The study describes widespread sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking, dangerous and unsuitable accommodation, and asylum interviews where women are not able to describe the horrors they are fleeing and are experiencing on their journey.
Mary Honeyball explains: “They haven’t appeared really in the story at all. The media didn’t want to get involved with my report, the women are not part of the narrative and yet they are the majority now.”
Honeyball says the truth about female refugees’ experiences often remains hidden. For example, their official documents are usually held by male family members or husbands so that they cannot prove their identity or place of origin. People-smugglers may use threats, violence or sexual coercion. The women may be interviewed with their children present. Or they would feel ashamed to tell a male immigration officer about sexual assaults. And their cultural beliefs might not allow them to be examined by a male doctor or nurse. Typical accommodation for new arrivals in Europe does not guarantee privacy or safety for women.
For these reasons, the report recommends:
- Trauma counselling
- Separate bathrooms, toilets and sleeping areas for men and women
- Female doctors and nurses for medical checks
- Childcare during asylum interviews
- Women asylum officers and female translators to do the interviews
At the Brussels launch of the report, Honeyball also opened an exhibition of photographs by Marie Dorigny. They show women fleeing from Syria and Eritrea along the Balkan route to northern Europe. Honeyball believes that pictures can have an international impact, and recalls the image of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach.
We see all the pictures which are just awful and shock tactics, but we need more of a narrative. We need to interpret the pictures, to explain what’s going on.
Mary Honeyball hopes to raise awareness of the conditions for female refugees in the coming months, and the photography exhibition runs until June 2016 at the Brussels Parlamentarium.