Boston Globe: How the lost girls became the forgotten girls

Read Executive Director Sasha Chanoff’s Op-Ed in the Boston Globe about the forgotten refugee girls of Sudan.


By |March 28th, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Boston Globe: How the lost girls became the forgotten girls

RefugePoint highlighted in Women’s Refugee Commission report

In a recent report by the Women’s Refugee Commission, RefugePoint is cited as one of a handful of organizations that effectively provides livelihood support to urban refugees. RefugePoint identifies refugees through our urban protection program and offers people life-stabilizing support. The innovative nature of our programs is illustrated in the report by refugees who, when interviewed, referenced RefugePoint as providing essential livelihood services. To download the full report and recommendations, click here.

By |March 27th, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on RefugePoint highlighted in Women’s Refugee Commission report

The Cracks in Refugee Communities

In my eight months working with RefugePoint, I’ve often been impressed and moved by the strength of the communities refugees have created for themselves in their new home. Most of our clients seem to have a story about other refugees—strangers—helping them in those first desperate hours after arrival, giving them shelter in already crowded rooms or sharing already meager meals. Though refugees have often seen firsthand how fragile the bonds that tie us together can be, those experiences seem to have bred not pessimism and suspicion but an even more fervent belief in the ideals of community, generosity, and fellowship.

But even within the close-knit refugee community, there are those who fall through the cracks. Recently, I met a man named Hassan*, who fled to Kenya after witnessing his entire family perish when their house was shelled. Plagued by chronic ulcers that give him uncontrollable diarrhea, he felt too ashamed to ask other refugees for shelter. He ended up living in a junkyard, holed up in an old truck trailer half-filled with dirty tractor tires. He had to plead with nearby business owners daily to use their bathrooms, and cooked whatever food he could beg or scrounge each day over an open brazier lent to him by the junkyard guards. When I asked him what was most difficult about his living situation, he took a long time to answer—there were too many hardships to choose from. Finally, shaking his head, he mentioned the chill that crept through his unglazed windows every night, easily penetrating his thin cotton blanket. “It would get so cold,” he said, “I couldn’t even dream.”


RefugePoint recently moved Hassan into a room in another family’s apartment where he will have a real […]

By |March 20th, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Cracks in Refugee Communities

“I hope one day he will be president”

On March 3rd, RefugePoint’s Communication Officer Cheryl Hamilton joined Executive Director Sasha Chanoff as a blogger for the Huffington Post. In her first article, Hamilton recalls a conversation she had with a refugee mother living in the slums of Nairobi and the woman’s dream for her son.

By |March 14th, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on “I hope one day he will be president”

The Quiet Refugee Girl

By Kate Orazem, RefugePoint intern

There seems to be an age at which refugee girls grow quiet. Toddlers tend to chatter unreservedly and reach up to touch my unfamiliar hair; older girls will ask to play with my camera and giggle when their faces appear on the screen. But by the time they reach eleven or twelve, most of the refugee girls I’ve met have grown still and shy, holding their arms drawn into themselves in a way that seems protective and uncertain.

Maybe such a transformation shouldn’t be surprising—plenty of kids become awkward or withdrawn around puberty. However, it is hard not to wonder what might lie behind the particular reticence of a refugee girl. Perhaps she has already been exposed to the sexual violence that haunts many refugee women. Perhaps she struggles with memories of the conflict she left behind. Maybe the grueling work of caring for younger siblings or supporting an ailing parent is overwhelming her. Maybe it’s all of those things. There’s certainly no shortage of reasons why a refugee girl in Nairobi would want to make herself invisible.

Even so, I’ve spent enough time with a few refugee girls to get past the barriers they throw up. And if you can get them talking, what these girls have to say is often stunning in its ambition. Many already know what they want to be when they grow up, and—in spite of deeply ingrained gender roles—it’s not solely to be a wife and mother. Several girls have told me they want to become lawyers focusing on refugee policy. Others say they want to be a nurse, or a doctor. One girl told me she wanted to become the kind of professor who “studies […]

By |January 12th, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Quiet Refugee Girl

Refugee Women and Civil Society

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day that is particularly relevant to RefugePoint’s mission to find lasting solutions for the world’s most vulnerable refugees. RefugePoint has increasingly focused on particularly vulnerable refugee women who are in perilous situations. Exposed to widespread sexual gender based violence (SGBV) and other forms of gender-based aggression, female refugees who flee commonly lose not only their homes, but also lose the protection of a developed community. This sudden lack of social supports means that refugee women are vulnerable to SGBV from the moment they flee their homes, and, whether in an urban area or a refugee camp, the threats they face continue unabated.

Set up as emergency responses to a large influx of refugees, refugee camps often lack essential policing institutions, and SGBV perpetrators go unpunished. In urban areas, many refugees do not have proper documentation and fear the police. Essentially, no matter where they end up, refugees cannot turn to legal institutions for help. RefugePoint has found that among those woman at particular risk are those on their own who do not have community support mechanisms, including single mothers, minor girls without family and those who have already experienced SGBV while escaping home and who carry the burden of violence. The prospect of safety, particularly for these most vulnerable, is shamefully slim.

Civil society can be a strong barrier to this kind of violence.  Civil society is a broad term used to describe the way groups and individuals interact outside of government or business; it describes institutions such as religious organizations, political groups, NGOs, etc. Civil society promotes public interests by providing an outlet for group-based discourse and action. The existence of […]

By |November 25th, 2012|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Refugee Women and Civil Society

A universal challenge, childcare poses additional obstacle for refugees

Aliah, a 23-year-old refugee, has a bubbly demeanor that disguises the monumental obstacles she faces every day. As the guardian for her younger siblings as well as her own kids, she has to cover rising rent and food costs in an African city where refugees are rarely able to find steady work. Her neighborhood has recently been plagued by bombings and riots that make her fear for her safety. Worst of all, as a single parent, she faces these challenges alone.

Still, despite her struggles, Aliah radiates positive energy. Walking into a recent RefugePoint counseling meeting, she warmly clasps the other women’s hands and cheers a fussy baby by tickling her foot. But as the women settle into discussing the topic of the day—childcare—even Aliah grows a little dejected. “I love my kids,” she says. “But since I am on my own with them, I struggle. I need to look for jobs, but with no one at home to look after them, how can I leave?”

Having gone through conflict, famine, and disease in their home countries, and facing continued struggles for sustenance and shelter in their new location, finding a babysitter might seem like the least of these refugee women’s worries. But in fact, access to childcare is a crucial step for refugees to move from dependent situations into self-sufficiency and stability. Women like Aliah long to pull their families out of poverty and make a better future for their children—but without access to reliable childcare, that may prove impossible.

After all, employment—which for most urban refugee women means cleaning houses or selling tea from a roadside stand—requires time away from home, and women are generally unable to bring their children with them to work. In […]

By |November 13th, 2012|Uncategorized|Comments Off on A universal challenge, childcare poses additional obstacle for refugees

Survival Sex Often the Only Option for Refugee Women




Refugee women across Africa are subject to a range of gender-based violence from sexual assault to forced prostitution. In the most desperate cases, refugee women become sex workers to earn income in their countries of asylum when no other options are available to survive. This high-risk activity makes these women among some of the most vulnerable refugees, subject to physical violence, health risks and human trafficking. Bernadette is one such woman.

It’s the afternoon and RefugePoint’s Protection Officer in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in eastern Malawi is interviewing Bernadette and her family about their protection needs. Learning about her circumstance, the officer asks Bernadette directly how she became a sex worker in the camp.

“Where else can I get money?,” the Congolese mother of three responds. “I can’t work. I can’t leave.”

Bernadette is her children’s sole provider following the murder of her husband while in their home country. The same soldiers who killed her husband beat and raped her as well. Later, they returned and kidnapped Bernadette and forced her to work as a sex slave until she escaped in 2009 and sought refuge for her family in Malawi.

Unfortunately, the violence and exploitation she fled in the Congo followed her across the border. Unable to survive on the insufficient humanitarian aid available, Bernadette was forced to engage in survival sex. Men rotated through her family’s shelter until one day, a man molested her eleven-year-old daughter, Tshala.

Bernadette can hardly make eye contact with RefugePoint’s officer as she recounts the event. Her daughter, sitting next to her, flinches at any mention of the incident. Tshala tells the officer that her mother swore she would never accept a man’s visit again. Bernadette has kept that promise, but she is also fearful about how she […]

By |August 15th, 2012|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Survival Sex Often the Only Option for Refugee Women

Father fearful for remaining daughter

In our effort to reach the most vulnerable refugees like the daughter described in this post, RefugePoint often works in difficult environments across Africa. This year in Dadaab refugee camp, there were repeated bomb attacks while in Cairo mass protests routinely affected local travel and staff security. In some countries, RefugePoint officers travel as far as five hours a day to interview refugees for resettlement.

In Sudan, for example, the commute to one refugee camp from the eastern provincial capital of Kassala is a 2½-hour journey one-way through rugged, sand swept terrain. Vehicles share the dusty road with grazing camels and goats, and a smattering of signs written in Mandarin and Arabic indicate a dam construction site on the way.

On one recent visit mission, the temperature inches past 100 degrees at 11am when our officer finally arrives at the camp. Her assignment for the day includes conducting five interviews over the course of five hours. This is twice the typical amount for a protection officer, but the long journey motivates the extra effort.

Inside the officer’s first file for the day, she finds faded documents dating back nine years for one Eritrean family waiting outside. The path this family has travelled has also been long and arduous. She thumbs through the scribbled notes, computer printouts, and photocopied documents, attempting to piece together the family’s background before inviting them into the office.

In one black and white photograph, four relatives sit together on a bench. The man holds up a sign indicating his family’s case number. To his right are his wife and oldest daughter, both draped in floral print fabric with only their faces and forearms exposed. A much younger daughter pictured on his left dresses differently […]

By |June 22nd, 2012|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Father fearful for remaining daughter

Remembering Refugees During a Revolution

Since January 2011, the political uprising in Egypt has dominated the international news. The fall of President Hosni Mubarak has led to the formidable task of implementing a new democracy, which has seldom been smooth. Just this week, Egypt’s highest court dissolved the parliament and called for a new constitution, leaving the country’s leadership under military rule and inciting renewed protests in the capital.

Unfortunately, one important story has been overshadowed among the protests and recent elections, which is the plight of the nearly 60,0000 refugees and asylum seekers Egypt hosts. The political unrest in Egypt and throughout the Arab Spring has introduced new challenges for this already vulnerable population. Visibly distinct from the local population and lacking their familiar support networks, refugees are marginalized and often harassed in Egypt. They have little access to services or hope for their future.

In April 2011, RefugePoint deployed our first staff to Cairo to identify vulnerable refugees for resettlement. Since this time, our team has interviewed and counseled hundreds of people who have fled torture in Ethiopia, indiscriminate violence in Somalia, the conflict in Darfur and religious persecution in Eritrea and Iraq. Although diverse in nationalities, the refugee population shares one commonality among them; everyone wants to be in a place where they no longer worry each day about their safety and that of their children.

Recently during an interview with one family, our RefugePoint officer invited a young boy to draw pictures while she interviewed his mother. When the boy finished, he held up his artwork and a sea of stick figures appeared across the page. Asked about his drawing, the boy responded, “My mother and I went to an office downtown to get medical help. We had […]

By |June 14th, 2012|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Remembering Refugees During a Revolution