Urgent action needed for women crossing borders


Across Europe, refugee women face a number of gender-specific challenges, which are often over looked by policy-makers. Independent field research conducted by Refugee Rights Europe shines a light on the lived experiences of refugee and displaced women and particularly exposes gender-based violence, a lack of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and heightened risk of exploitation by human traffickers.


In the majority of the camps we visited across Europe, we found that support systems and services were insufficient to deal with these issues. Women often reported feeling unsafe, and camps were seldom designed with the needs of women in mind, despite tireless work of non-governmental organisations which  are setting up and running women’s ‘safe spaces’. In mainland Greece, during research carried out in November 2016, 69% of women reported not having a secure lock on their shelter, and 46.4% said they did not feel safe in the camp. Similarly, in Ventimiglia, in August 2017, researchers were informed of a heightened risk of abuse against women and girls due to the lack of security measures. Staff in non-governmental organisations explained that toilets and washroom facilities were unprotected and unsupervised, and the lack of security staff meant that any camp resident could enter women’s shelters at any time.


Moreover, displaced women and service providers reported various incidences of sexual and gender-based violence. In the now demolished Calais camp, 41.7% of the women we spoke to had experienced some form of violence while they were there - this includes reported incidences of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse. One woman recalled that she was grabbed by a group of men who pulled her by the hair, telling her, “You will come with me.” The absence of safety and security measures in camps puts women and girls at heightened risk of such violence. And the behaviour of smugglers, who are known to target women who travel alone and typically try to coerce women who lack financial resources into having sex in return for their passage across borders, is a particular concern among women across all locations.


We propose the following policy recommendations to ensure the rights of refugee and displaced women are upheld:

  • Strengthen responses to sexual and gender-based violence on a day-to-day basis, ensuring that staff and volunteers in camps have the capacity to deal with reporting such violence and supporting survivors.

  • Tackle issues around camp design, including safe and accessible toilets and well-lit washroom facilities.

  • Ensure access to a range of contraception, so that displaced women can take charge of their reproductive rights.  Culturally appropriate information relating to pregnancy and sexual health should be made available, alongside access to pregnancy tests and relevant healthcare.

  • Build gender awareness into the asylum processes in receiving countries, and establish support structures for women who have been displaced, including healthcare.


We look forward to bringing our research findings to the attention of policy makers on 8 March to ensure that the rights of refugee and displaced women are upheld across Europe.


About Refugee Rights Europe

Refugee Rights Europe is a human rights organisation and registered UK charity. Founded in late 2015, the organisation researches and documents the situation for refugees and displaced people seeking protection in Europe, with a particular focus on human rights violations and inadequate humanitarian conditions experienced. The organisation uses its research findings to advocate for human rights-centered policy development, to ensure the rights of refugees and displaced people are upheld on European soil, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


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