The All Women Count parliamentary rally comes at a timely moment in negotiations between governments on a new global framework on refugees – the so-called ‘UN Global Compact on Refugees.’
Refugee and migrant women activists, and civil society organisations supporting them like CARE International and Women’s Refugee Commission, have been campaigning to ensure that women’s rights are recognised in the ‘Compact.’ In 2016, local women’s rights organisations and networks in every region around the globe developed Joint Recommendations on Women’s Rights for the process, which you can access here.
So where are we at with the UN Global Compact and what is the UK’s role in championing safety, dignity and liberty for refugees?
The Zero Draft Global Compact was published at the end of January. References to gender and women’s rights include:
“refugees, particularly women and youth, in key fora, institutions, and decision-making processes”
Creating “safe spaces” in arrival, transit, registration areas
Ensuring “counselling and medical assistance for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence”
“expanded family reunification mechanisms, including broadened eligibility criteria and simplified procedures”
Intensive negotiations continue now between governments until the middle of summer this year, and UNHCR will then publish a final text in Autumn which governments can choose to endorse and implement.
At the UN General Assembly in 2016 which launched the Compact process, the British Prime Minister made a speech emphasising the government’s support for protection and assistance to refugees, whilst underscoring the importance of border controls and supporting refugees to stay as close to their country of origin as possible. She also highlighted how the UK will champion efforts against human traffickers and the scourge of ‘modern slavery.’ As the UN Global Compact negotiations unfold, the tensions between these imperatives will come ever more to the fore.
Of course, sovereign states want to control their borders. Likewise it is true that often refugees want to stay close to home. But when we look at the current reality facing the millions displaced by crises including the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, what we see is the closure of borders that is literally trapping people inside war zones, denying them a place of refuge from horrific violence. Likewise, in some of the countries neighbouring these crises, we are seeing very slow progress in promises to support the host country’s economy or provide access to jobs or legal protections for refugees.
The coming year will also bring increased scrutiny over how the British government cooperates with its EU neighbours on hosting refugees that make it to European shores and how it supports global refugee resettlement efforts. A new study by CARE International ‘Left behind – how the world is failing women and girls on refugee family reunion’ highlights how the failure of the UK and other European governments to share in the responsibility for hosting refugees is trapping women and girls in dangerous and unsanitary camps in Greece, where they are at risk of sexual violence and exploitation by human traffickers. Talk of combating ‘modern slavery’ looks rather hollow unless the British and other governments do more to provide safe and legal routes to a place of safety.
So towards the All Women Count parliamentary rally, we call on Members of Parliament to press the Government on two main points, in order to translate safety, liberty and dignity for refugee women and girls into reality at the European and global levels:
First, the Government should champion strong commitments in the UN Global Compact on Refugees to protect, assist and empower refugee women and girls. Existing language in the Zero Draft should not get watered down, and more specific commitments in some areas is key – especially on ensuring gender-sensitive approaches in refugee reception arrangements and in ensuring that refugee women can access legal rights.
Second, the Government should give clear assurances that a post-Brexit UK will build on and strengthen its cooperation with other European governments. The EU ‘Dublin’ Regulation will be up for renewal soon. Other non-EU member states – namely Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein - have endorsed and implemented it, and so should the UK. Likewise, when it comes to helping to share in the responsibility of hosting refugees who make it to European shores, in particular Greece and Italy, the UK should do more.