In 2016 refugees and migrants continued to land in Europe. According to data issued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), during the first 18 days of January, 31,244 migrants reached Greece by sea. This number is 21 times higher than the arrivals of the entire month of January 2015 (1,472 people). Unfortunately, also the number of victimskeeps growing. About 77 migrants found death in the Aegean sea during the first 18 days of January, while trying to reach the shores of Greece. 607 Migrants crossed the Strait of Sicily and 18 people died at sea during the same period. Altogether, in 2015, over one million people – many women and children – have reached Europe, exceeding four times the number registered during the previous year.
The presence of many women and young women opens up new issues and challenges that require special attention and commitment of all the countries the migrants cross or arrive to. A study by Amnesty International that has been presented these days denounces exactly the gender-specific risks and dangers women face during the journey from their country to our continent. This survey collects the testimonies of female refugees in Germany and Norway, who speak about women’s long and difficult journey along the so-called “Balkan route” from Turkey, through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, towards Austria, Sweden, Germany, Norway and so on). All of them said they had been threatened, many of them had suffered physical violence, economic exploitation, harassment and had been forced to have sex with the traffickers, security personnel or with other refugees, even on European territory.
Amnesty denounces this situation with vehemence and calls on the governments and aid agencies to provide adequate protection to all women and young women who are fleeing from Syria and Iraq, not to let them fall from “bad to worse”, having to face – after the horrors and sufferings imposed by the endless conflicts going on in their countries – rapes and harassment of any kind. For us women from the CISL syndicate, adequate protection means reserving women places and most suitable spaces, for instance, to ensure their physical and psychological safety. In short, a bit more of attention would be enough and would help greatly people who are already tried and terrified, people whose greatest fears concern their children who often travel together with them.
Some European countries driven by egoism have built walls and closed their borders. Certainly, it does not help to find solutions to this humanitarian crisis which becomes more and more structural and shows no signs of cessation, causing extreme precariousness and conditions that are dangerous for the health and safety of those who seek asylum and support, and continue their “journey of hope” towards the destination of their choice. Even The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Fund for the United Nations Population (UNFPA), and the Commission for Refugee Women (WRC) have expressed great concern about the serious risks faced by refugee women and migrants who are transiting Europe. A field assessment has shown that “women who travel alone or with children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, teenage girls, unaccompanied girls, girls victims of early marriages, people with disabilities, elderly men and women are among most at risk and require coordinated and adequate protection measures”.
Faced with this dramatic situation, we, CISL women, join these demands, hoping for a remarkable fight against the activity of the traffickers and for the European humanitarian agencies’ higher efforts not only in soliciting and monitoring the ‘commitment of the involved countries, as well as for the activation and implementation of measures able to ensure safety during the journey and in the different collection points along the routes towards Europe, protecting in particular children’s and women’s lives which otherwise are subject to double vulnerability: as refugees and as women. This should come first of all, although also the issues concerning the governance and the distribution of arrivals between the individual European countries are legitimate. The dignity and the inviolable rights of the individuals are inalienable principles that lie at the basis of any civilization and democracy.