Risk of sexual exploitation of refugees in Liberia

Mar 30, 2011

Refugee woman and child

Number of refugees could increase up to 500,000 by June

Monrovia, Liberia (March 30, 2011) CARE voices concerns about the risks of sexual violence and exploitation among Ivorian refugees arriving in Liberia. Prevention must be part of the first emergency response. 

The recent surge in the influx of Ivorian refugees into Liberia, many of whom are women alone with their children, raises concerns about their vulnerability to sexual violence. The number of refugees arriving has surged since the end of February, increasing the need for measures to prevent and respond to sexual violence. CARE calls for more attention and funding to prevent sexual violence as part of the emergency response. 

At the moment, close to 90,000 refugees are estimated by UNHCR to have arrived in Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire. However, this number could increase to 250,000 to 500,000 by the end of June.  The majority of registered refugees are women and children.  CARE was among the first agencies to respond to the crisis, distributing emergency supplies such as hygiene kits to 9,000 refugees. Seventy percent of them were provided to female-headed households. 

In the chaotic situation of an emergency, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. The fact that 62 cases of sexual violence were reported by UNICEF before the surge of refugees in March, half of which involved children, contributes to the concern that sexual violence is now wide spread. Most cases will go unreported.”

“There is a growing realisation in the international aid community that measures to prevent and respond to sexual violence are necessary, but we need to be reminded that these measures must be part of the very first emergency response. The risk of sexual violence and exploitation needs to be taken into account in all emergency interventions,” asserts CARE Liberia’s country director, Hubert Charles. 

CARE is actively working to promote better prevention and response to sexual violence following the IASC Gender Guidelines. Examples include ensuring that distributions are conducted early in the day, so that women have time to return to their shelter before dark. All sanitary installations must be well lit. A sample of other necessary measures to prevent and respond to sexual violence include:

  • Train community based volunteers to carry on prevention and provide information to victims on how to get help 
  • Consult women and men on the location of essential facilities such as water pumps and toilets. 
  • Refine the ‘first come, first served’ approach to registration to include criteria to prioritise individuals in vulnerable situations such as unaccompanied children, pregnant women and single parents. 
  • Put up posters in strategic places with quick and easy messages on how people who have been victims of sexual violence can be referred to health and psychosocial services. 
  • Registration agencies should ensure that data on refugees are sufficiently detailed on and disaggregated on sex and age, so that proper measures can be planned as well as possible.
  • Discuss with host communities how to handle the specific needs of women and how to minimise the risk of sexual exploitation in return for food, clean water, etc. Women representatives of both host and refugee communities need to be identified. 
  • Ensure that aid agency staff is properly trained on all these issues and that agencies abide by their zero tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse. 

For more information contact:
Marie-Eve Bertrand, Quebec Director, CARE Canada, Tel. 514-458-0057, marie-eve.bertrand@care.ca

About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is one of the world's largest humanitarian aid agencies. Working side by side with poor communities in 70 countries, CARE helps empower people to address the greatest threats to their survival. Women are at the heart of CARE's efforts to improve health, education and economic development because experience shows that a woman's achievements yield dramatic benefits for her entire family. CARE is also committed to providing lifesaving assistance during times of crisis, and helping rebuild safer, stronger communities afterward. CARE Liberia’s programming is mainly focused on food and income security, with complementary projects in women’s economic empowerment, access to water, sanitation and sustainable agriculture. CARE has a total staff of 40 in Monrovia and Gbarnga, in Bong County.