Meng and Zeldin Lead Bipartisan Effort to Ensure Refugee Camp Restrooms are Safe for Women and Girls

Feb 18, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (NY-06), Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, and Lee Zeldin (NY-01), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, announced today they reintroduced the bipartisan Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act to ensure women and girls in refugee camps are able to access bathrooms without fear of violence.

Refugees awaiting resettlement are fleeing conditions like war, violence, and persecution. While many hope to find safety in temporary refugee camps, violence and insecurity can also follow, especially for women and girls. According to one study, women are at a greater risk of experiencing sexual assault and violence if they do not have separate bathrooms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees are even more vulnerable and even more in need of secure access to sanitation.

Meng and Zeldin’s bill would remedy this problem by ensuring recipients of U.S. aid provide safe and secure access to sanitation facilities, with a special emphasis on women and girls, and vulnerable populations. 

“Last year, there were nearly 30 million refugees who left their homes in search of a better future. For women, girls, and other vulnerable populations, they deserve and need sanitation facilities that are safe and free from harm,” said Meng. “It is heartbreaking that today’s refugee camps do not provide separate restrooms and thus create conditions that allow sexual assault and violence to occur. This must end and it is why I am leading legislation with Congressman Zeldin to ensure women, girls, and other vulnerable populations have access to safe and secure restrooms. Last Congress, our bill passed the House of Representatives. I hope we will finally get it signed into law this year.” 

“Oftentimes those most affected by conflict are the most vulnerable among us. Driven from their war-torn homes, it’s important women and children find safety and security in the camps they seek refuge,” said Zeldin. “This important legislation ensures that American foreign aid is targeted towards organizations that provide access to safe, clean facilities and basic hygiene needs. I applaud my colleague Congresswoman Meng for championing this important issue, and look forward to working with her on this commonsense legislation.”

“Refugee camps have failed to provide common-sense solutions to protect refugees from sexual violence in sanitation facilities,” said Rachel Levitan, Vice President of International Programs at HIAS. “This important legislation seeks to remedy that problem by increasing protection for women and girls. HIAS is proud to support the Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act, and looks forward to working with Representative Meng and the bill’s cosponsors to not only increase protection for women and girls, but also other vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ refugees.”

"Refugees International welcomes the re-introduction of the Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act and applauds Representatives Meng and Zeldin for sponsoring this legislation,” said Devon Cone, Senior Advocate for Women and Girls at Refugees International. “Displaced women and girls often live in precarious circumstances and are frequently at risk of experiencing gender-based violence. Women and girls should be able to access sanitation facilities in a safe and dignified manner and this legislation is an important step forward."

Meng introduced the Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act last Congress which unanimously passed the House of Representatives in May 2019.

The Refugee Sanitation Facility Safety Act is endorsed by: HIAS, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First, Futures Without Violence, Refugees International, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Global Water 2020.

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