In 2015 the EU countries received 1,321,600 asylum applications of which 27% (366,785) were from women and children. On 7 and 8 March 2016, management of the refugee crisis reached a turning point. A few days before the date marking the fifth year of the war in Syria, the leaders of the EU and Turkey signed a secret agreement to expel all migrants arriving illegally at the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea to Turkey.
In this context, and in relation to International Women’s Day, various public institutions, such as the Council of Europe, UNHCR and NGOs such as Cepaim or Amnesty International and the media decided to focus attention on women refugees. Migrant and refugee women experience specific situations of vulnerability, which need to be made visible and receive an adequate response.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United National Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Women’s Refugee Commission and Amnesty International presented a number of studies warning that women and children are at high risk of suffering various forms of violence along their route, including sexual violence by traffickers, members of criminal gangs and other individuals. The studies also stress that women and children refugees face different expression of gender violence, abuse, exploitation and sexual assault in every stage of their journey, especially on European soil. In addition, they express concern regarding the lack of awareness among the authorities and humanitarian agents of the impact of sexual and gender violence on this group.
On 8 March 2016, as part of International Women’s Day, the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution on the situation of women refugees and asylum-seekers in the EU. The EP, which is calling for inclusion of the gender perspective in all asylum and migration policies, recognises the existence of ‘highly significant deficiencies’ in the treatment of women and children seeking asylum in EU member states, where major differences have also been detected. The text sets out various measures to guarantee an adequate response to the specific needs of women refugees. It is striking that the resolution was not unanimously adopted: it was passed with 388 votes in favour, 150 against and 159 abstentions.
However, besides passing this resolution and, at the same time, negotiating the aforementioned agreement with Turkey, it is worth asking what the EU is doing to publicise these principles of intention. How do they translate into the information and communication strategies of the community’s institutions to raise public awareness?
To answer this and other questions, the authors have conducted a critical, feminist analysis of the discourse transmitted through the official channels of the main European institutions. The study focusses on press releases, institutional statement and publications on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Council.