about the problems these detained women face in maintaining contact with and custody of their children. Several of the individuals interviewed had compelling cases for release and had no reason to be detained, especially in light of the Obama administration’s recent announcement that immigration enforcement officials should use their discretion in deporting immigrants and allow many who have not committed crimes to stay in the country.

    All of the facilities visited lacked decent medical care and meaningful recreation opportunities—illustrating the urgent need for change. The situation is compounded by the fact that detainees have little recourse to help; access to legal representation is severely limited because the jails are several hours from big cities.

    We are now following up with the Department of Homeland Security on our findings from this and other trips, and we plan to release a report with our recommendations.

    And we’re thrilled to report that after our visit and advocacy, Sonia was released!

    In the News

    Michelle Brané, director, Detention and Asylum Program, was quoted in a Huffington Post article on the hardships immigrants face in trying to keep their families together.

    Jennifer Podkul, program officer, Detention and Asylum Program, was quoted in this iWatch News article on unaccompanied children at the border.

    Dale Buscher, senior director for programs, posted a comment (#19) in response to Tina Rosenberg’s New York Times blog “Beyond Refugee Camps, a Better Way.