Displaced: Women and Children Seeking Safety

By: Joanne Lu  February 2018

Girls study math in an IRC-run school in Pakistan's Jalozai camp, home to almost 10,000 people displaced by fighting between the Pakistani army and the Taliban

Girls study math in an IRC-run school in Pakistan’s Jalozai camp, home to almost 10,000 people displaced by fighting between the Pakistani army and the Taliban. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC

The world currently faces a refugee crisis of unprecedented magnitude. According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 65.6 million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2016. Almost 22.5 million of these people are classified as refugees, having crossed international borders while fleeing war, persecution, and violence.

Among the displaced is a subset of individuals who face some of the greatest risks: women and children.

The UNHCR says that more than half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18. According to the agency, nearly 50 million children globally have been “uprooted,” and 300,000 were traveling alone in 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world’s refugees, internally displaced, or stateless persons.

In light of these numbers, it’s startling that less than one percent of the world’s refugees are ever resettled. What’s more, in 2017 the number of refugees resettled globally dropped by more than half.

Despite grim prospects for resettlement, ongoing conflict, violence, persecution, extreme poverty, climate change and natural disasters continue to compel people to abandon their homes. For women and children in particular, the risks are immense.

In addition to the physical risks – sickness, injury, or death – fear of sexual and gender-based violence also plagues women and girls along their journey. And even those who make it to a country of first asylum face tremendous challenges.

Conditions in refugee and detention camps are notoriously poor. Many are overcrowded with makeshift shelters and lacking in adequate sanitation, hygiene, electricity, water, security and health services. These conditions have led to dire health consequences. For example, diphtheria – an almost eradicated disease – recently broke out in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, killing 31 people and infecting about 4,000.

In light of these challenges, international agencies and humanitarian groups are working tirelessly to help mitigate the suffering of refugee families, providing everything from food, shelter, and water, to medical care and mental health support.

Aid organizations have also found that giving cash or vouchers to refugees allows them to purchase what they need – food, medicine, school fees, etc – while also making them less likely to resort to harmful coping strategies. The strategy also directly benefits local economies and promotes better relationships between refugees and their host communities.

Perhaps one of the gravest challenges for displaced children and adolescents is sporadic or nonexistent access to education, which directly impacts their economic futures. While 91 percent of children globally attend primary school, only 61 percent of refugee children do – a figure that drops below 50 percent in low-income countries.

On the education front, organizations are teaming up in powerful and surprising ways to provide early learning programs. The recent International Rescue Committee and Sesame Street partnership for Syrian refugees is one such development. And more and more programs that educate and empower refugees are emerging.

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Read more about what Global Washington members are doing to support refugees, particularly women and children. We encourage you to continue learning about these important issues, and if you wish, seek out ways to volunteer for the non-profits listed, as well as donate directly to them or to the Global Impact Refugees Fund (refugeesfund.charity.org)

American Red Cross

Armed conflict, international disasters and migration leave millions of people around the globe in urgent need of humanitarian assistance every year. As a truly worldwide network, the volunteers of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent are able to help families reconnect when they have been separated internationally as a result of conflict, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency.  http://www.redcross.org/


Americares saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster so they can reach their full potential. The organization is helping vulnerable families fleeing conflict in Syria and Yemen and delivering lifesaving treatments to Somalia where a prolonged drought has forced more than one million people from their homes. Americares programs support health care services for refugees as well as host communities. For the Syria crisis alone, Americares has provided more than $12 million in aid since 2012. By collaborating with partner organizations, Americares is able to reach vulnerable families with critical health programs, medicine and supplies. http://www.americares.org

Extend the Day

Extend the Day provides solar-powered reading lights, at no cost, to schoolchildren who live without access to electricity. These small, inexpensive lights last for years, and eliminate a child’s exposure to the fire hazard and toxic health effects from kerosene and other burning fuel – and allows them to study, read and complete homework after sunset. Extend the Day partners with local on-the-ground NGOs and has replaced thousands of toxic light sources with a clean solar light to children in nine countries around the world. Extend the Day has partnered with GlobalWA member, Spreeha Bangladesh, to provide Rohingya refugees with desperately needed lighting. Having a safe, clean and free light source has reduced the number of deadly home fires, has replaced the use of very scarce fossil fuels, and has provided a measure of safety during the very dark nights within the camps. https://www.extendtheday.org

International Rescue Committee  

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) works in over 40 countries and 27 U.S. cities to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and regain control of their future. The IRC leads efforts to break down barriers faced by women and girls across all contexts and services it provides, spearheading global policy efforts to safeguard against and rapidly respond to violence against women and girls. In Seattle, the IRC is tailoring programs to ensure women and girls have equal access to services and are able to connect with others in their new community.  https://www.rescue.org/united-states/seattle-wa

Medical Teams International

In partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, national ministries of health and other NGOs, Medical Teams International provides life-saving health care to refugees around the world. In Uganda, Lebanon, Turkey, Bangladesh and soon Tanzania, Medical Teams International is the health provider for more than 1 million people in critical need. Flashes of intense violence and persecution have sparked a resurgence in the number of refugees from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, refugees from South Sudan continue to come across the border into cramped settlements in northern Uganda, where Medical Teams has more than 700 Ugandan health staff. More than 81 percent of all the refugees are women and children who require immunizations, supplemental nutrition, clean water, hygiene, and medicine to treat cholera and malaria. In Bangladesh and Lebanon, Medical Teams trains and empowers teams of refugees to act as volunteer health promoters to spread messaging in their communities and identify sick mothers and children. http://www.medicalteams.org

Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps empowers people to survive through crisis, build better lives and transform their communities for good. This means not only meeting the urgent needs of today but also building a stronger tomorrow by addressing the root causes of conflict and poverty.

That’s why Mercy Corps believes in investing in young women and girls so they can gain skills, build livelihoods and reach their goals, unleashing their potential to improve their lives and become leaders for their families and the world. Research shows when women are given an equal voice in their communities, their children are healthier, their lives are more stable and their societies are more peaceful. In each of the 40-plus countries where Mercy Corps works, it considers the needs of both genders and works to empower those most at risk. More than half of the people Mercy Corps is reaching today – about 15.2 million – are women and girls. https://www.mercycorps.org


NetHope empowers committed organizations to change the world through the power of technology. For refugees, access to information is a necessity. NetHope provides Wi-Fi and charging station solutions in Greece, Slovenia, and Serbia that connect refugees to family, news, and resources. It also helps refugees rebuild their lives in Germany through the distribution of managed Chromebooks and is exploring ways to make education available to refugee children. http://nethope.org/

RenegAID Innovative Disaster Relief

RenegAID develops educational materials to help people understand catastrophe trauma and learn the differences between everyday language and the language of survival and regeneration. Disaster policies, procedures and plans are cognitively developed prior to a catastrophe. The language of survival and regeneration is not a cognitive language, but rather a language spoken by survivors within disaster. RenegAID advocates for those who speak the language of survival and regeneration, and believes their leadership is key to overcoming the difficulty that aid organizations face in scaling up and delivering timely relief. The catastrophic mass migration our world is currently experiencing cannot be managed using procedures mitigated in past disasters or written in less confusing times. This catastrophe can only be managed by appreciating the existence of two distinct languages and the indispensable leadership from survivors themselves. http://www.renegaid.org


Spreeha empowers underprivileged people by providing healthcare, education, and skills training. Spreeha’s work in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh builds on its core values of empathy, creativity, lean methodology, continuous learning, and partnership. The objective is to create longer term positive changes like healthcare and education for women and children.  In most cases, those being served are pregnant and rape victims or children who have been orphaned. Spreeha’s early childhood development centers aim to create a safe and supportive learning environment for the refugee children with pre-school education.  Spreeha strives to create lasting impacts on the lives of those who are in the most difficult of situations. http://spreeha.org


Fifty million children around the world are on the move – 28 million of whom have been forcibly displaced by conflict and violence, and millions more migrating in the hope of finding a better, safer life. Women and girls are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence at all stages of migration journeys. UNICEF is working on the ground to ensure that programs and policies in response to this crisis put the rights and needs of all children first. UNICEF is also working to expand humanitarian services wherever needed on refugee routes, including providing water and age-appropriate food, and establishing child-friendly spaces, where children can play, learn and receive counseling, and women can rest and take care of their babies. UNICEF is working to find sustainable solutions to the root causes of the crisis, and addressing the long-term needs of child migrants and refugees. https://www.unicefusa.org

World Concern

World Concern is a Christian global relief and development organization. Faith compels the organization’s leaders to extend life-saving help and opportunity to people facing the most profound human challenges of extreme poverty. Many of those World Concern serves are displaced by crisis or conflict. Currently, this includes responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. World Concern is assisting with emergency aid, including shelter assistance. World Concern is also serving families displaced by conflict in South Sudan and drought in Somalia. World Concern meets critical needs of refugees and internally displaced people as a first step in paving the way for lasting, sustainable change. In partnership with its supporters, World Concern’s efforts reach deep into the most remote corners of the planet—beyond the end of the road. World Concern asks the people it helps to serve alongside—building the programs they need—enabling them to realize their God-given potential. World Concern operates transformational community development programs in Haiti, Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Uganda, DRC, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. http://www.worldconcern.org/

World Relief Seattle  

World Relief Seattle provides vital services to refugees and immigrants as they rebuild their lives in Washington state. The organization provides foundational resettlement services, including, employment, economic empowerment training for women, Summer Camp for Refugee children, ESL classes, and a legal clinic. In 2016, World Relief Seattle resettled more than one-quarter of all the refugees entering Washington state (3907 refugees), a total of 1,205 individuals. Over the long-term, refugees build mutually transformative relationships that prepare them to become fully functioning and vibrant participants in their communities. https://worldreliefseattle.org/

World Vision

In and around Syria, home of the world’s largest refugee crisis, World Vision helps more than two million people per year. Beyond Syria, World Vision works with millions more refugees and internally displaced people around the world. WV serves in entrenched, decades-old refugee crises in places like northern Kenya and Lebanon. WV also takes swift action in escalating crises, such as the recent exodus of South Sudanese into Uganda, and of Myanmar refugees into Bangladesh. In addition to meeting urgent relief needs, the organization works in the world’s broken places on the root causes of fragility that perpetuate extreme poverty and drive conflict and forced migration. From places like Syria and Iraq, to Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan, World Vision partners with communities, governments and generous donors to provide food, clean water, child protection, education, jobs and health support. Wherever they may flee, World Vision works for lasting change in the lives of children and the poorest displaced people. http://www.worldvision.org