Elevating the Voices of Women and Children in the Refugee Crisis

Every Thursday for the past five months, eight lawyers and activists have gathered around a conference table in our Madrid office to plan out our response to the European refugee crisis. One goal was to focus attention on the needs of women and children who have been particularly vulnerable to abuses in camps and in transit. Many of these meetings are filled with debates about legal theory, procedure, and strategy. But whenever a team of our attorneys returns from the field, we put those matters aside and listen.

In one such meeting, an attorney described what it was like interviewing women in Piraeus, the port in Athens where refugees are living in inhumane conditions after fleeing war and instability in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Despite the difficulty of the conversations, she said that the women held their heads high throughout the process. When the team offered to stop the interviews, the women insisted they continue, saying, “Ask me.”

In all, our team interviewed 12 Syrian women between the ages of 16 and 50. Instead of finding protection and relief on European soil, they have been trapped in makeshift camps—some of which resemble prisons—without access to adequate food, sanitation, water, or safety. Three of them were pregnant and had difficulty even accessing basic medical care; one woman described borrowing her friend’s Turkish identification papers in order to have a cesarean at a private clinic. Most women live in fear of sexual violence, smuggling, and trafficking mafias.

The women we interviewed wanted their stories told—to improve their own lives, the lives of their children, and the lives of the thousands of others trapped, frightened, and adrift in transit through Europe on any given day. In June, Women’s Link filed a complaint against the European Commission, alleging that the European Union failed to assess the human rights impact of an agreement on migration it entered into with Turkey earlier this year (put forward in a joint statement issued by the European Council in March).

By taking legal action, Women’s Link wants to ensure that women and children are not forgotten as the world struggles to respond to the refugee crisis. Earlier this month, the European ombudsman announced that it will investigate the actions of the European Commission based on our complaint and several others.  

The day after the ombudsman’s office announced the investigation, we received a letter from the commission in response to our questions about the human rights impact evaluation of the EU–Turkey agreement. The commission asserts that the agreement is successful because lower numbers of people are entering Europe, making no mention of the thousands of people living in unsafe camps or those who died at sea due to a lack of safe passage.  

We await the ombudsman’s investigation. In the meantime, we will continue to fight—using the law to protect the rights and dignity of all those trapped at Europe’s borders.

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I am very interested in this work, as I am currently going to Europe (Austria) as a Fulbright scholar, to study the impact of resettlement policies on women refugees. Would like to work with you and find ways to collaborate.

What I'm not understanding is if the EU agreed to take the refugees in, then why is this situation being allowed to fester? Where is the organizational PLAN? I would think the camps were intended as temporary quarters, and NOW have outlived their purpose or there are just too many people in one camp. If people are stagnant, as these refugees appear to be, there is going to be trouble regardless of what nationality they are, it's human nature when one has no focus. For safety purposes and to get a handle on this situation, why can't this camp be divided into 2? Section 1- Single men (non-elderly and non-handicapped), Section 2- Firstly, relocate near health care facility or build a small but suitable health care facility to include the elderly, handicapped, married, married w/ children, orphans, & single women. Two camps would allow the "mafia group" which is more prevalent in the single younger to middle age men and it would allow this group to be monitored more closely vs blending in with the crowd and bringing harm to others. Then they can deal with their illegal doings, and deport them while making it safer for the more vulnerable group while allowing Aides to provide care more efficiently & effectively with 24/7 access to healthcare. Seems right now it's a big (pardon the expression) "clusterfuck", when it doesn't need to be if a PROCESS is developed and carried out. Can't stop the crime until the culprits are identified and removed from the equation. Can't divide the people without a plan and I'm sure the EU did NOT agree to bring criminals in. When things are stabilized, begin moving the non-criminal refugees into the civilized society, or bring contractors or a very large group of Habitat for Humanity Volunteer's with HELP from the ABLE refugees in to build apartments or tiny homes, OR fix up vacant/abandoned homes in the region. There must be a change to the present situation with a PLAN that has rules and processes with a second phase plan to give the refugees a better life, if not, then what was the point of bringing them to the EU? They all should receive medical care and be tested for disease, vaccinated, etc.before going into the civil society but since the 2nd group is to need ongoing medical care due to the dynamic's of the people in the group. I would also think the UN could be instrumental in devising the PLAN for Phase I and Phase II if the European Commission is not capable of doing so and/or refuses to do so. Their is protection for these refugee's under international law and it must be enforced but the BAD apples must be removed from the mix for the wellbeing of other refugees AS WELL AS the European people for there is an obligation to protect ALL, not just the refugees: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/publications/legal/3d4aba564/refugee-protecti...

Considero que lo más lamentable de todo es el hecho de que a estas alturas los seres humanos sean capaces de negar la ayuda humanitaria a quien lo necesita... no importando el lugar de donde provenga. la edad o la condición que tenga. Es increible que una organización internacional como es la Comisión Europea; que supuestamente vela por los derechos de las personas sea precisamente quien atente contra la dignidad humana. Elizabeth Sánchez Vargas "Fundación Rescatando a México"..

I REALLY THINK WE SHOULD BE VERY CAUTIOUS,WITH PEOPLE COMING FROM OUTSIDE,WITH DIFFERENT WAYS OF LIVING, LITTLE KNOWLEDGE STRUCTURE AND ALMOST ALL OF THEM ILLITERATE, THAT I AM SURE OF COURSE THIS WILL INCREASE WEIGHT OF COSTING FROM OUR NATIONAL BUDGET THAT WE ARE NOT OR WE HAVE NOT PLANNED BEFORE TO RECEIVE SUCH A HOARD OF PEOPLE ENTERING INTO OUR TERRITORIES, WHICH OF COURSE ARE HUMAN BEINGS, AND THEY NEED TO EAT AND GET DRESSED, AND THEY WILL FIND THE WAY TO OVERCOME SUCH NEEDS PERHAPS INCREASE THE WAVE OF CRIME THERE IN YOUR DISTRICTS,OR PERHAPS YOU HAVE NOT THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BEFORE???
THEY CANNOT WORK BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE TO DO THINGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE THEIR EMPLOYEES, THEY WERE TAKING CARE OF THEIR LAMS AND ANIMALS WHO OFFERED THEM MEAT AND WOOL FOR COVERING THEIR BODIES,THEY CANNOT WORK IN A FACTORY THERE IN EUROPE, OR PERHAPS I AM WRONG, WHO KNOWS??????????
RAFAEL ACORIDO FROM ARGENTINA

Yesterday, I saw a Syrian man, after a bombing by the Syrian government.
It made a great impression on me, because he asked why the international community isn't doing anything.

I just returned from volunteering independently at a refugee camp in Chios, Greece. One thing to note is that MANY women are intentionally getting pregnant so that they will move up the priority list to gain asylum. There is now a situation of increased vulnerability of the women and especially for the new babies that are being born into these unsafe, unsanitary, and deplorable living conditions.

Do you help in ORLANDO fl

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