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New Delhi police teach refugee women how to take care of themselves

News Stories, 9 October 2012

© UNHCR/N.Bose
Police constables demonstrate an attack position during a self-defence class for refugee women.

NEW DELHI, India, October 9 (UNHCR) From the shouts and cries emanating from the run-down building in a New Delhi suburb, it sounded as though someone was in big trouble. "Hyaaah!," several voices screamed, while others shouted: "Now attack."

Once through the door, in the offices of a refugee organization for Myanmar refugees, the anxious visitor was relieved to discover that it was only a group of 30 refugee women assaulting each other under the watchful eyes of Indian policewomen skilled in the arts of self defence.

The refugee women from Myanmar were taking part in a recent 10-day training programme organized by UNHCR and its implementing partner, the Socio-Legal Information Centre, and conducted by constables from New Delhi's Crime Against Women cell.

The course was aimed at giving them the basic skills to defend themselves in the Indian capital of New Delhi, which has the country's highest rate of crime against women, including sexual harassment and random attacks in public as well as rape. "I want to protect myself," said Sung, a 50-year-old widow, adding that "refugee women have been attacked."

She and her fellow trainees were enthusiastic, sometimes overly so. There seemed to be a suppressed anger among the women and every move was hard fought. But the skills learned in the classroom in western Delhi could one day help them stave off attack or even save their lives.

"They want to learn and they are learning well," one instructor, Sunitha, stressed, while noting that this was the first time the New Delhi police had taught self-defence classes to refugee women.

Aside from learning how to fend off attacks, the course participants were also given tips about places to avoid and areas where danger often lurked, including badly lit parks, urban areas off the beaten track and even night markets. Because vegetables are cheaper the later it gets, refugees often go late at night to make their purchases.

Iang, who lives alone, said the classes had helped her a lot. "If someone touches me at the night market, I can fight back. I feel more confident now." Niang, a mother of one whose husband is missing in Myanmar, also welcomed the classes, while revealing that she had once been molested. "We face a lot of problems in Delhi, but now if this happens again, I will be able to defend myself."

Her only complaint was that the training was too short: a month would have been better. Other students also had problems because the course was conducted in Hindi, although an interpreter was present. UNHCR encourages refugees to learn Hindi and organizes free language classes for refugee children and adults in different parts of the New Delhi.

UNHCR plans to organize similar courses for Somali and Afghan refugee women in the coming weeks. "After 10 days, their confidence will increase," said another trainer, Sharada.

By Nayana Bose in New Delhi, India

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Refugee Protection in International Law

Edited by Erika Feller, Volker Türk and Frances Nicholson, published 2003 by Cambridge University Press

Promoting Refugee Protection

UNHCR is engaged in a range of activities to promote the international refugee protection system, including refugee law.

Second Dialogue on Protection Challenges, December 2008

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The number of refugees of concern to UNHCR stood at 10.4 million at the beginning of 2012, down slightly from a year earlier.

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UNHCR's Dialogues with Refugee Women

Progress report on implementation of recommendations.

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Women and girls can be especially vulnerable to abuse in mass displacement situations.

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In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.

Women in Exile

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The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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Jolie was recognized for completing 10 years as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. The American actress joined UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to present the Nansen Award to Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy for his NGO's live-saving work in helping tens of thousands of desperate boat people arriving on the coast of Yemen from the Horn of Africa.

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, the legendary Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat and politician who in the 1920s became the first international High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees and consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway.

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