Some Ukrainian Refugees Flee War, Suffer More Violence

Fleeing war is a dangerous business. the the media reported about Ukrainian refugees women and girls raped in places where they sought safety.

Almost all the 3.6 million Ukrainians who have left Ukraine since the invasion of Russia on February 24, 2022, are women and children. Elderly men and boys 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country against Russian troops.

Desperate to escape Russian attacks targeting civiliansthese women and children lead mainly in Poland and other European countries with relaxed visa restrictions.

Humanitarian organizations quickly set up programs to provide Ukrainian refugees with basic necessities such as food and shelter.

A neuroscientist in Germany wrote about Twitter on March 24, 2022 that she received a call early one morning, the caller reminding her that she had volunteered to host refugees. Now a mother with two children and a cat needed help.

‘Can you accommodate?’ ‘OK when?’ … ‘Now.’ 15 minutes later, they arrived with a volunteer,” wrote the host.

The UK has announced a new policy which offers the equivalent of approximately US$455 per month to local residents who host Ukrainians for free.

But these efforts, however well-intentioned, come with new risks of sexual violence and trafficking of Ukrainian women and girls. While the majority of everyday people who offer support are well-meaning, even one instance of someone using the situation to inflict harm is too many.

My research suggests how hard to prevent even aid workers themselves from committing abuses against civilians, in part because of organizational cultures.

It is even more difficult to prevent and respond to sexual violence when it is committed by people who do not work for an aid agency or non-profit organization that helps refugees.

Ukrainian women wait with their children at a refugee arrival center in Dresden, Germany, March 21, 2022. Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images

Understand the risk

the UN warned that children fleeing Ukraine, especially those separated from their families, are at high risk of being doctored for sexual or professional purposes.

So far, at least 500 Ukrainian children have crossed from Ukraine to Romania by them selves from February 24 to March 14. Others will probably follow.

There are also reports Ukrainian teenage girls abused by residents in their new country. In Poland, a man was arrested in mid-March for the rape of a 19-year-old Ukrainian refugee.

“She escaped from war-torn Ukraine, spoke no Polish. She trusted a man who promised to help and shelter her. Unfortunately, it all turned out to be a deceptive manipulation,” said the Polish the police would have said in a report.

In Germany, two men allegedly assaulted a Ukrainian teenager who was staying in a refugee hotel boat, also in mid-March. The German government is committed to “to ensure that people who seek shelter here can obtain it.”

Being a victim of violence as a migrant or refugee woman is not uncommon.

It is estimated that one in five refugee women and girls live sexual violence while traveling from home, as well as in places such as refugee camps and shelters. They are also high risk for human trafficking—the use of force or fraud to transport people for purposes of exploitation and profit.

Criminal networks in places such as Mexico and Libya are also known to prey on women and girls along migration routes.

Aid organizations, governments and non-profit organizations provide refugees with food, shelter and other basic services first and do not primarily focus on ways to prevent or respond to the sexual violence.

The problem remains

Over the past 20 years, increased attention has been paid to the abuses committed by aid workers against the very people they are supposed to help. In 2002, accusations emerged against aid workers and UN peacekeepers abuse of civilians in West Africa.

Sexual violence by humanitarians remains a persistent problem in conflicts and refugee crises around the world.

The UN and other humanitarian groups have worked to improve staff screening procedures and help with reporting abuse easier for the victims, by setting up hotlines, for example. These groups have also tried to expand legal aid and mental health resources for the survivors.

But these efforts above all did not work.

Meanwhile, little is known about how to deal with situations in which local people abuse women and girls, such as Ukrainian teenage girls who were allegedly raped in Germany and Poland.

No way to get veterinary help

Currently, there is no centralized system or way to monitor who independently provides assistance to refugees.

Technological solutions such as online platforms to connect those seeking shelter with volunteers were celebrated and promoted on social media platforms, despite the lack of background checks on people opening their homes to reduce the risk of abuse.

Some humanitarian programs who work with refugees focus on providing transport information and warnings of possible dangers.

This places the burden of staying safe on the refugees, without providing them with the money and other resources to do so.

A woman is seen at a doorway, entering a room with a bed and sheets, blankets and pillows folded over it.
Ukrainians enter a house donated by a family in Budapest on March 6, 2022. Janos Kummer/Getty Images

A way forward

Lessons from decades of work on sexual violence in the midst of other crises around the world can help reduce the risk of abuse for Ukrainian refugees.

Research shows that female performers who have been trained to help survivors of sexual violence are essential in helping refugees access services and seek help in their new country.

Refugee women themselves are key to preventing and responding to sexual violence, but they need more than just information about the risks and how to report an assault. They need money to help solve housing problems, for example, which could otherwise lead to dangerous situations.

Research in Asia has found that community training programs run by refugee women for other refugees have improved reporting of violence against women and increased the number of women who seek help from the police, a lawyer or from a doctor.

I believe that Ukrainian refugee women should be supported to have similar opportunities until they can return home.

This article was published in collaboration with The conversationyouionan independent, not-for-profit publisher of commentary and analysis by scholars on topical issues related to their research.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff, or its board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and fact-checking information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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