Migrant women and girls face heightened risk of violence

The migration crisis is placing large numbers of women and girls at risk of violence, according to a growing body of evidence. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights calls for concerted efforts to help end the additional suffering that compounds the trauma many face throughout the migration route as they flee turmoil and persecution in their home countries.

Over the past year, the Agency has been collecting data on the fundamental rights situation of people arriving in Member States particularly affected by large migration movements. In June, the monthly report focused on gender-based violence.

The report highlights various realities and threats that women and girls face once they are in the EU. While all of the nine EU countries looked at in the Agency’s report have one or more measures in place to protect female asylum seekers, very few have comprehensive responses. The realities on the ground can mean inadequate provision of separate accommodation for males and females, problems with separate washing facilities, and a lack of security to enhance women’s safety. In addition, provision of information on gender-based violence and how to report it is a major weakness in all Member States covered in the report. This situation increases non-reporting of abuse and allows abusers to act with relative impunity.

Various EU and national laws and policies take gender-based violence into consideration when it comes to granting asylum and when receiving asylum seekers. In addition, the European Parliament has called for new gender guidelines to better protect female refugees.

The European Commission has also suggested that the EU ratifies the Council of Europe’s Convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), which also covers migration and asylum. This would provide a solid legal basis for addressing violence against all women.

Until such initiatives materialise, the Agency’s report identifies areas Member States could address to help combat violence against migrant women and girls. These include: better information on gender-based violence and what to do if it happens; staff guidelines and training; and separate facilities for females and support for victims, including legal support.

Taken together, these measures could significantly help eliminate violence against migrant women and girls seeking sanctuary in the EU.

These results complement the detailed picture provided by the Agency’s EU-wide survey on violence against women, which looked at the extent and nature of various forms of violence against women in the general population.