New Delhi: On the eve of World Refugee Day, the book “Women Refugee Voices from Asia and Africa: Traveling for Safety” was released by a group of activists, rights organizations and academicians in Delhi. The launch was part of ActionAid Association’s celebrations of 50 years of service and solidarity in India. The thrice-displaced Nobel Peace Prize winner Lymah Gbowee has succinctly outlined the importance of this book in her Foreword: “Women and girls who are refugees or IDPs have been excluded from systems of representation, and it is their voices we must amplify.”
Published by Routledge Global and India, the book is a compilation of voices capturing the gendered dimensions of the ongoing refugee crises in Bangladesh, India, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. In the words of one contributor from North Africa, this book is “an effort to lift the veil on their territories of misery, and a celebration of courageous leadership and agency of women to advance peace, dignity & their human rights.”
If these women agreed to testify, to tell their story of misery, it was for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who today still roam deserts, forests, oceans and seas in search of a land of asylum, a land of peace. Gathered at the release both physically and virtually were authors and those who have been working with refugees in camps from Bangladesh, India, Congo and Algeria. Alongside academicians, civil society members, refugee representatives and activists.
The panel discussion entitled “Seeking Refuge: Stories of Hope Resilience and Challenge” that preceded the launch fostered an enriching discussion on the challenges of different refugee groups and vulnerable groups, such as women and children. Mr Hindu Singh Sodha, an activist for Pak Visthapit Hindus, emphasized, “There is a strong need for friendly return mechanisms for those seeking refuge in India. Systems and procedures must be uniform and clear for different refugee groups.”
Father Albert Loui, who works with refugees across South Asia, shared how communitarian inclusion of refugees has been fostered and how the host population has benefited, “When Tsunami caused loss and devastation, the Sri Lankan Tamil Refugee women were mobilized to counsel the host population.”
The second panel during the book launch had reflections from Mr Ephraim Tan, UNHCR, and Ms Puja Marwaha, CEO, CRY. Ephraim shared how this book captures the collective miseries of women refugees worldwide and how the UNHCR has been tirelessly working with refugee groups around the globe.
Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association, closed the session by recognizing that “the refugee crisis is a protracted one and medium to long term solutions are needed, and cannot wait. Camps are not the way forward; rather, we need to ensure the #TheCitiesWeNeedNow are spaces which welcome and provide a future for refugees. In addition, it is imperative to ensure adequate protection measures and health, education and livelihood measures for refugees.”
Sandeep shared that “ActionAid Association’s upcoming study supported by the National Human Rights Commission seeks to understand the kind of access different refugee groups in India enjoy to livelihood, education and health.”
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