The refugee crisis currently taking place across Syria and Europe is a distinct issue concerning the violence and challenges that women face around the globe, as a recent United Nations report found that over 75 percent of Syrian refugees are women or children under the age of 17.
Throughout their migration and arrival in their host countries, women refugees are particularly vulnerable to violence. They experience high rates of rape, trafficking and forced prostitution. In order to pay off their debt to smugglers, the women may engage in survival sex or sleep with the smugglers themselves. Rape by officials, smugglers, other refugees, traffickers and even host country police can provoke physical injury, severe emotional and psychological trauma, and sleep disorders.
Moreover, according to UNICEF, nearly 12 percent of female Syrian refugees in Macedonia arrive pregnant, which creates serious risks for both the parent and fetus. Pregnancies resulting from rape and a lack of access to abortion and contraceptives in refugee camps inhibit the women to make the choice for themselves.
The majority of women who are able to reach a European refugee camp are forced to reside in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. “It was hell,” Shemka, 57, disclosed to Al Jazeera concerning the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. “The camp was very dirty; there was this terrible smell. At night, it was freezing cold. There were rats and snakes; there was hardly any water. Women and men had to use the same bathrooms, and this is very dangerous for women.”
Although the 1951 UN Convention Concerning the Status of Refugees demands asylum for those fleeing gender-based persecution, refugee women who disclose a sexual assault may inadvertently harm their case. European countries deny these women asylum due to the global disbelief surrounding sexual violence. In the United Kingdom, a judge dismissed a woman asylum-seeker’s rape claim. “If you’d experienced that rape the way you describe [it], I don’t think you’d be looking as well as you are now,” he stated.
Misunderstandings surrounding issues like genital mutilation also restrict entry. In Belgium, officials refused asylum to a Christian woman who had been genitally mutilated because they believed Christians women and girls were not subject to such practices.
In spite of these tremendous hardships, some women remain resilient and build new lives. Amira Hassan al-Bdroun of Syria works at a gas station in Lebanon to support her family and help other refugees with their fuel allocations. “Women are now taking on traditionally male roles,” she said while speaking to Al Jazeera about her work. “This humanitarian work gives me the feeling I am an active agent in my community.”
Appreciative of her new situation, Amira concludes, “As long as I am safe and my kids are safe, I have everything.”