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women refugees and children in line at an open-air camp after the rain
The inalienable right to hospitality for refugees in safe havens
Protecting women whose lives are at risk from gender-based violence is an obligation of the state and its institutions.

The protection of women whose lives are at risk from gender-based violence is an obligation of the state and its institutions at both the central and local levels. The provision of safe temporary shelters cannot exclude refugee women and their children, who are a high-risk group in accordance with European and international guidelines for dealing with gender-based violence.

Newly arrived refugees are a highly vulnerable group of women to gender-based violence, according to all available quantitative and qualitative data. They face non-routine forms of gender-based violence in their countries of origin (traditional harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and honor crimes, forced and early marriages), but also rape or sexual harassment, during their journey and/or stay in temporary accommodation facilities.

Staying in places where the perpetrators live and not removing and transferring them to safe shelters/hostels/apartments when this is possible, is equivalent to exposing them to incalculable risks! Especially when women/children are accommodated in hot spots on islands, the procedures for lifting geographical restrictions do not proceed and the movement to the mainland is delayed even for months, finding every possible solution for safe accommodation within the island is considered absolutely imperative, even for a short stay.

In an effort to protect both refugees and their children, the GSGE decided to “open” and provide its services (24-hour SOS 15900 line, Counselling Centres, and Women’s Shelters) equally and free of charge, already since the outbreak of the refugee “crisis”.

At Diotima Centre, we believe that the full and uninterrupted implementation of the decision of the GSGE by the relevant bodies and the Local Authorities is extremely critical in responding to the specific needs of refugee women – survivors of gender-based violence.  It is a constitutional right for all women living in the country.

In this context, we believe that the decision of the Lesvos Municipal Council not to accept referrals for refugee women and their children to be temporarily accommodated in the Municipality of Lesvos’ Women Victims of Violence Shelter and the ‘proposal’ to transfer them to similar hostels in the mainland calls into question the principle of equal protection of all women survivors of gender-based violence, regardless of class, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, language, and cultural characteristics.

The decision of the Municipal Council of Lesvos

The decision of the Municipal Council (no. 503/218) was taken in July 2018, following a recommendation of the Municipal Authority. The rationale of the decision is described in detail in the response of Anastasia Antonelli, Deputy Mayor of Social Policy, posted on the Municipality’s website.

According to Ms. Antonelli: the decision “to transfer (the refugees) to hostels on the mainland” was taken as the Lesvos Hostel “does not have the appropriate staff infrastructure. Of course, in the same decision we state that in the event of an emergency, the scientific staff and the project team will assess the emergency and decide.

“Since 2016 I have been trying – and I have succeeded – as the responsible Deputy Mayor, always expressing the position of the Municipal Authority, to prevent the possibility of laterally converting the structure of our Hostel into an informal refugee accommodation structure,” she says and continues “Because much is said after the recent decision of the Board I must clarify the following: the decision of the Municipal Council strengthens the established position of immediate decongestion against all”.

The letter of the Secretary-General for Gender Equality

The Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Fotini Kouvela, sent a letter to the Municipality of Lesvos “for the protection of the rights of refugee women in receiving services from the network of structures of the General Secretariat for Gender Equality”.

The letter stresses that the decision of the Municipal Council “contradicts the framework of the programmatic agreement and cooperation”, which “was signed in February 2016 between the GSGE, the Municipality of Lesvos, and the KETHI for the Act under inclusion in the NSRF 2014-2020 ‘Operation of structures and services of local government for the benefit of women and to combat violence – Operation of a shelter’”.

In fact, especially with regard to the Municipality of Lesvos, “the expansion of the services provided has also been foreseen and enshrined in the updated operating regulations of the nationwide network of Structures of the General Secretariat for Gender Equality (no. D1/644/31.3.2017 and DIAK/F.5.4/643/31.3.2017)”.

In addition, “the GSGE, in cooperation with Unicef, held in June 2018 in Lesvos the workshop on: ”Joining forces for refugee women and their children”, where its Protocol of Cooperation was presented and the concerns, difficulties, and improvement of coordination of all actors dealing with a specific issue were discussed with all actors”.

Through the letter, Ms. Kouvela expressed “the request for the reconsideration of the relevant decision of the Municipal Council”, “stressing the willingness of the GSGE to offer its full support to the implementation of any policy, action, and initiative that operates within the framework of the Programme Agreement and aims to better address the problems experienced by refugee women and their children in the region”.


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