Women in Calais camps: Focus on Surviving

With the one women’s centre full, female migrants must take their chances in the main camp, often with children in tow and where there is no security

By Emma Graham-Harrison in Calais

Hannah is 24, five months pregnant and can’t remember the last time she had a shower, let alone a medical check-up. The Syrian says she trekked through eight countries, her belly growing all the time, before ending up at Calais.

Here she walks another two miles every evening to try to sneak on to trains and lorries to reach Britain. When morning dawns and she is still in France, she slowly retraces her steps to the makeshift camp.

“It’s dangerous, but I can’t do anything else,” says Hannah, who does not want to give her last name. Her husband has been granted asylum in England but has been told he cannot legally bring her to join him. Her family are from the bombed-out city of Aleppo, so she cannot go home.

“I am very tired and stressed. I don’t want anything, just to go to England,” she says, walking through the migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais. “Yesterday I got inside a lorry, but they found us with dogs.”

Hannah is one of more than 200 women living in the sprawling tent city, nicknamed “the jungle”, that is home to Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans and other migrants who are trying to cross to the UK through the Channel tunnel or are waiting to hear if they have been granted asylum in France.

Women make up around 10% of the camp’s population but have gone largely unnoticed, in part because early arrivals were secluded in a heavily guarded camp for women and children, but its 100 beds filled up long ago.

“They said there is no place for me with the women, I have to sleep in the men’s area,” says Hannah, one of three Syrian women living outside the guarded enclave. She says she was turned away from the showers at the women’s centre, which are meant to be open to all, and had not been told about a charity clinic in the camp.

The packed out women’s centre means others must now take their chances in the main camp, which has no security or street lighting, let alone dedicated toilets or bathrooms for women.

“I cannot sleep in ‘the jungle’. Maybe if somebody drinks, I am frightened …” says Hayat Asrat, 21, her voice trailing off. “I didn’t know a single person when I got here, it’s too difficult.”

Asrat’s father died when she was six and she left Eritrea with her remaining family soon after, starting a long, painful odyssey, during which her mother drowned in the sea off Libya, that has brought her to Calais. “Every day I walk two hours to the train,” she says. “Nothing changes for days. I am so tired.”

Everything about migrant life is more difficult and dangerous for women, says Maya Konforti, a volunteer with Auberge des Migrants who has been working at the camp for more than a year.

“Most of them are not as quick as men, and often they have a child in tow, so they cannot get into a truck without men’s help,” she says. “They are more vulnerable to harassment, there is no doubt about that, and they need to find ways to protect themselves, but no protection comes for free.”

A woman and her children are apprehended by security at the Eurostar terminal.

A woman and her children are apprehended by security at the Eurostar terminal. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

The women’s basic needs, from soap to sanitary towels, are met by donations but even if the women’s centre expands to 150 beds as planned, it is unlikely to house them all.

They are often reluctant to talk about their problems because they have sacrificed so much to reach the edge of Europe and are focused on finishing their journey.

“They cannot afford to feel, they cannot afford to remember the difficulties they have been through, because otherwise they cannot keep going. They don’t want to talk about what they have lived,” Konforti says.

“The police gas us often, but every night we go to the crossing,” says Feven, another Eritrean who looks much younger than the 18 years she says she is. “I came here alone, I cannot stay, so what else can I do?”

Eritreans make up the majority of the women living outside the official centre, fleeing a brutal system of political controls that has driven 3% of the entire population abroad.

“We have not told our family we are here,” says Marri, 24, adding that she has endured the journey for her two children, aged six and four. “The country is no good, there is no freedom.”

One pregnant Eritrean woman miscarried at 22 weeks after falling out of a truck. Others have been more fortunate, with two or three live births, but having a child has made them even more determined to leave for somewhere better.

“You cannot even call this a camp,” says another Eritrean who wants her name withheld because of fears her mother and two siblings still at home might be punished for her flight.

One younger brother was separated from her in Libya, and she fears he may be dead, but says she cannot dwell on the family she misses. “I cannot think about them. I have to focus on how I can stay alive,” she says. “I haven’t tried getting on a train yet, because it is too scary. At any moment you can die.”

Her one consolation is that, in exile, chance reunited her with a long-lost cousin. Her hopes from the contact are modest: that she will not be forgotten if she becomes one of the mounting casualties in “the jungle”. “Whatever happens to me, she will tell my family.”

from The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/31/women-in-calais-camps-i-have-to-focus-on-how-i-can-stay-alive)

Employment Programs Are Helping Syrian Women

A Syrian Refugee Woman and Her Daughter Outside Their Tent in Turkey (Photo Credit: EU Director General)

By Monique Tibbs and Nusaiba Mubarak

This article was made possible by the Study Abroad Think Tank project sponsored by Georgia State University.

Umm Muhammad called a small boy, who was no more than ten, to bring her purse, while repeating to us in Arabic, “I just really love girls.” Once the boy brought her purse over Umm Muhammad took out two pairs of silver earrings and handed them to us. It was a simple act of kindness for two guests, but it was also a gesture that took Umm Muhammad, a Syrian refugee living in Turkey, many hours of hard work to afford.

The Face of Syrian Refugees in Turkey Is Female

Syrian women, like Umm Muhammad, have been disproportionately affected by the Syrian war, which has caused over ten million people inside Syria to flee their homes. For over four years now, Syrian refugees have been arriving and settling in neighboring Turkey, bringing their traumatic experiences but little in the way of material possessions.

An estimated 2.5 million Syrian refugees are currently living in Turkey; seventy-five percent of this population is made up of women and children. According to various NGOs working with these refugees, many Syrian women have lost their husbands or other male family members, who served as sole wage earners. In 2013, AFAD (Afet ve Acil Durum Yönetimi Başkanlığı- the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey) found that 22 percent of heads of households outside of Syrian refugee camps in Turkey are women.

In the Turkish city of Urfa, we spoke to a group of widows whose husbands had been killed in the conflict and were living ten people to one house. They had made the journey to Turkey all the way from Deir ez-Zour, a city in the east of Syria, just two weeks before and were happy to be safe and together, even though their new home was an abandoned storefront with concrete floors. They proudly had their children write out the Arabic and English alphabet for us; one toddler began taking countless photos using our photographer’s camera.

Syrian Women Work Out of Necessity

Syrian refugee women, like these widows, have not only had to adapt to a new environment, but also provide financially for their families, without the benefits of an adequate education or marketable skills. Whether through their own will power or with help from NGOs, these women are finding their way toward economic independence.

Umm Muhammad is among many Syrian women in Turkey who independently provide for their families and have started small, informal businesses since arriving in the country. She created her catering company “by the will of God,” as she says, along with help from several young Syrian men, whom she refers to as her sons. After an entire day’s work, from 6:30 am until 10:00 pm, at her catering business, Umm Muhammad usually earns about 50 Turkish Lira (TL), or nearly $19 USD.  Though the sum may seem meager, Umm Muhammad is proud of the fact she has not taken a single lira from the government or received international assistance since reaching Turkey.

Umm Muhammad is not only supporting herself financially. She is also caring for her chronically ill husband, paying for his medicine (costing about 23 TL per day), and raising her three young children.

Umm Muhammad’s children are among the lucky ones. Thousands of Syrian children in Turkey do not attend school in order to work and help provide for their families. According to a private Syrian school in the Turkish border town of Gaziantep, only 12,000 of the 45,000 school-aged Syrians in Turkey are currently enrolled in school. UNICEF reports that in the countries neighboring Syria where many Syrians have fled, 73 percent of children outside of refugee camps are not enrolled in school.

NGOs Are Providing Marketable Skills As Well As Safe Spaces for Women to Socialize

Umm Muhammad represents an ideal of economic independence and self-confidence. But, most Syrian refugee women do not have the talents and resources Umm Mohammad enjoys. A few NGOs are responding to this deficit with programs specifically designed to help these women develop desperately needed technical abilities.

The classes and services provided by these organizations do double duty, as a safe space for women to socialize and obtain emotional as well as economic support. A local relief agency in Gaziantep, which asked to remain unnamed, reported that 60 to 70 percent of Syrian women in Turkey need psychological services, but have difficulty approaching counselors because of the social and cultural stigma associated with mental health problems.

In Gaziantep, several relief agencies are offering women both skills training and services in the beauty industry, including cosmetology classes and hair and beauty salons. A case worker at the local agency in Gaziantep said many women requested these educational and service provisions because hair care and beauty regimens were a regular part of their lives in Syria. In addition to developing their skills, these classes also provide participants with a safe space to discuss their problems, fears, and concerns with those who have experienced similar traumas and setbacks.

In addition to cosmetology, group classes on embroidery, knitting, and even nursing are also available to Syrian women in Gaziantep. For many women, creating items such as bed covers and prayer rugs with other Syrian women, who are facing similar challenges, is also a form of social support and indirect therapy.

The video below shows women in an embroidery class in the Gaziantep location of Takaful Alsham (Syrian Solidarity), an independent relief organization that operates in both Turkey and Syria. After the designs are completed, Takaful Alsham sells the products in local art exhibits and returns the full cost of the products to the Syrian embroiderers.

[Click here to view the 26-second video in a new window.]

Umm Muhammad is a symbol of entrepreneurship, independence, strength, and patience in a time of extreme difficulty. Her generosity and perseverance are reflected in countless other self-sufficient Syrian women who work every day to better themselves and their families in the most difficult of circumstances.

Whether embroidering in a group or running a storefront catering business, Syrian refugee women are retaking control of their lives and their destinies.

from Muftah (http://muftah.org/syrian-women-have-been-disproportionately-affected-by-the-syrian-war-but-employment-programs-are-helping-them-retake-control-over-their-lives/#.VaP9Z7VMCRk)