Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Plight of Women and Elderly Refugees

The Plight of Women and Elderly Refugees

Although there are women and children in the camp at Calais, it is mostly the men who travel because they are fit and young, and either do not want to take the risk of bringing families with them – the drowned Kurdish child shows the dangers – and may be hoping to get their families back.

An example was given by Sky News:

“Ali Mneger arrived in Munich from Kobane five months ago but did not think his relatives would be able to make the journey too. However, after many weeks apart the family are finally together again. Mr Mneger has already been given asylum and his family, who have now been taken to a welcome centre, are likely to be treated in the same way. "I thank Germany, I want to learn German and work here. I feel human again."

It seems that the younger and fitter men make the journey, hoping that if they have permission to settle, they may be afforded the opportunity to get their family over by a safer route. But that is not always the case, as the tragic drowning of the Kurdish toddler illustrates.

The statistics from 2014 bear this out:

“Nearly four in every five (79 %) asylum seekers in the EU-28 in 2014 were aged less than 35 (see Table 3); those aged 18–34 accounted for slightly more than half (54 %) of the total number of applicants, while minors aged less than 18 accounted for one quarter (26 %).”

“The distribution of asylum applicants by sex shows that men were more likely than women to seek asylum. Across the EU-28, the gender distribution was most balanced for asylum applicants aged less than 14, where boys accounted for 53 % of the total number of applications in 2014.”

“There was a greater degree of gender inequality for asylum applicants aged 14–17 or 18–34, where around three quarters of applicants were male.”

It is clear that the refugee and the economic migrant are also not mutually exclusive alternatives. They may be fleeing the dangers of ISIS, but they also see an opportunity to better themselves. And there are educated people there. As the New York Times reports on one group:

“Mr. Darwish was a law graduate. Another, Imad Ziyad, 23, wore a pair of stylish black and white houndstooth checked shorts and sleek eyeglasses; he was a dental student. Another, Ahmad Ali, 24, had been an interior design worker. They spoke good English.”

The Atlantic reports an interview with Ahmad: “Ahmad, who is in his mid-thirties, left Syria while in the second year of a four-year degree in information technology at Damascus University, and had done so to escape conscription into the Syrian Army.”

And of course, there is unrest and violence. These are young men, charged with testosterone, with frustration, and probably anger at their plight as well. How do young men behave in such circumstances? And with a culture in which women are often seen as second class? Sometimes very badly.

We must also remember that women make up a mere 10 percent of the Calais camp's three-thousand-strong population. France 24 reports on some of the problems facing women:

“Faustine Douillard, a social worker for the NGO France Terre d’Asile (France, Land of Asylum), visits the camp every day to advise those claiming asylum in France. “I have to go through the men to speak to the women,” she says. “They don’t know their rights, and that makes them very vulnerable.” Some, she says, are forced to take on male "protectors", who demand sexual favours in return.”

In fact, for all the criticism of his stance, David Cameron, albeit taking in too small numbers, has the right idea – take those in refugee camps in Syria. Who will those be? The women and children and especially orphans who cannot easily travel – and let’s also not forget the elderly – where are any photos of them? – also need help, and they can’t make the dangerous crossings so easily.

That’s not to say they don’t get to Calais and elsewhere like Germany – there are reports which include that of Jaafar Alaawi, 62, from Baghdad, travelling with four sons and a grandson, but walking with a stick, limping along a refugee trail.

But the statistics from 2014, almost certainly mirrored in 2015, show the elderly are few in number.

“Female applicants outnumbered male applicants for asylum seekers aged 65 and over, although this group was relatively small, accounting for just 0.8 % of the total number of applications in 2014.”

A report by IRIN commented on the elderly in camps in Lebanon:

“Undergirding the issues faced by elderly refugees is an expectation that they must suffer in silence so that younger people may fulfil their needs first.”

Countless elderly Syrian refugees live almost forgotten in camps or host communities while the humanitarian crisis has no end in sight, with paltry food supplies and limited medication available.

Lebanon has taken in 1.1 million Syrians - more than a quarter of Lebanon's population and is overwhelmed.

It should be noted that David Cameron was visiting camps in the Lebanon recently, and would have seen this for himself. His stance is to take those vulnerable refugees who cannot afford or have not the strength to cross Europe. It is addressing the gap, but the numbers should be more:

"Britain will resettle 20,000 refugees, but we will take them from these camps, we will take the most vulnerable, we will take disabled children, we will take women who have been raped, we will take men who have suffered torture.

On the subject of the elderly, writing for Devex, Carlos Santamaria notes that:

“In emergencies, older refugees are often overlooked and forgotten because they are less mobile and struggle to access transport to centres where they can officially register as refugees or to services such as healthcare.”

“The majority of elderly refugees have no income and therefore rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. Their health is often poor, they struggle to access medication and healthcare and even when living with family members, they often tend to eat less to provide better meals for younger members of the family.”

I remember a Jacob Bronowski episode of The Ascent of Man on nomadic existence:

“Everything has to be light enough to be carried, and quickly packed and unpacked each day. It is not possible in the nomad life to make things that will not be needed for several weeks. Every night is the end of a day like the last, and every morning will be the beginning of a journey like the day before. When the old cannot cross the next river, they stay behind and die.”

That is very much I suspect is what is happening with the old. They are left behind in Syria or the Middle East to die. 

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