Panel 2: “ Migration and women’s rights: When refugees cross borders to Europe and within Europe – old reflexes, new fences”

‍‍States and the EU have not developed a joint strategy based on a human rights approach to handle migration and refugee flows. Instead they have turned to highly technocratic approaches that strengthen internal and external border regimes. Women’s specific needs and rights are either not taken into account due to the male norms around migration and asylum or they are often packed into an approach of only protection and paternalism. The fact that most states ratified CEDAW and signed UNSCR 1325, and that gender mainstreaming policies and toolkits are available, increasingly loses its relevance. There is a need to shed a critical light through a feminist lens at the bigger picture including the roots of migration and its interlinkages with global economic and political injustice. This is what this panel will do.

Feminist analysis must be made visible within the debates around migration and refugees – on the one hand addressing the women’s resources and biographies, on the other hand assessing the gendered realities in Europe in the migration context. It helps to understand the narratives of the different stakeholders and the entry points for a provision of support. Furthermore, the panel aims at throwing light on the mechanisms that distort and exploit feminist discourse and thus reproduce the structural racism, sexism and xenophobia reflected in current policies of registration, reception, integration.

Listen to the audio of the panel


Serap Altinisik, programme director at EWL (moderator)
Pierrette Pape, policy & campaigns director at EWL
Hibaaq Osman, founder and CEO of El-Karama and among others, founder of “ThinkTank for Arab Women and Dignity Fund”
Marianna Karakoulaki, journalist and editor who is currently reporting on the refugee crisis at the Greek borders
Ola Aljari, editor at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, journalist about (women) refugee issues
Video presentation by Marcy Hersh on behalf Women’s Refugee Commission

This panel discussed the gap between the policy regarding refugee issues and the realities on the ground, through the lens of four women with experience or knowledge about these lived realities. The general consensus was  that the current debates around the refugee ‘ crisis’ are diluting from structural inequalities, that created the crisis in the first place.

Can the answers to transnational issues be ‘ business as usual’?  Where are the women’s voices from the crisis? What is the meaning of peace – when refugees are fleeing one situation of violence just to find themselves in another? What role do European feminists play in the refugee crisis? Should it be called a ‘ crisis’? Were some of the questions that were raised in this thought provoking panel.

Marianna  Karalouki, reminded us that  the crisis did not start in the summer of 2015 but in the autumn of 2014 in three stages :

  1. People were crossing borders
  2. The Balkan route opened in June 2015 till November or so Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis and then Feb – only Syrians and Afghans.
  3. Eu turkey deal – after march 20th everyone is being imprisoned – open air prison – go back to turkey, apply for asylum in Greece, but no other option.

In her work as a journalist working on the frontlines of this struggle she came across a quote that says – “ In Syria or wherever we flee from, we may die right away but in Greece we die several deaths every day.”

Further, there is complete silence around experiences of women refugees. According to  Pierrette Pape – In the coverage of the crisis there is a complete silence around the multiple extra layers of violence that women are exposed to in the journey. Despite VAW being  a pattern in many women’s lives. We live in a culture of disbelief where its often not talked about or not taken seriously when women start talking about it. Women have been fleeing, some of them had to sell their bodies to be protected. Domestic violence is rampant in the camps. There is a lack of reproductive health services – a lot of women were forced to have C sections without anesthesia, they given birth in camps in unsanitary conditions with limited medical support.
Moreover there is also no talk about LGBTQ refugees or trans women – it is not reported, and there no policies regarding this.

Therefore, the refugee crisis is a feminist issue, because it is an issue about rights. And more feminists must engage in it so that we can change who is referred to as a refugee.
Most of the organisations working in the region do not seem to provide much support. Therefore people are forced more and more to organize themselves.
According to Ola Ajari a refugee woman herself told about her journey and talks about the self organization of women refugee and migrants.  55% of refugees now are women and children. Women’s movement was slowly growing but soon crushed. Nevertheless, there are some movements that are still alive and continue to grow, such as the self-organized hotels for refugees, that help them gain a sense of dignity back.

However, the crisis as it has emerged today has its roots in geopolitical scenarios and historic structures that have been there for years. Hiqaab Osmaan, unapologetically reminded the room of feminists about their role in the crisis. She insisted on the need to politicize issues once again. The crisis of migration was created through inter linkages between the North and South and the North has as much a role to play in the matter as the south – the EU is fighting a proxy war in the conflict zones. It is not just a refugee crisis it is a global crisis. She also reminded the room that lots of countries in the south have been accepting refugees for years without extra funding from outside – on the basis of solidarity and humanity. Today more than ever, it is important to personalize the issue and not think that it is happening ‘ out there’.  She says that none of us are innocent in the matter, that we created the problem and we must find solutions to it.

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