Nils Muižnieks: Migrant women and girls need stronger human rights protection

Women and children now form the majority of migrants entering Europe and are in need of stronger human rights protection, according to Nils Muižnieks.

Writing today, the Commissioner for Human Rights confirms that women and children on the move outnumber adult men and constitute nearly 60% of refugees and other migrants.

Muižnieks reveals that increasing female migration leaves women migrants more vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation, discrimination and abuse. Many of these women and girls flee countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, where they were subject to persecution and sexual and gender-based violence, including war-related violence.

Once uprooted, they hope to find safety and protection in neighbouring countries. However, in some of those countries they continue to experience human rights violations and discrimination. Amnesty International has reported on sexual violence and the exploitation of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon. It noted that refugee women who were the heads of their households and without an adult male relative were particularly at risk and had little or no protection or access to justice.

The detention of migrant women, including pregnant women, is also of serious concern, Muižnieks notes, deploring the increasing use of immigration detention in Europe. Women are often held in detention together with men who are not members of their family. ‘Hotspots’ in Greece and Italy, envisaged initially as reception and registration centres for migrants, may in fact become detention centres with all the risks they carry for the female migrant population. The European Court of Human Rights has found violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in several cases due to the substandard detention conditions in which migrant women, including pregnant women, were held.

The number of refugee and migrant women living in appalling conditions in shanty towns or squats in Calais in France and its region has been rising since 2009, Muižnieks reports. They now represent about 14% of the mobile population present in the region.

Doctors and volunteers from Gynécologie Sans Frontières who carry out visits to these places have witnessed the hardship that refugee and migrant women endure there, lacking basic living conditions and access to adequate health care, including reproductive health care. Cases of sexual violence against women including rape, in some cases causing pregnancy, were noted.

The Commissioner for Human Rights states that most of these crimes go unreported. Médecins Sans Frontières has also reported inhuman living conditions for many pregnant migrant women in Greece.

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