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Gender perspective needed in safe and legal routes for refugees to Europe

[Article by Hanne Clivemo, Swedish Women’s Lobby, September 2017] The secretary general of the Swedish Women’s Lobby (SWL), Clara Berglund, participated in a panel discussion about how to ensure safe and legal routes for refugees to Europe in late August. The seminar was arranged by the Swedish European parliamentarian Malin Björk and the International Rescue Committee. The panel included Lars Westbratt - State Secretary to the Minister for Migration and Deputy Minister for Justice, Maria Ferm from the Swedish Green Party and Special Investigator for legal routes to asylum, Clara Berglund, General Secretary, the Swedish Women’s Lobby, and Imogen Sudbery - Head of International Rescue Committee’s Brussels office. The panel discussion was moderated by Soledad Pinero Misa, Social Mission Manager at Ben & Jerry´s.

The European Union is trying to build a joint system for the asylum and refugee process in all its member states, but will it take women’s particular vulnerability and reasons for asylum into account? In the end of 2015, Sweden introduced new stricter asylum policies which have made family reunification practically impossible. This leaves women and girls even more vulnerable and exposed in the refugee process than before. In February 2016, Sweden was criticised by the UN CEDAW Committee for not living up to its commitments when it comes to the rights of asylum seeking women and girls. In 2018 Sweden has to present their actions of improvement within the area.

The vast majority of refugees that make it to Europe and on to Sweden are men, said Clara Berglund from SWL in the panel discussion. In 2015, which was the year that Sweden accepted the most refugees, 70 percent of the asylum seekers were men and 90 percent of the alone coming children were boys. For every one of those men and boys – just as many women and girls were left behind. Sweden, a country that takes great pride in being a forerunner in gender equality, helped so many men escape the horrors of war, but left the mothers, sisters, daughters and wives to their destiny.

The SWL sees the EU resettlement framework as very important, but countries should also have a possibility to extend it. Since women and girls more often remain in conflict zones and refugee camps, countries need to give priority to women and girls within the programs. In order to succeed, there is also a need for increased knowledge about, and implementation of, gender specific criteria’s and women’s particular reasons of asylum. Women’s and girls’ asylum processes need to be handled separately. Clara Berglund also stressed the fact that Sweden has to make family reunification possible again.

Women and girl refugees are often exposed to sexual violence and are at high risk of being forced into prostitution and trafficking. Different forms of gender based violence have to serve as reasons for asylum and a qualification into the resettlement program. EU member states need a comprehensive implementation and follow up within all agencies that are part of the asylum process.

The European Women’s Lobby has issued a whole series of strong recommendations in its #womensvoices report.

Find out more also about the International Recue Committee’s campaign Together. And see below a video of the event.

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