(Slavonski Brod, Croatia)—November 17, 2015
A fact-finding delegation led by three Nobel peace laureates is warning that closing borders will put the lives of tens of thousands of refugees—especially women and children—at greater risk and will dim even further the chances of ending the war in Syria.
“We cannot let what happened in Paris be used as an excuse to foment fear, xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment,” said Jody Williams, Nobel peace laureate and co-chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organization created by six women Nobel peace laureates. “If we fail to respond to this humanitarian crisis, we will be responsible for deepening the suffering of innocent people, and deepening the divisions that are fuelling war in Syria and elsewhere.”
Williams is in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia this week—along with Nobel peace Laureates Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and global human rights experts—to assess the impact of the refugee crisis on women, and support humanitarian organizations and citizen-led groups responding to the urgent needs of refugees.
With the onset of colder weather, humanitarian organizations and citizen-led groups report an increasing number of women and children on the refugee route across Europe. They note that women and children are most vulnerable to a host of serious health issues resulting from the colder weather, and face greater violence and insecurity.
Based on research conducted in advance of the delegation—including interviews and meetings with almost 100 humanitarian organizations and grassroots groups and individual human rights experts—the Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation today released these preliminary findings:
- About one-third of all those now attempting the dangerous boat rides to Europe are women and children—a significant increase from the summer months. Women and children face physical danger and exploitation along the refugee route through Europe at the hands of smugglers, other refugees and local authorities.
- Basic security, which is supposed to be provided by local authorities in countries along the refugee route, ranges from very limited to almost nonexistent and police sometimes are a part of the problem in that in some places along the transit route they ignore obvious instances of exploitation and violence or are themselves perpetrating the violence and exploitation.
- Reports of hypothermia, pneumonia and gangrene are on the rise, with families resorting to plastic bags and other desperate means to keep children and vulnerable families members warm.
- Individual citizens and local organizations are bearing a large share of the burden of providing or delivering basic necessities like food and blankets to refugees and, in many cases, even money to continue along the refugee route.
- Women refugees have almost no access to basic pre & post natal care, birth control and reproductive health services along the refugee route – putting women and their children at high risk for very serious health issues.
- Women and children, particularly those traveling alone, are most vulnerable at “bottleneck points” —at border crossings where people get stuck for many hours—or at informal settlements where they are forced to sleep at night with little protection from robbery, violence and exploitation.
- Women are not reporting sexual violence and other forms of exploitation to local authorities for fear of the borders closing and becoming separated from their families or because of a lack of information of where to turn for help.
- There is presently 100% impunity for sexual crimes and other forms of gender based crimes committed against women refugees.
- The insecurity and instability of the refugee route is increasing the levels of domestic violence, with women forced to travel the refugee route alongside abusive partners.
- Women and children are still vulnerable once they reach refugee reception centres—often cramped, without separate washrooms for women and men, and without secure and separate sleeping areas.
Based on these findings, the delegation is calling for:
- The immediate creation of legal pathways to Europe to reduce women and children’s vulnerability to smugglers, sexual traffickers and drowning at sea.
- Greater protection of women and their children through the creation of adequate reception centres with separate facilities for men and women, proper lighting and police surveillance.
- Training of first responders—who are often volunteers or local authorities—on how to detect signs of gender-based violence and provision of information to women refugees on what to do in cases of abuse.
- Punishment of crimes committed against refugee women and children, and more training for police to adequately protect women.
- Funding for local women’s organizations to support women refugees.
The delegation—which also includes Donna McKay of Physicians for Human Rights, Madeleine Rees of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Dr. Rola Hallam of Hand in Hand for Syria, Giovanna Negretti of the American Friends Service Committee and Lena Ag of Kvinna till Kvinna—is traveling on Thursday to Berlin to meet with officials in the German government and also meet with refugees now settled in Germany and organizations supporting refugee resettlement.
CROATIAN, SERBIAN, ARABIC and FARSI versions of this press release are available upon request.
For more information, please contact:
Director, Media & Communications, Nobel Women’s Initiative
Mobile: 613-276-9030 (Canada)
Balkans: +381 637687703 Germany: + +49 152 220 86368
Croatia & Serbia On-site Media Coordinator
The Nobel Women’s Initiative was established in 2006, and is led by Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire. The Nobel Women’s Initiative uses the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and of courageous women peace laureates to magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.