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World Refugee Day: Gender-sensitivity is called for in Asylum and Refugees Policies

Written by Joanna Apap,

© detshana / Fotolia

20th June 2016 is the World’s Refugee Day. Women refugees have topped the agenda for the European Parliament this year. Parliament has addressed extensively the issue of the need of greater gender-sensitivity in asylum policies and procedures. In 2016, the world is experiencing an unprecedented climax in the mass movement of asylum-seekers due to increase in armed conflicts, mass killings and pervasive sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). These persons are seeking protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international instruments. Are our policies and procedures however sufficiently adapted to address the needs vulnerable groups such as women and children?

Currently, there are some 60 million people displaced around the world as a result of conflicts from South Sudan to Syria. More than 950 000 persons reached the EU via the Mediterranean Sea between January 1 and the end of November 2015, which is a significant increase over previous years with a total of 1.25 million asylum applications lodged in the EU in 2015. Nevertheless, refugees in Europe constitute less than 10% of the world’s current refugee population. Over 80% of those taking the dangerous journey originate from countries beset by war or generalised violence, or struggling under repressive governments, such as Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Countries of destination, such as the EU-28, Australia and Canada, amongst others, continue to emphasise the importance of preventing departures and combating smuggling, through a coordinated approach based on access to protection and respect for human rights. Governments, humanitarian actors, EU institutions and agencies, and civil society organisations are still struggling to find the right response. The journeys that migrants and asylum-seekers take can be dangerous, and they often face high levels of violence, extortion and exploitation, including multiple forms of SGBV – such as human trafficking, psychological manipulation, physical violence or rape. Women and girls are particularly at risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence during the journey.

The UNHCR, emphasises that detention should be a measure of last resort. Should detention be used at all, it must be lawful and clearly shown to be ‘necessary, reasonable and proportional’. Though international law states that the use of detention should be the exception and not the norm, the detention of migrants has become routine, rather than an exceptional response to the irregular entry or stay of asylum-seekers and migrants, in a number of countries around the world. According to a UNFPA study, a number of centres in which many asylum-seeker and migrant women and girls are accommodated are not set up to prevent or respond to SGBV. Women and girls are not getting the protection they need, even though they are entitled to it. There appears to be a lack not only of prevention and response services to SGBV, but also of all services that respond specifically to the needs of women and girls.

Should due process not be followed and/or if detention conditions do not meet international standards, then detention becomes arbitrary. Thousands of persons are subjected to arbitrary detention each year.

Our briefing on the Arbitrary detention of women and children for immigration-related purposes explains the plight of women and children in their voyage seeking refuge as well as the legal framework, process and conditions which need to be considered if detention for immigration-related purposes which they may be confronted with.

Further information on the need for greater gender-sensitivity in Asylum and Refugees Policies can be found here.

Last but not least, click on the link for an interactive infographic for #WorldRefugeeDay .


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