Skip to content

Vulnerabilities of Women and Children in a Forced Migration Context

Saturday 21 March 2015, 1130 – 1300, Lecture Theatre 7

Helen Brunt
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network

Sumitra Visvanathan
Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysia

The Asia-Pacific region is currently home to the largest numbers of forcibly displaced persons in the world. Southeast Asian states host significant populations of forced migrants and there are often overlaps between asylum seekers, refugees, trafficked individuals, migrant workers and other forcibly displaced people. The region is characterised by mixed migration flows with countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia often acting as transit points for many fleeing from persecution.

The ASEAN region is also characterised by the lack of effective mechanisms for protecting the rights of forced migrants. Currently only two ASEAN member states are signatories to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees (the “Refugee Convention”) – namely, the Philippines and Cambodia. The vast majority of forced migrants however are found in countries that are not signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor other related international human rights instruments. Furthermore, many countries in the region have problematic domestic legislation relating to migrant workers, and consequently exploitation is rampant. Southeast Asian nations also embody further complexities by being simultaneously both labour exporters and importers. Forced migrants, especially those fleeing conflict and persecution, cannot and do not have the option to draw upon existing ‘legal’ frameworks to legalise their stay, thus exposing them to risks of arrest by authorities, arbitrary detention, abuse and exploitation by employers.

Within this regional context, the vulnerabilities of women and children are exacerbated. The risk of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), especially towards women and children, is particularly heightened in a forced migration context. This roundtable will bring together experts and practitioners to discuss specific situations and issues through a gender-focused lens. The roundtable will include discussions on:

  1. Access to rights for migrant, refugee and stateless women and children
  2. Impacts of SGBV against women and children in a forced migration context (illustrated with a case study)
  3. Resiliency and coping mechanisms used by women and children in the migratory context
  4. The effects of detention on women


  • Helen Brunt (Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network)

Helen is the Programme Officer for the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, an open and growing network of over 200 civil society organisations and individuals from 26 countries. APRRN advocates for the rights of people in need of protection in the Asia Pacific region, specifically refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and those affected by forced migration.

  • Aegile Fernandez (Tenaganita)

Aegile is the Director of Tenaganita, which was founded in 1991, and born out of the struggles of women workers in the plantations and industrial sectors in Malaysia to gain their rights as workers; for decent wages, decent living conditions and to stop discrimination and gender based-violence.

  • Sharmila Sekaran (Voice of the Children, Malaysia)

Sharmila Sekaran is a Founding Member & current Chair of the Board of Voice of the Children. She is also a practicing barrister and Partner at Jerald Gomez & Associates. Earlier this year Sharmila facilitated an expert session at the World Congress on Juvenile Justice held in Geneva.

  • Jo Baker (Human Rights Consultant & Researcher, Hong

Jo is a research consultant in the field of human rights, with a focus on gender equality, discrimination, violence against women and detention contexts. She has spent much of her career in Asia, and has worked, among others, for UN Women, the International Crisis Group, Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, and the UK’s Department for International Development.

  • Rosa Martins (Ba Futuru)

Mrs. Rosa Martins was born in Ainaro, a mountainous part of Timor-Leste. She was involved in the resistance movement from a young age. She is a dedicated peace and justice advocate and started her career as a journalist in 2002. In 2004 she began working with the Peace and Democracy Foundation founded by Nobel Peace Laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta, as a conflict resolution facilitator. She graduated from the National University in Timor-Leste with a degree in Management Science in 2005 and in 2006 she came to work with Ba Futuru. She has been working on violence prevention and protection projects for the last 8 years. Ba Futuru, meaning ‘for the future’, is a prominent local organization carrying out conflict prevention, protection and educational programming across Timor-Leste.