giovedì 16 Marzo 2017

“The role of parliaments and parliamentarians in protecting migrant and refugee women”

“The role of parliaments and parliamentarians

in protecting migrant and refugee women”

Pia Locatelli

61st Session CSW, United Nations, NY


I would like to address the questions raised by this panel by drawing on my experience as a Member of the Italian Parliament (and of the IPU) who, as part of my job, has travelled to some of the worst crisis areas in today’s world.

Let me begin by talking about my first personal contact with migration, by which I mean the true reality of migration, its tragic toll. In October  2013 a ship sank 50 meters off the island of Lampedusa (Rabbit Bay) with 500 people on board. Four-hundred them were trapped in the hold, and they drowned. This was the first time I encountered the tragic reality of migrants.

A group of us (MPs) decided to go to Lampedusa. When we landed we were immediately taken to a warehouse in the airport  where we saw a hundred corpses lined up, some of them women and children, all of them in plastic bags.

This was the most horrific experience in my life as an MP.

In the aftermath of this tragic event, the Italian Parliament took the initiative, [under the leadership of . . .] less than one month later, of launching the Mare Nostrum operation to rescue people in the Mediterranean. I take a great sense of personal pride in this project.

Mare Nostrum was unfortunately cancelled, after one year, amid arguments that it was too expensive. More than anything, a worthy and successful project fell victim to the extremes of Xenophobia.

ut this failure has only stepped up my commitment to the cause of migration. In truth it is such a demanding issue that working on migration alone can absorb all your energy and time.

So we have to do as much as we can within the limits of our human possibilities.

Today there are reportedly 244 million migrants and 60 million refugees worldwide. Nearly 60 million people have left their homes to flee war or persecution. Women account for approximately one half of them.

There are four times as many refugees as there were after the Second World War, a war that devastated the world. We are at an historical crossroads, and I am not sure everyone is aware of the full implications of this crisis.

Turning now to today’s topic, we have been asked not to speak of migrants in general but to talk about women and girl migrants. When we speak of women refugees, migrants, asylum seekers … one aspect deserves special attention.

International refugee law today does not recognize gender as legal grounds for asylum, despite the existence of outrageous, highly prevalent violations of human rights committed against women on the basis of their gender.

This is clearly unacceptable.

To me this must be the top priority of our action agenda.

One third of the countries in the world experience some form of conflict, whether internal conflicts or conflicts between countries.

Today’s conflicts are more violent, protracted and destructive of social, political, and economic infrastructure; they impact on far more civilians than combatants, and their victims are mainly women and children.

The United Nations took years to take this problem on board and in 2000 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was finally passed: the first document that explicitly addresses the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women.

Think of the case of Yazidi women and girls reduced to slaves by Isis men.

We met Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who managed to escape her enslavement and she is travelling around the world to denounce the violence her people have and to ask the world to prosecute the genocide of the Yazidi women and men.

We must act.

Women migrate because of war, because of conflicts, for economic reasons, for environmental reasons, as human beings, and from violence they have experienced in their countries of origin.

Violence is often at the heart of the decision to migrate, and this is an ongoing reality: most women experience violence during their journey. The stories they tell of the violence they suffer while trying to reach destination countries are unimaginable.

Not only:  women experience violence when they reach the country of destination. I am thinking, for example, of the Nigerian women who were subjected to sexual exploitation once they had reached Italy.

Violence in the country of origin includes the drama of Female Genital mutilations and of early and forced marriages: these are violations of human rights of which we are all aware.

Violence in the destination country can include sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Let me tell you about my experience with Nigerian women who had migrated to Italy.

First, I studied the numbers from year to year.

2014: 450 women coming from Nigeria

2015: three times more: 1500

2016: 5,000 – three times more than the previous year.

These numbers set off alarms and compelled us to take a closer look and … this huge uptick indicated a pattern of trafficking and we came to find out about the criminal organizations that had been set up to sexually exploit these poor women.

This case is a very strong example of why it is so important to have immigration data that is disaggregated by country of origin and by gender. Look at the story that these numbers eventually told us! So another action point for Parliaments is to demand this type of data.

Data disaggregated by gender is also needed when it comes to organizing the camps where migrants are settled.

In recent years I have visited different camps:

The first was in Lampedusa 3 years and a half ago: all the migrants were thrown in together, so they tried to organize themselves. The situation was very difficult, with no privacy and no attention to the different needs of women and men.

Later I visited a couple of camps in Greece. There a distinction was made between single migrants and families. And all the families were put together in big tents or buildings. A step ahead but still insufficient.

Last month I was in Iraqi Kurdistan: I visited a camp that hosted Yazidi families fleeing the areas under the control of ISIS: there I could see that the needs of women and girls were being looked after. It took time to do it but we have to recognize that some steps ahead have been made.

There is another major action point to which we must dedicate all our energy.

I have already described how difficult it is for migrants to live in their home countries, make the difficult journey to Europe, and settle in another country. But the biggest, most intractable obstacle I have found is cultural.

It is difficult to make the citizens of the destination country accept that migrant people do not give up their right as human beings when they are on the move. This point should be obvious, but you would be surprised how many people I find clinging to notions that certain fundamental rights are somehow the privileges of citizens alone ….

It is not so obvious. On the contrary, we have to fight just to assert basic principles and counteract the prevailing feeling fomented by xenophobes, racists and extremist parties. So the first action to be undertaken is a cultural action within our own countries!

We have to fight the flames of fear spread by extremists for the sake of political gain. How many of you have heard immigrants accused of “stealing our jobs”? The truth is that migrants are rarely competing for the same jobs. So this accusation represents a false problem, a flag waved to enflame people’s hearts and minds.

Let’s take a look at the jobs that migrants do. In Italy, for example, 800-thousand families have an immigrant caregiver to care for elderly or disabled members of their family 24 hours per day. Italian women and men, for the most part, are not willing to do such a job. And how many Italians want to work in rural areas, milking livestock, cleaning stables…I myself live in the countryside, where jobs like this are done primarily by men from Bangladesh or India …

So fighting prejudices and stereotypes must be the first commitment of MPs.

I was very happy when, at the first IPU General Assembly that I attended in October 2015, a declaration was adopted with a solid list of recommendations for addressing the issue migration holistically.
For it makes no sense anymore to distinguish between economic migrants, environmental migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum on the grounds of political, religious or ethnic persecution ….. Nor can the issue be dealt with by single countries. Cooperation is needed; I’d say it is a must.