On the evening ofOctober 3rd, 2013, an overloaded fishing boat carrying more than 500refugees foundered off the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. Among many peoplewho drowned and died was an Eritrean woman who gave birth, and her newborn/deadbaby was still attached by the umbilical cord. Her name was Yohanna, whichmeans ‘congratulations’ in Eritrean (Danewid, p1674). One wonders how desperateshe must be to escape her home country so as to consider taking such a life-threateningroute when she was heavily pregnant.
Hers is not a lone case. The UnitedNations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that amongst Mediterranean Seaarrivals, about 20% currently are women (UNHCR, 2017). Many women like Yohanna,either alone or with family, are fleeing conflict and violence in their native countriesin the hope of liberation and search of a peaceful life in Europe. However, in theirattempt to seek protection in Europe, these women are rendered even more vulnerableand insecure as they are subjected to various forms of gender-based violence, includingsexual violence, during their journey or on arrival at the destination.
Animperative question arises here: Whose fault is it? Are these women, who believeEurope to be ‘safe’, collectively making a wrong judgement to escape fromwidespread unrest and chaos in pursuit of safety elsewhere? Or possibly, the systemput in place by the nation-states and its ‘humanitarian’ policies (or lackthereof) to help refugees seeking protection is basically flawed? The imaginaryimage of safe and civilised Europe and uncivilized ‘Others’ gets disrupted here.While the current refugee ‘crisis’ in Europe has provoked numerous responsesand activism over the last few years, insecurities of refugees sexual have remainedinvisible to the international community, and violence against them has notbeen able to gain so much attention within political and public opinion.