No Safety for Refugee Women on the European Route: Report from the Balkans
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.
Protection risks for women, girls and other vulnerable groups are present at every stage of the European refugee migration; and at every point where risk could be mitigated, the opportunity to do so is squandered.
Refugee women and girls are often unable to access basic services in transit centers, including sexual and reproductive health care. 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. Government officials are inadequately equipped to manage this mobile, vulnerable population. Civil society organizations with relevant gender expertise are typically excluded from the places where they could be most helpful. Finally, the protection risks that women and girls face in all humanitarian crises are exacerbated here by the lack of meaningful legal options to seek asylum or other relief along the route.
There is an urgent need for the Serbian and Slovenian governments, in collaboration and coordination with other countries, the European Union (EU) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), to take control of a hastily developed and chaotic humanitarian response and put in place the policies, programs, services and personnel that will protect women and girls from a myriad of risks from the moment they arrive and through the journey to a safe resettlement.
The Serbian and Slovenian governments should:
in collaboration and coordination with other countries, including EU member states, develop long-term asylum, protection and integration mechanisms so that individuals fleeing violence, including gender-based persecution, can exercise their right to protection and family unity in these countries and across the region;
not discriminate by nationality when processing refugees in transit; all individuals should have the opportunity to seek protection and have access to a fair and meaningful asylum system or other forms of humanitarian protection;
ensure strengthened, timely and efficient family tracing and reunification procedures for refugees, including unaccompanied minors, especially girls, hoping to reunite with family members already in a destination country;
together with UNHCR, ensure that transit sites are built and staffed in a gender-sensitive manner, recognizing women and girls’ needs and safety, in line with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines for Integrating GBV Interventions in Humanitarian Action (2015),1 which offer sector-specific guidance on reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery efforts;
ensure that GBV-specific services, including clinical care for survivors of sexual violence, GBV experts, safe spaces for women and girls, and referral mechanisms, are available onsite at all transit sites;
ensure that the minimum standards of life-saving reproductive health services are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week through adequately resourced mobile clinics, and refugees should know where and how to access the services along the route;
improve refugees’ access to information on their rights, the transit route and available services, including through increased deployment of female Arabic and Farsi interpreters;
allow civil society organizations to work inside transit sites and support their frontline efforts in the refugee response, particularly on women’s protection, GBV response and human rights monitoring.