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Gender-Based Violence Drives, Thrives in Forced Migration

March 24, 2022

Gender-based violence both drives and thrives in forced migration. Women and girls make up around 50 per cent of any forcibly displaced population according to UNHCR estimates. The numbers are staggering. The number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide surpassed 84 million at the middle of 2021 - before the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine added millions more.

Amongst those are the more than 4.4 million asylum seekers. Fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, asylum seekers await recognition as "refugees" in countries around the world.

On International Women's Day 2022, The Advocates for Human Rights' staff shared stories from our multifaceted work for women's human rights. Download the latest episode of the Advocast to listen to the entire program. 

Sarah Brenes, director of The Advocates' Refugee & Immigrant Program, shared the story of one client who sought - and won - asylum in the United States. The story illustrates the need for effective protection from gender-based violence and the critical role representation plays in securing that protection. 

"Representation of individuals seeking asylum is one of the core aspects of our work at The Advocates for Human Rights.  As lawyers, we have acquired specialized skills that allow us to navigate the complex labyrinth of rules that may lead clients to humanitarian protection in the United States.  Yet we are just one tool in the toolbox clients tap into on their journey to safety.  For clients who have survived gender-based violence, this could be no truer. 

Ms. B contacted our office several years ago, seeking representation for an asylum claim.  At the age of 15, she found herself in a relationship with a much older man.  For more than a decade, she managed to survive abuse by her partner while living in Central America.  His blows sent her to the hospital multiple times and in one instance resulted in a miscarriage of her unborn child.  When she sought help from the police, she was simply sent home.  She bore the weight of the dehumanizing insults, the debilitating blows, and the manipulating persuasion because she saw no way out.  She had three children by this man, and initially thought she was being strong for her children by putting up with the abuse, keeping it a secret from her family. She eventually confided in a female friend a work who told her, "Look for a way out of the circle."

Ms. B eventually found her way to the United States, away from her abusive partner.  Other women she met in the U.S. helped her find legal and psychological help to reestablish her confidence and love of self.  Before her case was granted, Ms. B already started to pay it forward.  Last summer, before Ms. B's case was granted, she convened a meeting at her home with families who had recently arrived from the border."

The Advocates for Human Rights remains deeply concerned about access to asylum for people like Ms. B. The Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced plans to issue an Interim Final Rule overhauling procedures for arriving asylum seekers, but existing procedures, some of which have been in effect since 1997, have increasingly undermined access to asylum for women fleeing gender-based violence. The Biden administration's continued invocation of Title 42, which allows summary expulsion under broad public health authority, has left people without asylum access.  

You can help.

The Advocates for Human Rights needs volunteer attorneys to represent people like Ms. B. Click here to find out how you can help.

Interested in learning more about our Woman's Rights Program? Click here to learn more.

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