Majority of women and children forcibly displaced experience sexual and gender-based violence

Majority of women and children forcibly displaced experience sexual and gender-based violence

Kirsty Thomson

More than 50 per cent of women and children who have been forcibly displaced are estimated to have experienced sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during their migration journey.

SGBV includes different forms of violence such as rape and sexual assault, emotional violence, forced marriage and forced sex work. Men, boys and LGBTQIA+ people have also experienced this violence.

A new report based on research in Scotland prepared by the SEREDA project highlights the nature and incidence of such violence experienced by forced migrants, who found refuge in Scotland. It calls for a multi-agency commitment to protect the rights of survivors of gender-based violence in Scotland.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham led a team of experts in analysing systems in place in Scotland – focusing on different services, policies and practices that the Scottish government and other organisations have developed. They interviewed victims of sexual and gender-based violence about their experience of the migration and refugee processes, such as dealing with the Home Office.

In the report, survivors recount having to relive the abuse and violence they suffered during their journey, as they explain what happened to them to Home Office staff and other operators.

“I will be well for two days and then I have to see someone and I have to live the trauma again… eventually, I stopped having tears to cry. I just felt like I was living in a movie”, explained one of the survivors who had been interviewed for the SEREDA project, when speaking about several meetings with the Home Office and other operators in which she had focused on recalling the violence she experienced during her journey to Scotland.

Professor Jenny Phillimore from the University of Birmingham, who led the research, said: “Our research has highlighted the complex experiences of sexual and gender-based violence that forced migrants face often over many years at the hands of different perpetrators. Survivors of such violence need protection and support once in refuge in Scotland. More investment is needed into services that can ensure survivors’ safety, and recovery.”

Launched in Edinburgh alongside JustRight Scotland with support from Queen Margaret University, the SEREDA project is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, University of Melbourne, Bilkent University in Turkey and Uppsala University in Sweden.

Researchers found further violence and harm can occur even when women seeking asylum finally reach Scotland. This includes exacerbation of existing psychological trauma, continued exposure to intimate partner violence, or sexual and gender-based violence that starts after these women arrive in Scotland.

The report also reveals that some asylum seekers reported feeling unsafe in mixed gender asylum accommodation. Other factors such as persecution because of their religious beliefs. Immigration detention, insecure visa status, barriers to accessing services and support, poverty, lack of housing and racism increased the vulnerability of forcibly displaced women and children.

Community safety minister, Elena Whitham, said: “Keeping women and children safe and secure from abuse and exploitation is a key priority for the Scottish government. I welcome this report from the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Research into Superdiversity which helps to highlight the true extent of the issue faced by migrants who have sought refuge in Scotland and will of course reflect further on the report findings. There is no place for any form of human trafficking or exploitation in Scotland or elsewhere. We have increased funding for victims of trafficking and continue to work in partnership to raise awareness and strengthen protections for victims.”

Kirsty Thomson, director at JustRight Scotland, said: “This report provides evidence to governments, border, immigration and asylum agencies that sexual and gender-based violence against forced migrants is a global challenge that demands urgent attention and new ways of working together to support people when they need it most. A multi-agency commitment in Scotland to working on how to best protect the rights of forced migrants subject to SGBV is necessary now more than ever.”

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