Syria/Jordan: ensure safety for refugee women and girls
“[S]exual violence has played a prominent role in the conflict…It occurs during raids, at checkpoints, and in detention centres and prisons across the country. The threat of rape is used as a tool to terrorize and punish women, men and children perceived as being associated with the opposition.”
Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Since the start of the uprising in Syria in March 2011, some 100,000 people have died. More than 2 million people have fled across Syria’s borders to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. A further 4.25 million are displaced from their homes and communities within Syria. The conflict has been marked by a wide range of abuses by all parties, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
For some, however, the refugee camps do not provide the safety people so desperately hoped for when they fled the conflict. Syrian refugee women and girls are sometimes targeted for a range of sexual and gender-based violations including sexual assault, harassment, and early and forced marriages. There are also reports of rape and an increase in domestic violence.
Women and girls at risk in Za’atri camp
Za’atri camp in Jordan – located in a harsh, desert-like area – is home to some 120,000 refugees making it the world’s second largest refugee camp. The camp is under the joint administration of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) and the Jordanian government, though inhabitants rely mainly on assistance and services provided by humanitarian organizations. Insecurity is a major concern. Organized gangs operate unchecked in some sections of the camp, diverting resources into criminal activities.
Women and girls in Za’atri camp are put at greater risk by something that rarely makes the media headlines: the communal toilets are unlit because the lights are often stolen. As a result, women and girls feel unsafe using the toilets, especially after dark when they fear sexual violence, harassment or other attacks. In some areas of the camp, men have made public announcements that the toilets are unsafe and that women should not go there after 10pm. Consequently, many women avoid the toilets and restrain themselves from urinating for long periods of time – a practice which can have serious health consequences including urinary tract infections.
A Jordanian organization providing psychosocial services to Syrian refugee women and girls in Za’atri camp told Amnesty International that on average they receive three to five women and girls per month reporting some form of sexual or gender-based violence. Taking steps to do something as basic as ensuring proper lighting can help make the camps safer for girls and women.
Please write to the Minister of Interior and urge him to improve women and girls' safe and secure access to all public spaces in the Za'atri camp, including the toilets, by preventing vandalism of the lighting. Further urge him to take other security-enhancing measures designed and implemented in coordination with UNHCR and in consultation with the residents of the camp, especially women and girls.
His Excellency Hussein al-Majali
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
PO Box 100
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Fax: +962 6 560 6908
Salutation: Your Excellency