Globally an estimated 15.2 million individuals have officially been identified as refugees. Of those 15.2 million, 48% are female. That’s more than 7.3 million mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives, who by the very definition of ‘refugee’ are unable to return to their homes for reasons far beyond their control. These women experience great pain every day of their lives, but most of their experiences are relatively unknown to us as many refugees frequent refugee camps tucked away in regions of the developing world.
Malawi, a small nation in Southern Africa is home to one such camp. Perched on a deforested hilltop, Dzaleka Refugee Camp is not surrounded by any confining fences, but this does not mean that, for the more than 16,000 refugees and asylum seekers (from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, and Ethiopia), who call Dzaleka home, the limitations of camp life are not real. The Dzaleka refugees are not permitted to leave the grounds, nor can they try to find means of employment outside of the camp itself. A food crisis involving the halving of food rations through the United Nations World Food Programme last March has resulted in an outbreak of crime within the camp.
For many of the refugees in Dzaleka, however, spirits have not been broken. Dzaleka is alive with a spirit of hope and renewal as several projects run simultaneously in an effort to improve the quality of life for the people who live there. There is an Internet café which allows refugees to call home to speak to friends and relatives who stayed behind, a pre-school for disabled children, craft based income generation projects, small independent restaurants. For the men and women of Dzaleka these activities provide a promise for a better future despite a sometimes dismal situation.
In reality, Dzaleka is only one small refugee camp, representing less than 1% of all refugees in the world. Even so, Dzaleka is home to over 16,000 different stories – stories of individuals who have endured unspeakable hardships and survived. It is these stories of survival which help us to better understand the struggle of female refugees around the world.