Monday, 25 January 2016

The Worsening Plight of Refugee Women and Children


As Europe continues its conversation over the sexual assaults by male refugees on New Year’s Eve in Germany, Sweden, Finland and Norway, female refugees around Europe are facing the fear of sexual assault and attacks everyday in refugee shelters and camps around the continent.  

In 2015 reports from German social work organisations spoke about how women and children in German refugee centres are being raped, assaulted and even forced into prostitution by male refugees who deem them to be ‘wild game’.
In August last year four social work organisations and women’s rights groups in Hesse, Germany wrote a two page letter requesting help for women in mixed gender shelters.

"The ever-increasing influx of refugees has complicated the situation for women and girls at the receiving centre in Giessen (HEAE) and its subsidiaries. The practice of providing accommodation in large tents, the lack of gender-separate sanitary facilities, premises that cannot be locked; the lack of safe havens for women and girls — to name just a few spatial factors — increases the vulnerability of women and children within the HEAE. This situation plays into the hands of those men who assign women a subordinate role and treat women travelling alone as 'wild game'. The consequences are numerous rapes and sexual assaults. We are also receiving an increasing number of reports of forced prostitution. It must be stressed: these are not isolated cases."

Women’s Rights Not a Priority  ?

This situation has now spread across many European nations where female refugees and children are travelling. Jina  More, a reporter for Buzzfeed  argues that many of these women and children are not aware of the dangers and aid agencies are not taking the problem into account. According to an interview with the Senior Public Information Officers for the UNHCR Melita Šunjiæ,

“ I’m fully aware of what you’re talking about, but these issues happen when you register women in refugee camps, when certain people get privileges and aid and others don’t, things like that. … At the moment this, [sexual assault or exploitation] is definitely not the problem”

But the problem is, it is.

From forced marriages, domestic abuse to the trafficking of women, female refugees are facing a brutal gauntlet to seek a better life and due to a culture that hides sexual assault and violence, much of what these women suffer is kept hidden from the public eye.

Backlash

Many female refugees fear a backlash if they report these abuses. From being rejected by their husbands or relatives to death threats and honour killings, the repercussions for many female refugees who are perceived to have destroyed their families’ honour by being victims is very real.

Take the case described by one psychologist in Germany , who told of a female refugee she was treating whose husband had prostituted her to their smugglers to pay for their way to Europe. He had then attacked her himself for damaging his honour. They are now separated and her husband has been subjected to a restraining order, but she lives in fear of an attack.

A very real fear given that in October last year Germany witnessed an honour killing of a young Syrian migrant who is only known as Rokstan M. She had been attacked by three men in Syria and had fled to Germany with her family gaining asylum and working as an interpreter for the German government.

 In October 2015 her body was found with stab wounds in her family’s garden in the German city of Dessau while she had been visiting her family. In the days before her death she posted on her Whatsapp profile that  I am awaiting death. But I am too young to die.” 

Europe’s Response

The governments in Europe agree that they need to do more for refugee females and children. The UNHCR in a statement in October 2015 asked,

“All concerned national authorities in Europe to take measures to ensure the protection of women and girls, including through providing adequate and safe reception facilities. UNHCR also asks authorities, as a matter of urgency, to find alternatives to the detention of children.“

However, due to the extensive nature of the refugee crisis many shelters are overwhelmed. Furthermore, westernisation of refugees will take time. The concept that women should be treated in accordance with western mores, will still be an anathema to many of these young men who have been raised in an environment which secludes women.

 Women rights although a burgeoning area of discourse are often abrogated in the Middle East and North Africa and it is not just men who must be educated but the women themselves who need to know their rights.