- Refugee women in Europe: some aspects of the legal and policy dimensions
- Bloch, A; Galvin, T; Harrell-Bond, B
- Jun 2000
This article aims to provide an overview of the legal and policy issues pertaining to refugee women in European host societies. It explores: the types of gender-related persecution women experience; the response to female refugees and asylum seekers in Europe in terms of policies and procedures, and their impact upon individuals; the specific factors affecting the settlement of refugee women, including family reunion policies in different countries.
A literature review is carried out in relation to the legal framework to claiming asylum in Europe and gender-based persecution. In particular the article draws on case study evidence highlighted in previous research, most notably Bloch's  research based in the East London borough of Newham [Refugee Migration and settlement: A case study of the London Borough of Newham], which focuses on Tamil, Somali and Congolese refugees to highlight the gender specific experiences of women seeking asylum in European countries. The case studies are used to illustrate that the experiences of women in the asylum process are unique and distinct to those of men.
The gender-neutrality of the legal instruments for defining refugee status and the failure to ascribe equal status to gender-based persecution experienced by women reinforces a gender bias against women in the asylum process. Barriers to women's full and equal participation in the asylum process are not only legal but social and cultural. Women are less likely to be interviewed as principal applicants than men, even in cases where they have a stronger case, as illustrated in Bloch's  Newham study. The procedures adopted for dealing with women as asylum applicants vary widely across Europe, and in many countries female applicants are not necessarily interviewed by women, making it more difficult for them to communicate their gender-specific experiences. Asylum procedures are found to increase women's dependency on men, as their refugee status more often than not derives from a male relative. This then places women in a vulnerable position as changes in gender roles can place strain on marital relations. Further, if divorce means loss of refugee status, women can be trapped in unhappy relationships. Female refugees are generally found to be more isolated than men, having been removed from their support structure of social networks based on friends and family. Women are also more likely to have childcare responsibilities, making it more difficult for them to be involved in community activities.
The article concludes that gender issues were largely absent in the existing literature, resulting in an insufficient focus on the policies and legislation resulting from gender persecution. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is gender-neutral and neither subsequent international legal instruments nor national legislation have explicitly recognised gender-based persecution. Thus, women do not have equal protection under existing national legislation or equal access to the asylum process. In addition, the specific factors affecting women as asylum applicants and their resettlement in host societies have largely been ignored. Women's full participation requires the option of being interviewed on their own in the absence of other family members and the use of female officers in the interviewing process. European policies need to reflect the heterogeneity of refugee experiences and take gender into account in order to allow women full access to the asylum process.
- Resource Type
- Journal article
- International Migration 38 (2)