According to UNHCR, in the summer of 2015, Europe experienced the highest number of refugees since the Second World War. An increasing number of them are women fleeing war-torn regions. They are young and unaccompanied girls, mothers, pregnant women, older women, women with disabilities and others, who have made a desperate attempt to seek secure shelter in Europe.
At every stage of their journey to Europe, women and girls are targeted by individuals wishing to exploit them for personal gain and are exposed to ineffective and inadequate migration policies which discriminate against them. This harrowing journey from start to finish has a disproportionate effect on migrant women’s lives and on their children. The physical and emotional trauma experienced by women contributes to the barriers to their effective integration into receiving states.
COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN
As civil war and conflicts continue to rage in many parts of the world, a woman’s situation becomes more precarious. In war zones domestic violence as well as multiple forms of sexual abuse and economic disempowerment, are on the increase. Rape and sexual assault are well-documented weapons of war.
Whilst attempting to cross borders, women are a target of smugglers and traffickers to be sexually and economically exploited. Being in a state of transit, women are more likely to be sold into prostitution networks, forced into early marriages and exploited for domestic servitude. Women and girls are frequently at risk of violence, sexual harassment, assault and rape by other migrants and refugees, local residents, police and the authorities, with no recourse to justice or legal mechanisms.
ARRIVING AT EU BORDERS
A basic lack of fundamental rights at EU borders and subsequently, in processing and detention centres, is the reason why an alarming number of cases of women abused by aid-workers and guard has been reported. Furthermore, the masculinisation of the humanitarian sector and the asylum system is a crucial factor that leads to sexual re-victimization and re-traumatization of women who have already experienced male violence.
JOURNEY INTO MEMBER STATES
Reaching the ‘safety’ of European member states does not mean that a woman is free from violence. Lack of adequate shelter in urban and rural areas of Europe contribute heavily to the increased vulnerability of migrant women and girls. The Women’s Refugee Commission report that of the 13,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in 2014, 4,000 have gone missing, adding that “a lone girl can be easily trafficked because she won’t be missed.”
SETTLING IN MEMBER STATES
Even though women may have been granted refugee status or temporary leave to remain, there is an overwhelming lack of support and integration services for them to access. Once women leave a reception center they are still at risk of exploitation, including sexual exploitation, trafficking, racism, social exclusion and violation of their rights to employment and justice.
Download the whole text of European women´s lobby here.