Summary of Consultation: Migrant women in Europe’s experiences of socioeconomic inclusion
Berlin, July 2023
1. Background and Context
Over the last three years GAATW, together with ten partners from Southeast Asia and Europe, has used a feminist participatory action research methodology to learn about the experiences of 259 Southeast Asian women migrants who were either currently in Europe, or who had recently returned from Europe. The purpose of this research was to learn more about their experiences of “inclusion” at home and in Europe.
GAATW’s research was limited to just five European countries (UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland) and three Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines). Therefore, following the publication of the research report, we wanted to expand our understanding to include the experiences of women migrants from other parts of the world, and/or who are in different European countries to the ones in our study.
To this end, GAATW approached other network organisations for a two‐day consultation that would examine the barriers to socioeconomic inclusion for migrant women in Europe and give an opportunity to discuss the advocacy priorities of each organisation.
In July 2023, GAATW spent two days discussing these issues with eleven other network organisations. This memo summarises the key points that arose during those two days and outlines the next steps GAATW intends to take as a result.
2. Summary of Discussion
- The violence of EU migration policies and practices
The violence being perpetrated against migrants by EU institutions is severe. From pushbacks at the borders, to prolonged detention in inhuman and degrading conditions, to the criminalisation of migration leading to arrests, imprisonment and deportation.
We cannot look at the question of inclusion before first acknowledging the real violence that is being perpetrated on migrant people in this region.
- There are insufficient routes to autonomous residence permits for migrant women
Too often residence permits are linked to a woman’s spouse or a precarious employment contract. An autonomous, long‐term residence permit is key for the realisation of a woman’s right to decent work, access to housing, healthcare, social protection, a sense of community and a family life.
Similarly, for victims of trafficking, residence status and the right to work is too often conditional on cooperation with investigation and prosecutions.
- Restrictive labour migration pathways
Labour migration pathways to the EU are even more restricted than before and it is very hard for women to realise their rights and experience a sense of inclusion when their right to stay in a country and work is temporary and precarious.
The focus of EU migration policies is to attract only so‐called “highly‐skilled” workers. Women working in so‐called “low‐skilled” sectors are given only temporary labour migration permits. This has a particularly harmful impact on migrant women who are impoverished or on women working in gendered sectors, such as domestic work, and other forms of care work etc, which tend to be classed as “low‐skilled.” Other gendered sectors, such as sex work, are left wholly unrecognised and unregulated, leaving women migrants in these sectors undocumented and unable to access the formal economy.
The approach to Ukrainian people exemplifies what could be achieved by more expansive migration pathways. Ukrainians were able to choose which country they launched their asylum application from because they had visa free travel and could choose to go to countries where they had existing connections. This experience has shown that it can be very easy to “integrate” migrants within the labour market, to recognise qualifications obtained elsewhere, if there is more freedom for people to choose how and where they live and work.
- The EU Dublin Regulation
The EU Dublin Regulation is an EU law on the rules about which country should assess your application for international protection. It stipulates that, in most cases, a person must be returned to the first country they entered the EU through if they wish to make a claim for asylum. This encourages people to remain undocumented for to avoid being returned to the first country of arrival. These are often countries where the situation for undocumented migrants is particularly bad e.g severe overcrowding in detention centres, long delays, inhumane conditions etc.
Remaining undocumented makes it very hard for people to access the labour market, housing, healthcare, social protection, as well as a sense of community and social life.
- Political inclusion
In most EU countries, electoral rights depend on a person’s residence status or nationality. The lack of representation of migrant women in assemblies and parliaments is very visible in Europe. In the European Parliament, less than 5% of of MEPs belong to a racial or ethnic minority, and an even smaller proportion are from a migrant background.
European civil society organisations are also guilty of excluding migrant women. Migrant women are only in 12% of leadership positions in organisations set up to assist migrant women.
Access to core long‐term funding is a huge issue for migrant women‐led organisations. Only 1.5% of EU gender‐based violence funding has gone to migrant women‐led organisations ‐ the rest has gone to large international organisations like the IOM, that do not have human rights or women’s rights at their core.
Consultations with migrant women are also often disingenuous.
The language civil society uses to speak about migrant women is important. Rather than referring to the “Global South”, “the Global Majority” is far more empowering. Similarly, instead of referring to people as “poor,” “impoverished” more accurately explains the role of policies and practices in causing poverty, rather than it being an inherent characteristic of some people.
- International Organisations and UN Processes
The Global Compact Migration (GCM) has in some respects acted as a distraction for civil society working in migration. It has required a huge amount of time and resources from civil society and there is a risk
that it will weaken the international migration movement by detracting resources and time towards something that may not have a huge impact on the actual policies and practices of states.
For example, at the EU level, the External Action Service leads on all GCM negotiations yet this body has no power over EU migration policies – migration is dealt with by Home Affairs. This shows the lack of seriousness with which the EU takes the GCM, which leaves open the question of how seriously civil society in Europe should be taking it.
3. GAATW’s Next Steps
Throughout the course of the consultation, several observations were made about the role GAATW can play to support migrant women in Europe who are campaigning for change and championing their rights.
It was clear that GAATW can do more to work with migrant women to participate in international processes and to promote the inclusion of migrant women within discussion and policy spaces in both Europe and at the international level.
As an alliance of anti‐trafficking organisation, GAATW also has a role to play in shifting the understanding of anti‐trafficking efforts in Europe, from a narrow carceral and border‐control approach, to one that recognises the need to address global neo‐liberal economic trends, increasing gender inequality and the weakening of labour rights.
To this end, the GAATW International Secretariat has held follow‐up discussions with GAATW members who are currently working to reform EU Policy trafficking policies. From those discussions, we have identified two policy developments where we may be able to support the ongoing efforts of our members 1) the proposed European Parliament Resolution on Prostitution; and 2) the proposed revisions to the EC Trafficking Directive. These will be the focus of GAATW’s work in Europe over the next few months.