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Discrimination and violence against refugee women

On 22 June 2016, the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons held a joint hearing on discrimination and violence against refugee women, with the participation of Mina Jaf, activist for the rights of refugee women, Dr Richard Matis, Vice-Chairperson of Gynaecology without borders, Arne Treves, protection officer at the Bureau of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Europe and a woman refugee victim of female genital mutilation and domestic violence who gave her testimony. The hearing was held in preparation of the report by Gisela Wurm (Austria, SOC), rapporteur on “protecting refugee women from gender-based violence” for the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

Since November 2015, women and children represent the majority of asylum-seekers arriving to Europe but there is not yet an adequate response to this shift. Dr Matis presented the situation in Calais and the work of Gynaecology without borders, which tries to build bridges between the women in the refugee camps and public health services.

“There is a lack of protective systems and of psycho-social support for women refugees victims or at risk of violence”, stated Arne Treves when presenting an overview of the situation in Europe. “Physical risks, dire living conditions, problems in access to information and dependency on smugglers are some of the difficulties faced by women refugees”, he continued. Simple measures such as ensuring the presence of female interpreters and separate WASH facilities could already contribute to improving their situation.

Members also heard the testimony of Mina Jaf, a refugee living in Denmark, who became an activist for the rights of women refugees. She called on PACE members to take action in their national parliaments to ensure the protection of women refugees from violence.

Petra de Sutter (Belgium, SOC), rapporteur for opinion for the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, emphasised that States should take measures to prevent the detention of pregnant women and promote gender-sensitive asylum procedures. “More solidary is essential and we need to ensure, as a society, that every possible measure is taken to protect women refugees from violence and abuse”, stated Gisela Wurm when thanking guest speakers.