• November 2011

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    Research. Rethink. Resolve.

    November 2011

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    "No Place to Go But Up": The Plight of Urban Refugees in Johannesburg

    "If you don't have documentation, you can't find jobs. Often the hiring manager will say 'be my girlfriend and I'll give you a job,'" said a young Congolese woman living in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Businesses don't always ask for documentation for a job, but they may still ask you for sex in exchange for employment."

    More than 51,000 refugees and 417,000 asylum seekers are currently living in Johannesburg, South Africa—many of whom face high unemployment, xenophobia and discrimination. Women especially are at risk of sexual harassment and violence when they sell goods on the street or in flea markets, go to work or take public transportation. Yet, despite this, many displaced people living in the city have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit to solve problems, innovate and adapt. Some 75 percent are economically active. These are some of the findings of our new report, No Place to Go But Up: Urban Refugees in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    Read the report to learn more.

    Multiple Dangers for Immigrants Crossing the Border

    As Marta* was wading across the Rio Grande river with her six-month-old son strapped to her chest, she was apprehended by U.S. border patrol officials. They threw her and the baby to the ground, handcuffed her and threw her into a cold cell. She and the baby were still soaking wet and freezing. She begged them for something dry for the baby, but they refused. The next morning, her son was still and had started turning blue. Marta continued to beg for help. Eventually an officer took the baby to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed as hypothermic and severely dehydrated.

    We have interviewed many women at the U.S. border with stories like Marta's. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including unaccompanied children, trafficking victims and asylum seekers, cross the southern border into the United States every year. The conditions are brutal and dangerous; rape, kidnapping, murder and death in the desert are common. Immigrants often face inhumane or negligent treatment by U.S. officials, and there are limited screening and protection measures in place.

    A new initiative by our Detention and Asylum program is looking at the practice and procedures of federal agents along the U.S. border to ensure proper treatment of vulnerable migrants. We have made several trips to the border and are collaborating with other organizations and advocating with U.S Customs and Border Protection. Two priorities are sensitizing officers to the importance of identifying human trafficking victims and improving the screening of unaccompanied children.

    * Not her real name.

    Challenges Remain in Accessing Family Planning in Crisis Settings

    Many refugees and other displaced persons either don’t know about family planning or, if they do, they don’t know where to, or cannot, access it. Where they do use family planning, contraceptive use is, for the most part, lower—sometimes much lower—among refugees than among those living in the communities hosting them.

    These were some of the key findings in a series of reports we recently released with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, based on a multi-country study in Djibouti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia and Uganda. We met with community leaders, spoke to women of reproductive age and held focus group discussions with women, men, adolescent girls and adolescent boys. We also visited health facilities to look at which contraceptive methods were available and how well they were provided.

    The purpose of the research was to guide other organizations and agencies in improving family planning services and enhancing access. Read about our findings in the specific country reports here.

    16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence

    Every year the international community mobilizes to raise awareness of gender-based violence during the 16 Days of Activism, held from November 25—December 10. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women.” We will feature blogs on our website around preventing gender-based violence in humanitarian crises and will be posting regularly on Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned and be sure to follow us!

    In the News

    The Huffington Post published “When War Stops, the Impact on the Environment Lives On” by Erin Patrick, senior program officer, Fuel and Firewood Initiative.

    Emily Butera, senior program officer, Detention and Asylum, was quoted in the Colorlines article “U.S. Deports 46K Parents With Citizen Kids in Just Six Months.” The Colorlines article “Why It’s Crucial to Keep Immigrant Families Together” mentions the Women's Refugee Commission.

    Asylum Access published a blog about our report, No Place to Go But Up: Urban Refugees in Johannesburg, South Africa.