Workshop 6: Who cares for whom? Asylum and refugee rights

This workshop discussed different policy opportunities to promote the rights of women refugees such as the Istanbul Convention (articles 59-61), codes of conduct, and strategies to engender asylum policies among others.


Pierrette Pape, policy & campaigns director at EWL (moderator)
Mary Collins, senior policy & advocacy coordinator EWL (speaker)
Milena Wegelin, project leader Terres des Femmes Switzerland (speaker)
Anna Zobnina, chair of the European Network of Migrant Women (speaker)


Policy opportunities to promote the rights of women refugees

Together with the Women´s refugee commission, and the ENoMW  the EWL held a Womens´Voices Forum last April in Brussels. The forum gave space to discuss the issue of violence against refugee girls and women and developed concrete feminist demands for change in asylum policies.  From January to June 2016 the project “Women´s voices” – From Conflict to peace ? Women and girlý voices on the move,” was developed and documented in e brochure, which was available at the conference.

  • Ana Zobnina, Chair of the European Network of Migrant Women (ENoMW) proposed that the Istanbul Convention is the appropriate instrument to defend the rights of migrant and refugee Women;

In its articles 59 – 61 there are specific provisions for these groups. The Istanbul convention until now has been signed by all the EU member states, but only 50% have also ratified the convention. That means that the convention has to be interpreted by national law.

Art. 59 demands, that refugee woman should be granted their status independently of their husband, particularly, if they are victims of domestic violence.

Art. 60 speaks about gender based asylum claims: The reasons for persecution named in the 1951 Geneva Convention such as forced marriage, domestic violence

The European Women´s Lobby and European Network of Migrant Women are lobbying the EU to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention.

Furthermore they propose the introduction of the United Nations Code of Conduct for staff within the asylum procedure, care givers and security, who assist refugee women and children.

  • Milena Wegelin, project leader from Terre des Femmes Switzerland presented two projects of her organisation.
    • Two surveys: Women in the asylum procedure from 2011 and female asylum seekers in collective accommodation centers from 2013
    • A parallel report to the CEDAW committee dealing particularly with the situation of female asylum seekers in Switzerland from January 2016

There is a code of conduct form the Red Cross but nothing about gender in it.

Since right wing party has now majority in the federal parliament in Switzerland, it becomes more difficult to lobby for a policy change.

Workshop participants from Moldawia, Netherland, Austria and others made contributions on the very difficult situation of women and girls refugees in their countries.

  • Women suffer violence during their flight they are traumatized and suffer from illnesses caused by traumatic experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. Psychotherapy is not available or only after waiting for a long time.
  • Asylum procedures are still not gender sensitive. Women and men are interviewed separately but often they are not used to speak for themselves and even less in presence of their husband and children.
  • In organized accommodation in Austria there are no separate spaces for women and even showers and toilets many times are not separated by sex. There is only one shelter for women refugees in lower Austria which is always overcrowded.
  • Women live very isolated and mostly stay in their rooms and they are intimidated by male caring staff. It is not an exception that they are afraid to go to toilet during the night. Pregnant women have to go to toilet and shower two floors lower and don´t have any privacy.
  • Access to the health system is difficult due to lack of mobility and the language barrier.
  • No access to family planning knowledge and methods;
  • In Netherlands many initiatives are going on. Most important is to go to the centers and visit the women. Not only talking to them but also to document their testimonials and bring them to a political level. A code of conduct would be very important, because violence by family members or relatives continues in collective accommodation. There is no institution where women could complain when they are threatened.
  • In Austria there is a telephone hot line in several languages available, but only a few women get the information. Mobile counsellors are likely to be men and are not trained on gender issues such as gender specific violence. Often they come from the same patriarchal background as the refugee women themselves.
  • Caritas runs a women´s health center in lower Austria which offers programmes to refugee women in accommodation centers. Creative courses like sewing, yoga lessons and information workshop on the Austrian health system are organized.
  • How can we involve the media to raise public awareness on the specific difficult situation of women refugees? The typical refugee is still seen as a young man although nowadays at least 30% are women and children.
  • Refugee rights must be gendered starting from the asylum procedure and the provisions in collective accommodation to gender sensitive measures for integration such as language courses with child care facilities.
  • There is a need of gender trainings for mobile counsellors access for women´s organisations to accommodation centers.

Useful next step for future work could be:

  • Presswork around the 10 days against violence against women from Nov.25th to Dec., 10th
  • Lobbying for ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention, art. 59 – 61
  • Shadow reporting to the CEDAW Committee on the situation of refugee women and girls
  • Develop standards for gender sensitive asylum procedures and lobbying for them
  • Project development and fundraising for gender trainings to staff in collective accommodation and among mobile counsellors



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