The participation of four women refugee athletes in this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro shines light to the flight of refugee women and girls around the world.
Women and girls make up nearly 50% of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population, this according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the UN’s refugee agency.
In January 2016, the UN refugee agency reported that women and children refugees make up 55% of those arriving by sea to Europe.
Most Vulnerable Refugees
Refugee adolescent girls and those who are unaccompanied, heads of households, disabled or elderly women are especially vulnerable, the UN refugee agency said.
There is a high number of refugee households that are headed by women, according to UN Women. More than 50% of displaced families in Mali are headed by women. One in four households of all Syrian refugee families now living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan are headed by women.
Violent times draw refugee adolescent girls to early marriage. UN Women reported that prior to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the average age for marriage for a girl was between 20 and 25 years. During and after the genocide, the average age for marriage for a girl in refugee camps was 15 years.
Early marriage (marrying before the age of 18) is also common among Syrian refugee girls. Prior to the war in Syria, early marriage for girls was between 13 and 17%. At the refugee camps in Jordan, 51% of Syrian refugee girls marry before turning 18 years old.
According to the UNHCR, a total of 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide in 2015 as a result of conflict, generalized violence, persecution or human rights violations. The majority (54%) of the refugees came from these three countries: the Syrian Arab Republic (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
Four women refugees: Yusra Mardini from Syria, Anjaline Nadai Lohalith and Rose Nathike Lokonyen from South Sudan, and Yolande Bukasa Mabik from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have shown their resilience as they made history as members of the Refugee Olympic Team.
Anjaline and Rose, refugees from South Sudan who fled to Kenya, honed their athletics skills at the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. The foundation, created by Tegla Loroupe herself, mentored and trained talented athletes from refugee camps in Kenya.
Tegla serves as the Chef de Mission of the Refugee Olympic Team. She is a three-time Olympic runner. She holds the world records for 20, 25 and 30 kilometers marathon. She also won a number of marathons held in different parts of the world.
“People treat these refugees like criminals. We need to treat them with respect,” Tegla told The New York Times.