B Explanatory memorandum
by Ms Gisela Wurm, rapporteur
Women, men and children fleeing
war-torn countries and persecution and looking for a safe haven
have come to Europe in large numbers in recent years. They have
travelled in difficult conditions and undeniably faced hardship
before and during their journey to Europe, and once they arrived.
At the beginning of what is now called the refugee crisis, most
of them were men. On 8 March 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNCHR) reported that there had been a shift and that
women and children were starting to represent the majority of arrivals.Note
2. We should remember that personal tragic stories lie behind
numbers. I will try to convey stories of violence, separation, war
and threats, thanks to the asylum seekers and refugees who accepted
to meet with me in the framework of the preparation of this report.
They are too often ignored and are unable express their concerns
and fears. It is our duty and responsibility to listen to them and
to try to provide the best support possible. I consider this our
duty as parliamentarians and our responsibility as citizens.
I decided to look into the specific situation of women and
girls, who are particularly vulnerable and exposed to a high risk
of abuse, discrimination and violence before, during and after their
journey. Some women were already victims of gender-based violence
in their country of origin, with sexual violence used as a weapon
of war. Others fled the threat of forced marriage. I would like
to stress that in this report, all references to women also include
girls. Women’s vulnerability and exposure to violence is increased
by the lack of legal and safe routes to Europe. They have to be
more dependent on traffickers and smugglers.Note
4. In transit or upon arrival, women are at risk of violence,
which can take the form of coercion, survival sex, sexual slavery,
forced prostitution, harassment or various forms of extortions.
They face common problems, such as the lack of safety, the absence
of separate bathrooms, the absence of female interpreters, little information
on assistance services available and in general a lack of general
and post-trauma medical care. However, tackling these problems can
represent specific challenges depending on the situation.
5. The need to protect women asylum seekers and refugees from
gender-based violence is not widely covered by the media. It is
not considered a political priority and is sometimes even ignored
in the current handling of the refugee crisis. For the countries
which accepted to receive asylum seekers during the refugee crisis,
priority was given to a humanitarian response: finding accommodation
for the family, putting the children in school and handling the
6. Women asylum seekers tend to be invisible. They are not the
first ones to be spoken to or to be interviewed, they are not the
ones speaking in the name of the family and they systematically
put first the interest and well-being of their families. Too often,
refugee and asylum-seeker women victims of gender-based violence
daren’t ask for help, are afraid of stigmatisation and are unsure
of the response they would receive. Talking about sexual violence
still remains taboo. It can be difficult for victims to speak about
it to people they do not know and whom they may not trust immediately.
7. Action can be taken to ensure that women asylum seekers and
refugees receive adequate support. This action does not necessarily
require large financial resources but mainly political will. Governments
should ensure that the gender dimension is taken into account and
apply a gender-based approach to the refugee crisis, while guaranteeing
protection and support to all women victims of violence.
8. Although this is not a common practice for reports presented
to the Assembly, I would like to dedicate this report to all refugee
and asylum-seeker women who have the courage to share their stories
in order to raise awareness and call for action.
2 Aims of the report and methodology
9. This report aims at raising
awareness about the vulnerable situation of women refugees and asylum seekers
and the widespread discrimination against them.
10. Throughout the preparation of my report, I had the opportunity
to meet with key interlocutors working on the protection of women
refugees and asylum seekers from gender-based violence, in Strasbourg
and during fact-finding visits. I participated in the Inter-parliamentary
meeting on women refugees organised by the European Parliament on
3 March 2016 in Brussels and co-chaired a side event dedicated to
preventing and combating violence against women refugees and asylum
seekers. The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination held a
joint hearing with the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced
Persons on discrimination and violence against women refugees on
22 June 2016 in Strasbourg with the participation of Ms Mina Jaf,
women refugees rights activist, Mr Arne Treves, protection officer,
UNHCR Bureau for Europe in Geneva, and Dr Richard Matis, Vice-Chair
of Gynaecology without Borders (France). We also heard a testimony
by Ms Baldé, refugee victim of forced marriage, domestic violence
and female genital mutilation in her home country.
11. I carried out a fact-finding visit to Berlin on 19 and 20
September 2016 where I held meetings with women refugees, parliamentarians,
government representatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
and social workers. This visit made me feel and experience the commitment
of all those I have met who are engaged in preventing and protecting
women refugees from violence and facilitating their integration
into German society. I also met with refugee women who told me about
their relief to be living in Germany, in a safe environment, and
who were grateful for the actions taken by the German Government
and the support received so far. I went on another fact-finding
visit to Stockholm on 8 and 9 December 2016 where I held meetings
with the Minister for Gender Equality, the State Secretary in charge
of migration, parliamentarians, NGOs, the Swedish Migration Service
and women asylum seekers victims of gender-based violence. I discussed
the support received by refugee women and measures taken to welcome
a high number of asylum seekers in 2015. These visits gave me an
insight into the challenges faced by these two countries, which
have welcomed the highest numbers of asylum seekers in the past
two years. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the
people who took the time to meet with me, and to commend the action
taken so far for the protection of women from gender-based violence.
12. The committee also held a hearing on Yazidi women and the
rehabilitation of victims of violence on 25 January 2017 in Strasbourg,
with the participation of Ms Farida Abbas, Yazidi survivor of violence
by Daesh, and Dr Michael Blume, who heads the Special Quota Project
in the Land of Baden-Württemberg.
They called for the setting up of similar assistance programmes
in other States for women refugees and internally displaced victims
of gender-based violence.
13. I received information from several UNHCR field offices and
the UNHCR representation to the Council of Europe. I would like
to thank them for the information provided and for our excellent
14. With fact-finding visits, bilateral meetings, desk research
and hearings, I collected an important amount of data which I will
try to reflect to the extent possible in this report. The refugee
crisis is not in the news headlines as much as last year, but the
situation of refugee and asylum-seeker women still needs our utmost attention.
I sincerely hope that this report will contribute to shedding light
on the need to step up efforts to better protect asylum-seeker and
refugee women from gender-based violence, provide assistance when
needed in transit and destination countries, and to advocating for
gender-sensitive asylum procedures and support services. Protecting
them from gender-based violence means protecting one of the most
vulnerable parts of the population in Europe. Ensuring their protection
from violence is a first step towards ensuring their successful
15. I would like to clarify that this report will not deal with
specific cases of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender
and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum seekers. However, I would
like to encourage the Parliamentary Assembly to work on this issue
and recommend that the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination
hold a preliminary hearing, which could lead to the preparation
of a motion for a resolution. This represents another important
aspect of the refugee crisis and I would most welcome work of the
Assembly on this topic in the future.
victims of gender-based violence in transit
On the road, on a boat, in
transit camps or centres, or when working in a transit country in
order to pay for the rest of the journey, refugee and asylum-seeker
women are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. They
live in dire conditions and often do not have access to health care
and counselling. “After living through the horrors of the war in
Iraq and Syria these women have risked everything to find safety
for themselves and their children. But from the moment they begin
this journey they are again exposed to violence and exploitation,
with little support or protection”, stressed Tirana Hassan, Crisis
Response Director for Amnesty International.Note
17. Refugee women in transit are not always considered a priority
in global refugee policies, which focus mostly on reception facilities.
Women refugees and asylum seekers in transit themselves tend to
put the well-being of their families before their own. They disregard
the difficulties they face and the violence they are victims of
with one objective in mind: reaching a safe destination country
quickly. During our hearing held in June 2016, Arne Treves, UNHCR
protection officer, stressed that there was a sense of urgency among populations
on the move, who would rather continue their journey or proceed
with an asylum request than seek help when victims of violence.
I am of the opinion that it is essential to ensure the protection
and well-being of women refugees and asylum seekers throughout their
journey. There can be no effective protection from violence if we
disregard the dangers they face on the way.
For women refugees and asylum seekers, going to Europe can
mean becoming, for the first time or again, a victim of gender-based
violence. As suggested by Doctors Without Borders, the price of
the journey to Europe can be much higher than money. Smugglers may
rape the women candidates for departure in exchange for a place
on a boat, in addition to the fee they have already paid.Note
Borders also received reports of sexual violence and forced prostitution
in Libya, through which many women have been transiting. It reports
kidnappings and ransom demands, up to the amount already paid to
cross the Mediterranean. If a woman’s family cannot pay the ransom,
she is sold for prostitution or marriage. The UNHCR also reported
on violence women had suffered in Libya and on the way from Libya
to reach Italy.Note
As highlighted by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the refugee
route to Europe presents many risks for women. Violence and exploitation
along the way, travelling with abusive partners and lack of safety
in transit settlements are unfortunately common.Note
of violence can have different profiles: smugglers, other refugees
or asylum seekers, sometimes guards or staff working in camps or
family members. Women can be shamed for daring to leave their country
and their family behind. Some are robbed during the journey and forced
into survival sex to get food for their families or themselves or
to pay off smugglers.
20. Within couples in transit, tensions can be exacerbated by
uncertainty and tiredness. Domestic violence is not rare, but is
seldom reported. Women refugees in transit tend to stay with their
husbands until they reach the destination country, even when they
are victims of violence, fearing additional separation after the
trauma of leaving their country. In their determination to reach
a safe haven, they put aside the violence they have experienced.
Already in October 2015, the UNHCR expressed concern with
regard to the situation of women refugees on their way to Europe:
“Refugee and migrant women travelling on their own are also at heightened
risk as they move through Europe, sometimes at night, along insecure
routes or staying in places that lack basic security.”Note
Transit facilities, when they exist, can
be rudimentary and not offer separate sleeping areas for women and men,
which can put women in a vulnerable situation. A climate of fear
has been reported in transit facilities, where women are afraid
of walking alone at night and of using the sanitary facilities without
Taking a shower can be dangerous
in a place with no separate sanitary facilities or without lights.
The Women’s Refugee Commission reports that some women avoid eating
or drinking so as not to have to use the toilets, where they do
not feel safe.
It has also been reported that security is deficient in sites
where women are transiting in Greece, with no identity check at
the entrance and holes in the fences around facilities allowing
people to pass through easily.Note
In its assessment of Serbia and Slovenia,
the Women’s Refugee Commission found that “there is virtually no consideration
of gender-based violence along the route to ensure safe environments,
identify survivors and ensure that services are provided to them.
… The lack of clear information and inability to access interpreters, especially
female interpreters, hinders women and girls from accessing services
and leaves them vulnerable to smugglers and other opportunists”.Note
In addition, Amnesty International has received reports of
women being beaten or verbally abused by security officers in Greece,
Hungary and Slovenia.Note
an assessment mission to Greece and “the former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia”, the UNHCR, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
and the Women’s Refugee Commission found that States needed to “strengthen
protection mechanisms and services across borders to adequately
address the protection threats”.Note
I also received information about cases of gender-based violence
in Calais before and during the dismantlement of the camp, as well
as cases of sexual violence perpetrated by truck drivers promising
to take women from Calais to the United Kingdom in exchange for
Some women are reportedly wearing
adult nappies so as to avoid going to the toilets at night where
they feel unsafe.Note
At our hearing
in June 2016, Dr Richard Matis, Vice-Chairperson of Gynaecology
without Borders (GSF), presented the situation of women refugees
and asylum seekers in two camps in the north of France (Calais and
Grande-Synthe). After receiving information about women victims
of sexual violence, domestic violence and forced prostitution, GSF
decided to intervene and provide assistance via a mobile clinic
in a small truck. The support provided by mobile clinics can be
invaluable for women refugees who are victims of violence in transit
or reception camps and this kind of initiative should be supported
by authorities. They allow post-rape medical kits and counselling
to be provided in a setting that offers some privacy. In the camp
in Norrent Fontes (northern France), Dr Matis informed us that support
groups had been put in place to encourage women to discuss birth
control, abortion, violence and relationships between women and
men, with the help of interpreters. Such support groups can help
to lift the taboo of harassment and sexual violence. They can encourage
women to speak about the violence they were victims of during the
journey or in their country of origin.
25. I would also like to welcome the initiative taken by Doctors
Without Borders to have a safe space on board the boat “Aquarius”
which rescues migrants in the Mediterranean. In this space, women
victims of violence can see doctors and have meetings with counsellors
and lawyers, without the presence of their families. However, the
Aquarius today lacks funding.
Gender-based violence is not always considered a priority
by officers providing support and assistance in transit camps or
facilities: in addition, they do not necessarily have the means
or the tools to provide assistance. They may not have received specific
training to detect violence or may simply not be sensitised to this
issue. This lack of capacity means that they do not necessarily
propose adequate support to refugee women who are victims of gender-based
violence. In addition, there are still too few sexual and gender-based violence
protection officers, either in transit or reception facilities.
As stressed by the European Women’s Lobby, “transit/accommodation
sites should be built and staffed in a gender-sensitive manner,
recognising women and girls’ need for safety”.Note
27. Where refugee women wish to seek assistance or report violence,
it can be difficult for them to receive information on complaints
procedures in a language they understand or to communicate without
the presence of female interpreters in transit facilities. They
may also decide not to report violence, fearing possible reprisals and
stigmatisation. Talking about sexual violence can be very difficult
since it is widely considered as a taboo.
There have also been reports of forced and early marriages
of girls in transit. There were also cases of young Syrian girls
married by their parents in refugee camps.Note
sometimes took the decision to marry their daughters before departure
or when in transit with the view to trying to offer them some protection
for the journey and to prevent them from enduring violence from
several perpetrators. The issue of forced and early marriages, including
in a context of migration, will be dealt with in depth in the upcoming
report on forced marriage by Ms Béatrice Fresko-Rolfo (Monaco, EPP/CD).
29. I would also like to mention the situation of pregnant refugee
women, for whom the journey presents many risks because of the lack
of medical care, exhaustion and the dangers of violence.
Preventing gender-based violence against women refugees in
transit means enhancing cross-border protection mechanisms. To this
end, in its assessment, the United Nations called for the establishment
of “a co-ordinated response system within and across borders that
protects women and girls” and for the deployment of protection officers
specialised in protecting victims of sexual and gender-based violence.Note
I would also
like to support the recommendation made by the Women’s Refugee Commission
to set up a co-ordinated case management system across borders so
as to share information about victims of violence and to avoid them having
to report the violence to which they were subjected and tell their
story several times.
to refugee and asylum-seeker women victims of gender-based violence
and discrimination in destination countries
31. In addition to being at risk
of violence on their way to Europe, refugee and asylum-seeker women
can also feel unsafe when reaching their destination countries.
Protection from violence has been a neglected aspect of the global
response to the refugee crisis in Europe, which means that all the
measures needed to prevent gender-based violence in reception facilities
were not taken from the beginning. However, I would like to nuance
this bleak picture since several concrete protection measures have
been taken in the past few months to respond to this safety threat.
32. In this part of the report, I intend to focus mostly on Germany
and Sweden, which welcomed the highest numbers of asylum seekers
and refugees in the European Union in 2015. I would like to commend
the extraordinary efforts made by these countries to welcome such
high numbers of asylum seekers and refugees and would like to call
for more solidarity by other States. I will also present some information
about the situation in Austria, Italy and Greece, which are hosting
to date an important number of asylum seekers and refugees.
I had the opportunity to meet with a variety of interlocutors
during fact-finding visits to Berlin and Stockholm, which gave me
a good insight into the situation. Both in Germany and Sweden, the
authorities acknowledged that not enough had been done to protect
asylum seekers and refugees from gender-based violence and to detect
potential victims upon arrival and during the first months of their
stay. I met with interlocutors who recognised that, at the beginning
of the refugee crisis, priority was given to the overall humanitarian
response, not necessarily taking into account a gender dimension
or the specific needs of women. Sexual violence has been recently
reported in several reception centres in both countries.Note
34. Asylum seekers coming to Europe are seeking safety. However,
they do not yet feel fully protected in their destination countries
since their future is uncertain. After many months in reception
facilities (often more than 10), they may lack prospects, which
can affect their morale. Changes and uncertainty can create tensions within
families and at times lead to an atmosphere conducive to violence.
35. About a million asylum seekers
have arrived in Germany since the beginning of 2015, with a peak
during the summer and early autumn. The authorities dealt with the
setting up of emergency reception centres and trying to find shelter
for and provide food to all those who arrived. There were not systematically
separate wash facilities or sleeping areas for women. The situation
of women who had travelled alone to Europe was particularly difficult.
Germany was criticised by human rights organisations for not ensuring
the protection of women refugees from gender-based violence from
the beginning. However, I received information that efforts were
being made to ensure the presence of women security personnel, social
workers and interpreters in the reception facilities in Germany.
Women who travelled alone and families have priority to leave emergency reception
facilities for longer-term accommodation. Women’s support groups
have been set up. The police intervene in cases of violence, including
domestic violence, in reception facilities.
36. Despite the presence of security guards, including female
security guards, I was told that women are still afraid to walk
around reception facilities at night. In addition, there are not
enough women-only facilities in Germany and increased support is
needed for women on their own. One major issue of concern is the
attitude of security guards of reception facilities. Several interlocutors
confirmed that there had been cases of violence by security guards
against women refugees but I did not receive any information about
the number of complaints made to the police. Guards receive training
on inter-cultural competences without a specific part dedicated
to preventing gender-based violence. Reception centres are managed
by the Länder directly, which means
that there is no general overview of protection measures taken.
As an example, there is no systematic procedure for identifying
victims of violence upon registration in refugee facilities.
37. With regard to asylum procedures, I was informed that each
asylum seeker is asked whether he/she would like a female or a male
interpreter and asylum officer. In addition, each asylum officer
is asked to attend awareness-raising training on gender-based violence.
In Berlin, I met women refugees from Syria.Note
One, a mother
of three children, was a victim of domestic violence. She had decided
to leave her husband after arriving in Germany and was living in
a shelter for women victims of violence together with her children.
She would not have had custody of her children if she had left her
husband in Syria. She told me that she was rebuilding her life and
was receiving psychological support. She had come through Turkey
and Greece, and then walked to Germany. She herself had not experienced sexual
violence or harassment on the way, but told me that women were afraid
on the way to Europe.
39. The testimonies of women refugees were very moving. They showed
tremendous courage leaving their country, crossing Europe seeking
safety for their families. They told me how their houses had been
bombed in Syria, how they had made the decision to leave. They all
said that they would be ready to go back if peace was guaranteed,
but for the time being, they were happy to be in Germany. Some had
crossed the border to Turkey with smugglers who did not treat them
well. One woman had left Syria after a member of Daesh killed someone in
front of her and her children. A social worker at the Schöneberg
shelter told me the story of a woman who had fled Raqqa because
a member of Daesh wanted to marry her 7-year old daughter.
40. I also would like to take this opportunity to shed light specifically
on the situation of Yazidi women who have been abducted, abused
and exploited as sex slaves. Some of them now receive assistance
and support in Germany. Girls as young as 8 years old have been
raped and sold between fighters. In refugee and displaced persons
camps in the North of Iraq, there have been several cases of suicides
of Yazidi women victims of gender-based violence who had been rejected
by their community.
41. I had the honour of meeting with Ms Nadia Murad, who received
the Václav Havel Prize from the Assembly on 10 October 2016. She
told me her story, the violence she was a victim of and the support
she received when arriving in Germany. Her voice represents thousands
of Yazidi women who are still in the hands of Daesh. She asked me
to advocate for the setting up of programmes of support and rehabilitation
for women asylum seekers and refugees victims of violence, such
as the one she follows in Germany. Such rehabilitation programmes
are a condition sine qua non to
ensure their safety and open the doors to a possible future in Europe.
Nadia Murad also asked for concrete support for women living in
difficult conditions in refugee camps, notably in Greece.
42. Some 1 100 Yazidi women are currently receiving psychological
support and benefit from rehabilitation services in the Land of Baden-Württemberg in Germany,
in the framework of the Special Quota Project. They are hosted in
secret shelters together with their children, receive medical treatment
when needed and psychological support, attend German classes and
arrangements are made for all children to go to school. Often, they
left members of their families behind, still in captivity. They
are constantly thinking of these family members, which can postpone
the rehabilitation process.
43. As highlighted by Dr Michael Blume, Head of the Special Quota
Project, during our hearing, “every life saved counts”. He explained
the importance of providing psychological support in a specific
programme away from the country of origin. He stressed that Yazidi
women victims of gender-based violence were at first ostracised
for being victims of sexual violence. With his team, he managed
to convince the religious Head of the Yazidi community to bless
women who had been victims of gender-based violence and to stress
that they did not lose their honour. He was pleased to state that
women participating in the Special Quota Project were no longer
seen as victims but rather as survivors and heroines, ambassadors
of the Yazidi community.
44. Ms Farida Abbas and Ms Nadia Murad are beneficiaries of this
programme and expressed their gratitude to the Land of Baden-Württemberg. Ms Abbas
told us she did not know if she would still be alive if she had
not left for Germany. She now felt stronger than Daesh, able to
share her story in front of audiences so as to raise awareness and
prevent further violence against the Yazidi community. I can only
commend the courage demonstrated by the Land of
Baden-Württemberg in going ahead with this programme and with this report
I would like to call for the setting up of this kind of programme
elsewhere in Europe. I welcome the fact that Canada will soon start
a resettlement programme for 1 200 Yazidi women and children.
45. On 1 December 2016, 131 903
people were living in the facilities of the Migration Agency, of
which 28 674 had already been granted asylum. 162 877 asylum applications
were made in 2015 and 26 929 were made from January to November
2016. The arrival of such a high number of asylum seekers represented
an important challenge for Swedish society. Lars Westbratt, State
Secretary to the Minister for Justice and Migration told me that
about 140 000 asylum seekers had arrived in four months and all
had received accommodation. In the summer of 2016, the Swedish Government
decided to change the legislation to a minimal level so as to limit
the number of arrivals, still in respect of European Union standards.
The new legislation made family reunifications more difficult. 105
asylum seekers are currently arriving in Sweden every week.
46. I regret that I was not granted access to reception facilities
by the Swedish Migration Agency, which explained that this kind
of visit could be misinterpreted by asylum seekers. I am therefore
not able to give first-hand information with regard to the situation
in reception facilities and have to rely on what I was told by asylum seekers
I have met, as well as representatives of the Swedish Migration
Agency and of NGOs. I was told that when a family makes an asylum
request, the asylum officer usually hears the man’s story, which
does not give the opportunity to the woman to talk about her story
and experience privately. The interviewee is asked if he/she has
a preference with regard to the gender of the interviewer.
47. The fact-finding visit to Sweden highlighted problems linked
to the externalisation and privatisation of services for asylum
seekers and refugees. Considering the number of persons that had
arrived, the Migration Agency could not host all of them in State-owned
and managed facilities and decided to externalise the provision
of accommodation to private companies, mostly in apartments. Contracts
were prepared with private companies which committed to guaranteeing
the respect of certain standards. I was informed however that these
contracts did not include gender-sensitive information which could
be relevant with regard to the protection of women from violence.
Officers of the Swedish Migration Agency visit asylum seekers in
these facilities about twice a week to see if there are any difficulties.
One asylum seeker I met told me these visits were not frequent or
long enough to detect any possible problems. Interpreters are also
often contracted externally, since there are not enough official
interpreters to cope with the number of interviews. They do not necessarily
have the experience and knowledge to detect violence in a story,
which can be told with abstract images.
48. Representatives of the Swedish Migration Agency recognised
they needed to improve their routine so as to identify vulnerable
groups among asylum seekers and implement standards to identify
and protect victims of violence. In the past two years, the Migration
Agency grew from 4 000 to 8 000 staff members, often recruited on
short-term contracts. Staff members are informed about gender-based
violence in their introductory training programme.
49. In Sweden, officials of the Swedish Migration Agency acknowledged
that protection of refugee and asylum-seeker women from gender-based
violence had not yet reached the level of international protection standards.
As in Germany, reception facilities are managed at the local level,
which makes it difficult to have a national overview of the situation.
There are not separate bathrooms for women in all reception facilities.
With regard to the rationale behind the lack of separate bathrooms
for women and men in reception facilities, I was told that the idea
was to expose asylum seekers to the Swedish culture of non-segregation
between women and men and to promote gender equality. I am of the
opinion that sharing bathrooms could be difficult for asylum-seeking
women, even more so if they have been victims of gender-based violence.
They need to be able to access well-lit bathrooms reserved for women
at any time of the day and night, without fearing for their safety.
This is a basic standard for their protection from violence.
50. There are also no reception facilities reserved only for women
asylum seekers in Sweden, which can be traumatic and difficult for
single women who travelled alone and experienced violence in their
countries of origin or in transit. I am of the opinion that women-only
structures should be made available, considering the extreme vulnerability
of refugee and asylum-seeker women who have been victims of violence.
Women who have faced violence in their countries of origin or on
the way to Sweden do not receive specific support. Assistance programmes
need to be made available to all victims of gender-based violence,
irrespective of the country where the violence was perpetrated,
in respect of the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention
on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic
Violence (CETS No. 210, “Istanbul Convention”).
Several cases of violence against women asylum seekers in
reception centres made the media headlines but I did not receive
official police data with regard to the number of complaints. UNHCR
Sweden expressed concern about risks of sexual and gender-based
violence in reception centres.Note
a monitoring visit in December 2016, UNHCR Sweden noted that single
women were living in mixed housing with single men and it created
a feeling of unease for women. I was told during my visit that the
heavy bureaucracy and fear of stigmatisation could prevent women
asylum seekers from making a complaint. Where violence has occurred,
the perpetrator can be moved to another reception facility.
52. Child marriage is being increasingly debated in Sweden. Families
sometimes take the decision to marry their daughters to older men
before departure or when in transit, trying to offer them protection
and to prevent them from enduring violence at the hands of several
perpetrators. However, this coping strategy is a violation of women’s
and children’s rights. The Swedish Migration Agency conducted a
study on child marriage among refugees and asylum seekers. It found
132 married children in reception facilities, most of them having
arrived in Sweden during autumn 2015.
There has also been an increase in the number of cases of
trafficking in human beings. The Swedish Migration Agency found
195 victims of trafficking in human beings, including 66 minors,
in reception facilities in 2015, and more than 300 in 2016.Note
was also informed that a person who had been exposed to trafficking in
human beings in a country other than Sweden could not be granted
asylum in Sweden and was thus at great risk of being re-trafficked.
54. I was able to witness the commitment of the Swedish authorities
to combat violence against women in all its forms and provide information
on support services to refugee and asylum-seeker women in several languages,
and the plans for their further integration into Swedish society,
with the provision of language classes, childcare and efforts made
for the schooling of all children.
55. As in the visit to Germany, meeting with asylum seekers who
accepted to share their story made me realise how much we need to
do more to support them. I will always remember the story of an
18-year old girl whose father forced her to leave Iraq and head
to Europe (her parents were divorced and her mother did not agree
with her leaving). The father beat his daughter up every day whilst
in transit and after arriving in Sweden. He also put her under enormous
psychological pressure, forbidding her to interact with anyone.
She was not identified as a victim by the migration services and
not considered a vulnerable person since she travelled with a member
of her family. She managed to escape, went to hospital where violence
was detected and the social services contacted. She was brought
to the shelter run by the NGO Somaya. She is still too afraid to
make a complaint to the police against her father, is living under
threat and is trying to rebuild a life for herself. She is still
waiting for a decision with regard to her status and her mother
has received death threats in Iraq by members of her father’s family.
56. I also left Sweden with the story of an Afghan woman who married
a man in Afghanistan against the will of her family. Following threats
by the family, they left Afghanistan to go to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey,
Greece and then Sweden, where her husband became violent towards
her. She left the household with her two children, one being autistic,
and had her asylum request denied three times, which is the maximum
number of requests an asylum seeker is entitled to make. She does
not know yet what her fate will be and fears facing more violence
if she is forcibly returned to Afghanistan.
In the reply provided by the
Ministry of the Interior to my questions, I was informed that every
measure had been taken to take into consideration the gender dimension
of the refugee crisis and that specific attention was given to vulnerable
groups throughout the status determination process. The Austrian
Ministry of the Interior reported that 88 340 asylum requests were
made in 2015, including 24 478 by women (27.7%).Note
In 2016, 13 866 asylum claims
were made by women on a total of 42 073 claims. The State Office
for asylum hired more than 400 additional officers so as to deal
with the increase of the number of claims in past years.
58. In Austria, reception facilities are managed at the federal
level as well as in provinces, with varying accommodation conditions.
At the federal level, reception centres are managed by the private
company ORS. Security officers working in these centres receive
specific training and are able to provide information on the prevention
of gender-based violence.
59. Psychological support and medical care are provided to refugee
women victims of violence. I was also informed that German courses
for women only are organised, during which gender-related themes
60. Women who travelled alone to Austria are accommodated in a
separate house in the reception centre in the city of Traiskirchen.
Security is ensured by female security officers and access to the
house is reserved for women only.
61. In Austria, police officers also receive training on gender-based
violence in their general curriculum. Since 2002, police officers
take part in the training programme “A world of difference” during
which they reflect on their interaction with minorities.
In her report on “Refugees
at risk in Europe”,Note
Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur for the Committee on Migration,
Refugees and Displaced Persons, shed light on the situation of 46 000
refugees and migrants blocked in mainland Greece and 8 500 on the
islands following the closure of the northern border with “the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and the EU–Turkey Agreement. She
stressed that Greece was bearing a disproportionate responsibility
for responding to the refugee and migration crisis because of its
place on the map and was unable to ensure basic levels of protection.
Greece was considered at first a transit country. However,
that most of the asylum seekers and refugees who arrived in Greece
in 2016 have remained in the country due to the closing of the northern
border. Structures that were initially planned as transit facilities
had to host people for extended periods, which represented a number
of challenges. In many cases, reception conditions were not at minimum standards,
mostly because of the high number of arrivals, but efforts have
been made to upgrade the sites. The overcrowding of reception facilities
in Greece has had an impact on the protection of women from gender-based
64. The UNHCR reports that the risk of sexual and gender-based
violence was not systematically taken into consideration when designing
the reception/transit sites and that there is an overall perception
of lack of security. There is insufficient lighting and sex-segregated
wash facilities or sleeping areas are not systematically available.
The UNHCR received several reports of sexual and gender-based violence
in reception facilities including domestic violence, sexual assaults
and survival sex. The police are present at the entrance of sites
but are not patrolling inside. The UNHCR recommends the provision
of training on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence
and increasing the number of female police staff.
65. The UNHCR proceeds with the identification of vulnerable groups
upon arrival and works to accommodate them in suitable facilities.
In many cases, women at risk of violence or survivors of violence
are accommodated in UNHCR-funded accommodation facilities. Psychosocial
and legal services are offered to survivors of gender-based violence
in several reception and identification centres and in open accommodation sites.
Prevention actions are undertaken by UNHCR partners to raise awareness
on the risks of gender-based violence and available assistance services.
The UNHCR co-operates with national authorities and some refugee
women survivors of violence have been helped by the relevant national
mechanisms providing assistance to victims.
In the framework of the preparation
of this report, I was in contact with the UNHCR Office for Southern EuropeNote
information about alarming rates of sexual and gender-based violence
among new arrivals in Italy. The majority of women arriving by sea
are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual
assault during their journey, mainly in Libya but also during boat
journeys. Men and boys were also identified among survivors of sexual
and gender-based violence.
67. The lack of a safe environment at disembarkation and the often
large collective reception facilities, combined with insufficient
awareness with regard to sexual and gender-based violence and groups
at risk, represent a major challenge. The UNHCR reported that identification
and response to sexual and gender-based violence would need to be
strengthened throughout the procedure and reception cycle in Italy,
including by ensuring a systematic and standardised referral to
existing national systems for victims of gender-based violence,
female genital mutilation (FGM) and trafficking. To this end, there
is a need for further training of staff working on the front line
with asylum seekers so as to respond to cases of gender-based violence.
68. The UNHCR also reported an increase in the number of women,
particularly from Nigeria, who are potentially trafficked and becoming
victims of sexual exploitation in the past three years.
69. Nevertheless, several good practices can be mentioned with
regard to Italy, such as existing national programmes on combating
gender-based violence, FGM and trafficking in human beings; the
presence of health and humanitarian organisations at disembarkation
areas; and the existence of a web training platform on FGM (project
implemented by the Associazione Italiana Donne per lo Sviluppo),
with a module on refugees and migrants, to train the response sector
70. The situation of refugee and
asylum-seeker women in Turkey, currently hosting almost 3 million refugees,
also deserves our utmost attention and I would recommend future
work by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination to specifically
look at this issue, including cases of sexual violence, harassment,
forced marriages, child marriages and trafficking in human beings.
The impact of the agreement between the European Union and
Turkey on women should also be analysed. Turkey signed an agreement
with the European Union stipulating it would take back refugees
who arrived in Greece via irregular routes after 20 March 2016.
The Women’s Refugee Commission has expressed concerns with regard
to the safety of those returned and in general about cases of gender-based
violence against refugee women.Note
to protect refugee and asylum-seeker women from violence
72. Providing support to refugee
and asylum-seeker women victims of gender-based violence cannot
be done overnight. It can take months for a woman to be ready to
share her story and seek assistance. It is therefore crucial to
establish confidence with the persons working in the reception facilities
and those coming for visits in accommodation located away from reception
facilities. Social workers, asylum officers, guards and police officers
should all be sensitised on signs to detect cases of gender-based
violence, how to respond to these cases and provide timely assistance.
Providing training on preventing and gender-based violence to all professionals
in reception facilities is part of our responsibility to protect
refugee and asylum-seeker women from violence.
73. Refugee determination processes need to be gender sensitive.
Each asylum seeker should have the possibility to ask for a female
or male interpreter and asylum officer. Some women believe they
would not be granted refugee status if they left their husband.
They experience pressure from their families to stay with their husbands
and sometimes decide to remain in a violent household. Having the
possibility of being interviewed alone by a female asylum officer
could put a woman more at ease to share her story, especially where
sexual violence has taken place.
74. Access to information in several languages and the presence
of female interpreters are also essential, as well as the creation
of women-only shelters for women refugees and asylum seekers. Arne
Treves, UNHCR protection officer, highlighted during our hearing
in June 2016 that efforts should be stepped up to ensure the recruitment
of a significant number of female interpreters who would play a
fundamental role in supporting victims.
Key recommendations already exist at the international level
for the protection of refugee and asylum-seeker women from violence.
I would therefore like to promote the implementation of the Inter-Agency
Standing Committee Guidelines for integrating gender-based violence
interventions in humanitarian action, adopted by the United Nations
in 2015. There is a need to allocate sufficient means for their
implementation. These concrete guidelines should serve as a guiding
principle when establishing transit and reception facilities, wherever
this may be. We need to acknowledge that the refugee crisis in Europe
required emergency humanitarian action. These guidelines can help
reduce risks and address the protection gaps by implementing safeguards.Note
Another key instrument is undoubtedly the Istanbul Convention,
which foresees the protection of refugee women against violence
and requires its States Parties to recognise gender-based violence
as a form of persecution covered by the 1951 United Nations Refugee
It requires a gender-sensitive interpretation
of the grounds for asylum listed in the Refugee Convention.Note
77. I would like to highlight that in its Article 4.3, the Istanbul
Convention places an obligation on its Parties to implement its
provisions without discrimination on the ground of migrant, refugee
or other status. The convention therefore foresees preventive measures,
support services for refugee and asylum-seeker women, as well as
the prosecution of the perpetrators of violence. Another important
element is the obligation to introduce gender-sensitive procedures
and support services in the asylum process (Article 60.3). In addition, Article
25 requires Parties to ensure that rape crisis or sexual violence
referral centres for victims of sexual violence are easily accessible
and can provide full trauma support, irrespective of where the violence
occurred. This is not yet the case everywhere, as I saw in Sweden.
78. The Istanbul Convention is the most advanced international
instrument for the protection of all women, irrespective of their
status, from gender-based violence. It also calls on Parties to
respect the principle of non-refoulement (Article
61) which ensures that women victims of violence needing international
protection are not returned to a country where their life could
be at risk.
79. I intend to call on States which have not yet ratified it
to do so and implement it without further delay. Protecting women
refugees from gender-based violence does not equate to less protection
for other women. The Istanbul Convention advocates a comprehensive
protection mechanism for all.
80. Some refugee and asylum-seeker women have been or are at risk
of becoming victims of trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation.
I would also call for a greater attention to this matter and for
the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action
against Trafficking in Human Beings. A gender-specific approach
to prevent trafficking in human beings should be further encouraged.
No-one should risk their life to find protection. This report
also provides an opportunity to advocate family reunification arrangements
and resettlement programmes,Note
which are one of the safest ways to ensure women
asylum seekers reach their destination countries safely. There are
few resettlement programmes in the European Union, with 28 540 refugees
resettled between 2011 and 2015.Note
Family reunification arrangements, resettlement
programmes and emergency resettlement schemes all contribute to
the protection of women asylum seekers from gender-based violence
and should not be limited, but actively promoted. I would also like to
stress that these programmes should also be made available for internally
displaced women at risk of violence.Note
challenge of integration
82. Women asylum seekers and refugees
victims of gender-based violence face multiple challenges and we have
the responsibility not only to protect them from further violence
but to help them reconstruct themselves and find a place in our
societies. Since the perpetuation of conflicts makes a return to
their home countries unlikely in the short term, it is important
for them to integrate in the destination countries.
83. Empowering women refugees at the economic level will contribute
to protecting them from violence in the future. This is why their
economic integration is essential. Access to language classes for
women refugees will be necessary to this end. It will allow the
recognition of their skills and competences and give them the opportunity
to look for employment. As highlighted by Lawen Redar, member of
the Swedish Parliament, refugee women must be in the labour market
so as to ensure their integration in society, their independence and
protection from violence. They will be less likely to stay in a
violent household if they already have a job.
84. States welcoming refugees should not hesitate to invest in
empowerment and both economic and social integration programmes.
The first steps to this end are the provision of language courses,
childcare services and the recognition of professional skills. Successful
role models should be promoted so as to show positive stories of
women refugees who have a career. I look forward to the report by
Ms Gabriela Heinrich (Germany, SOC) on “Migration from a gender
perspective: empowering women as key actors for integration”, which
will provide us with concrete recommendations on this essential
85. I welcome the fact that the Office of the German Federal Commissioner
for Migration, Refugees and Integration has received 20 million
euros of funding to map out the needs for integration, prepare recommendations
and start integration programmes. One of the objectives of these
programmes is to help women refugees realise their potential. Refugees
receive a 600-hour integration course about life in Germany, including
information about gender equality. Childcare is provided during
the course so as to facilitate the participation of women. The provision
of these courses represents a positive first step.
86. Refugees bring in their skills and competences, together with
the willingness to make the destination country their new home.
I can only warn against populist comments presenting them as a burden
for Europe. I am convinced Europe can learn and gain a lot from
the experience of refugees and put into practice the respect of
its fundamental values when welcoming them to protect them from
the atrocities of war. Helping the social integration of refugees
is therefore crucial to overcome prejudice and ensure harmonious
87. We should also keep in mind the fact that refugee women can
be victims in Europe of multiple discrimination based on their gender,
ethnic origin, status or religion. They are still too often looked
down by the majority of the population, who does not see the benefits
of diversity for our society. Protecting them from gender-based
violence is only a first step. Combating and condemning multiple
discrimination is an increasingly important element for future integration
at every level. I would therefore encourage awareness-raising campaigns
on the richness that refugees represent for society.
88. Practical measures can be taken
to enhance the protection of women from gender-based violence. They include
separate secure sleeping areas and well-lit bathrooms reserved for
women in transit and reception facilities. The creation of safe
spaces in every transit and reception facility should be encouraged
and supported and the presence of a sufficient number of female
staff members among security personnel ensured in collective accommodation
facilities. Separate shelters for refugee and asylum-seeker women
victims of gender-based violence and for unaccompanied women should
be available, with sufficient security. Not considering the safety
of women as a priority is a mistake with long-term consequences
for the victims.
89. The provision of information on rights, complaints mechanisms
and assistance services in an understandable language is also essential.
Specific training on detecting and preventing gender-based violence
for staff working in transit and reception facilities, including
guards, should also be provided. Police officers, guards in camps,
border guards, asylum officers and social workers working in transit
and reception facilities should demonstrate exemplary behaviour
and make clear that there can be no impunity for gender-based violence.
They need to receive clear indications on how to identify vulnerable
groups and potential victims of violence.
90. In order to better detect and respond to cases of violence
in transit, cross-border protection mechanisms for victims of violence
should be put in place. Reporting of violence should be encouraged,
irrespective of the legal status of the victim.
91. In addition, access to sexual and reproductive health care
should be facilitated, as well as to legal aid, free of charge.
General and post-trauma medical care should be made available, as
well as psychological support. The setting up of women’s support
groups in refugee camps, reception facilities and shelters for women
victims of violence is a good practice which should be encouraged.
92. Migration officials should pay frequent visits to asylum-seeker
and refugee women living in accommodation outside State-managed
reception facilities. The respect of protection standards should
be guaranteed irrespective of the kind of accommodation.
93. In cases when the externalisation and privatisation of services
for asylum seekers and refugees is necessary due to a high number
of arrivals, a solid monitoring mechanism should be put in place
to ensure close follow-up and detection of cases of violence. Whenever
possible, a UNHCR monitoring officer should be present. Quality
controls of privatised services, including accommodation and the
provision of language courses are essential to ensure the respect
94. Resettlements and family reunification should be encouraged
and supported wherever possible. They represent safe pathways for
women asylum seekers victims of gender-based violence to reach their
destination countries. I regret that there are to date only a few
resettlement programmes in place, despite calls from the UNHCR.
In addition, emergency resettlement schemes, such as specific humanitarian
programmes for women victims of gender-based violence travelling
alone or only with their children, should be put in place so as
to facilitate their journey to a safe haven.
Gender-sensitive asylum procedures need to be further advocated,
since they provide an opportunity to have a separate interview without
any family members. In this respect, I would like to recall Assembly Resolution 1765 (2010)
on gender-related claims for asylum. The presence of
female asylum officers and interpreters should be proposed to women
and the confidentiality of information guaranteed. Asylum officers
need to receive systematic training on detecting gender-based violence
and use gender-sensitive country of origin information. Independent
residence permits should be provided to women, so that they would
not fear leaving a violent household and losing their status.
96. The ratification of the Istanbul Convention represents a concrete
commitment to the protection of all women from gender-based violence.
This report is another opportunity to call for its ratification
and implementation without further delay, since it can greatly contribute
to protecting all women from gender-based violence, including asylum-seeker
and refugee women. The convention clearly requires its Parties to
recognise gender-based violence as a form of persecution within
the meaning of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
97. The provision of language classes, recognition of skills and
competences and access to the labour market are keys to the empowerment,
rehabilitation and protection from violence of refugee women. In
the long run, I am convinced that the integration of refugee women
will be the most efficient response to gender-based violence.
98. We need to acknowledge that
more needs to be done to protect refugee and asylum-seeker women
from gender-based violence. We have the responsibility to ensure
a life free from violence in the safe havens they have chosen. They
face multiple difficulties and discrimination and we should help
them reconstruct themselves and find their place in our societies.
99. There is an urgent need to ensure the protection of refugee
and asylum-seeker women from gender-based violence at every step
of their journey. It can be challenging for a country to be prepared
for a significant number of arrivals of asylum seekers, but practical
protection measures can be taken without necessarily involving high
Our handling of the refugee crisis reflects our readiness
to stand up for the fundamental values of the Council of Europe.
I feel encouraged by popular movements such as the mass demonstrations
on 18 February 2017 in Barcelona asking the Spanish State to welcome
more refugees. I was also reassured by demonstrations of concrete
solidarity by the population towards refugees in several member
States and sincerely hope that such actions will continue developing
in the coming years. I would like to praise the generosity expressed
by Mr Prokópis Pavlópoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic,
telling refugee children that Greece would be their home as long
as their country of origin remained unsafe.Note
members of the Parliamentary Assembly, we bear a responsibility
to act. We should not only call for more solidarity towards refugees
and asylum seekers from our governments but also speak out every
time we hear that refugees are used as scapegoats and targets of