Refugees: "There is a real need to protect women and children" 


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Marie Dorigny (left) and Mary Honeyball  

Parliament has dedicated this year's International Women's Day to women refugees in the EU. We talked to MEP Mary Honeyball, a UK member of the S&D group, and French photographer Marie Dorigny to get their views on their situation as they are both experts on it. Honeyball has written a report on women refugees, which MEPs vote on in plenary on 8 March, while Dorigny travelled to Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Germany to create a reportage on women refugees for Parliament.

War, human rights violations and poverty has led to an increasing number of people seeking protection in Europe. What is the situation like for women?

Mary Honeyball: An awful lot of women face violence, not only in the country they come from, but also during the journey. There is a real need to protect women and children. Women have different kind of needs from men.

Statistics show that in 2015 more men reached the EU than women and children. Why is that?

Honeyball: The latest figures show that there are now more women coming. I think that the men leave first because they are sent on ahead to find out what it is going to be like to be there when their families arrive. The women and the children do come later. And that's something what we are seeing now.

Marie Dorigny: The latest UNHCR statistics show that women and children now form up to 55% of the refugees coming to Europe.

Which risks are women and girls exposed to when fleeing to Europe?

Honeyball: They are faced with violence that they have been fleeing from in their home country; violence on the journey, very often from smugglers and traffickers and sadly sometimes also from other refugees. It is a violent situation in itself. Women are vulnerable, particularly if they are on their own.

Dorigny: The face of migration has changed over the last six months. There have been more families fleeing from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and among these families, half of the people are women with their children. They are in a way better protected than before because when the family moves it's the whole family with the father, brothers and sons.

Women are potentially victims in their countries of origin, while in transit and after arrival. What can be done to better protect them?


Honeyball: It is important to raise awareness. People need to know that this is going on. That kind of pressure can lead to improvements. We need to make sure that the centres where they arrive are run properly.


Did you get to know these women and find out what happened to them?

Dorigny: What I experienced in December and January is that people are just crossing: you see them passing by, coming and leaving. Most of them do not speak English. The lack of translators is a problem in all of these transit camps.

Honeyball: A lot of these people speak regional dialects, which are difficult to translate. There is a shortage of people who can do it. Translation is absolutely essential and something we maybe should be doing more about.

Dorigny: Among the women I’ve photographed just coming from Turkey by boat there were lots of pregnant women. A lot of them arrive and faint on the beach, because they are so scared and stressed. Others have young babies in their arms. You see what is happening at the Greek and FYROM border with thousands of people stuck there. Women are in danger because there are thousands of people mixed up with no organisation.

What facilities and services should member states provide for women?

Honeyball: Counselling is absolutely essential for women who have been traumatised, but also language lessons and childcare, because not all women would want their children to hear what they have to say in their asylum interviews for instance. We also need women interviewers and translators. Many of these women just wouldn’t  say what is necessary to say with a man present. In the centres themselves there is a need for separate sanitation and a separation between men and women, unless it’s a family that wants to stay together. In one of the big centres in Munich I have visited, there was in fact a café for women, a "women’s space".

Dorigny: I’ve photographed it. I’ve spent a day there and the women there love the café.

Honeyball: I think it’s just about being a bit sensitive. These things are not that difficult to provide.

Ms Dorigny, you choose very serious topics for your reportages. Do you let yourself as a photographer be  influence by your personal feelings?

Marie Dorigny at Parliament's visitors centre, which is hosting the Displaced exhibition 

Dorigny: More and more in my career I choose the stories I want to cover and I want to cover these issues because I feel concerned, I feel involved and I feel like I should belong to this movement of people trying to change things. We work hand in hand, Mrs Honeyball on the political level and me reporting on this situation.

Women face integration problems and experience discrimination even after the refugee status has been granted. What can be done to facilitate their social inclusion?

Honeyball:.They really need to be prepared for integration. That means language and skills training. Some of them obviously will have worked before but I think quite a lot of women haven't, so there is a big issue about preparing women for employment if that's what they want to do.

Dorigny: It would be another project to document life in the centres and how refugees integrate in the country. The access to places where things happen [reception centres etc] becomes very difficult for journalists. We are being prevented from testifying on this issue.

The European Parliament's visitors centre in Brussels, Parlamentarium, is hosting  Displaced, a collection of photographs taken by Marie Dorigny, until 1 June 2016.You can visit it for free.

Photos from the Displaced exhibition 
  • Shown at Parliament's visitors centre until 1 June 2016 
Sunduz, a 34-year-old Kurd from Iraq, fled Mosul with her husband and their two young children. Pregnant and in a state of shock after the boat crossing, she nearly fainted when she stepped onto the beach in Lesbos, Greece. © Marie Dorigny/EU 2015 
The Balkan route starts here at this border post between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. At the Gevgelija transit camp, train convoys arranged by state authorities await the refugees. © Marie Dorigny/EU 2015 
When refugees arrive in Passau, a small German town on the border with Austria, the end of their journey is almost in sight. Here they can apply for asylum so they can stay in Europe. © Marie Dorigny / European Union 2015 
Refugees wait patiently at Passau station, Germany, before getting into the train that will take them to their host town © Marie Dorigny / European Union 2015