For all refugees, the journey to safety can be harrowing. Displaced girls and young women face particular challenges. Across the world, 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16. The risks of exploitation, abuse and gender-based violence are even greater for girls experiencing displacement.
On World Refugee Day, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is calling on governments to prevent and respond to this violence, while creating safe spaces for women and girls to ensure they have an environment with privacy and dignity. We want protection, support, education, livelihoods and skills to be available for all refugees.
Refugees will always have a home in Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting – and they always have.
As Chief Executive of WAGGGS, I am so proud to be leading an organisation with an impressive history of tolerance and solidarity. For more than 100 years, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have been supporting, welcoming and embracing refugee children.
I’m now three months into my role and I’m starting to understand this long-held tradition for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts across the world. During World War Two, Girl Guides around the world played an important role supporting refugee children. I’ve heard from my colleague Alphonsine how guiding friends greeted her after she fled Rwanda for Belgium during the 1994 genocide.
Today, this warm welcome and international network of friendship is just as vital for girls arriving in a new country. Girls like 13 year old Joumana from Lebanon have shared how becoming a Girl Guide helped them to find friendship and happiness in their new country.
Joumana fled Syria in 2011 when war broke out. She told us of the isolation she felt when she arrived in Lebanon.
“At first we struggled so much, we were complete strangers with no friends, no family, no neighbours, not even a school.”
Becoming a Girl Guide helped Jourmana to make friends and feel happy again.
“The moment I joined I remembered the joy of living and remembered how to laugh and how to enjoy the nature.”
“I discovered that life doesn’t stop with a bomb, our dreams shouldn’t be destroyed by a war… I am Girl Guide and it doesn’t matter if I am Syrian, Lebanese or German, what matters is that I am happy and I feel alive again!"
Twenty one year old Clarisse also described the transformational effect that Girl Guides had for her.
“My life was devastated during the war in the Central African Republic in 2002. Driven out by the war, my family and I fled the country and we sought refuge in Southern Chad in a refugee camp,” she said.
“In 2006, I discovered a Guide Unit in the camp. It transformed my life and gave me back my smile and my love of life.”
We work in 150 countries, with girls from all backgrounds and communities. Wherever they are in the world, community action is important to every Girl Guide and Girl Scout group.
When refugees began arriving on European shores the Greek Guiding Association stepped up to lend a hand. They began by raising awareness, delivering clothes, food, organising activities for refugee children and integrating teens into Guiding events.
Now the association runs a programme called A World in a Suitcase. This is taught in schools to help children understand refugee flows and human rights.
The aim is to boost integration outside of refugee camps by preparing local communities to support refugees. So far it has reached 20 cities and 5000 students.
In many countries and communities around the world, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts are working at national or local levels to support refugee populations.
According to latest figures from UNHCR, there are more than 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. On World Refugee Day, we ask people everywhere to reject fear and hatred – instead, let’s welcome refugees – and recognise our shared humanity. Something Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have been doing from the very beginning of our worldwide movement.
girls and young women can participate fully, in all aspects of work and school life.
I want to see all barriers to girls’ success removed to enable all young women to achieve her fullest potential and live her life with #nomorelimits.
- Sarah Nancollas, WAGGGS Chief Executive