Gendering the ‘Refugee Crisis’ Conference

In collaboration with the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at the Open University, CTDC has organised a half-day conference, on December 11, 2015. The conference offered a pressing critical reflection on the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe. In light of recent heated debates and widespread coverage of Europe’s border controls and the flow of refugees, the event offered a space to critically think through the gendered politics of refugee and forced migration, and its intersections with nationalism, geopolitics, and global patterns of inequality. In exploring the gendered dimensions of refugee and migrant life, and the differential experiences of women migrants, this event aims to facilitate a pertinent conversation between feminist activism and refugee struggles transnationally, while highlighting the existence and experiences of refugees outside of Europe.

The event included a number of different speakers, practitioners, academics and a woman refugee. Nasma, the refugee from Syria, opened the day with her personal experience and journey. Nasma’s experience highlighted the gendered aspects of refugee hood and migration, as she stated in her talk: ‘we had to leave Syria because we feared for our lives. We were threatened that women in our community will be raped by regime supporters.’ She also highlighted the difficulties she is facing in the UK, as a Muslim woman wearing the hijab. Her visibility as a Muslim makes her prone to anti-Muslim threats and abuse.

Academics at the conference also highlighted different experiences of women refugees and migrants. For instance, Dr Umut Erel explored experiences of motherhood among women migrants in the UK, while Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh problematized notions of sorority and sisterhood among refugee women. Looking at Sahrawi refugee women’s experiences, Elena exposed how the International Community plays a role in creating a model of a ‘good’ refugee, among refugee communities. Dr Ruba Salih talked about first generation women Palestinian refugees, who experienced the 1948 mass expulsion of Palestinians. Ruba explored untraditional and unconventional ways women express their memories of the expulsion. Ruba highlights the embodiment of refugee women and shows their experiences as women, and not only refugees. Professor Heaven Crawley showed us how in some cases the focus of women refugees as abused and fleeing violence, creates a negative image of the refugee man, who is automatically and unjustifiably portrayed as a perpetrator.

CTDC directors, Dr Nour Abu Assab and Dr Nof Nasser Eddin, presented research findings from the field on the experiences of Syrian refugee women and Palestinian refugee women. Nof’s presentation looked at Palestinian refugee situation from a gendered perspective and how women’s experiences are different from men’s experiences because of their gender identities. Nour’s presentation highlighted the importance of looking at the experiences of refugees outside European borders, especially that the largest numbers of refugees in fact reside in neighbouring countries. Both papers, demonstrated that it is problematic to think of refugees coming into Europe from the Middle East, and forget the extent to which the Middle East has historically provided a haven to several flows of refugees, such as the Circassians, European Jewish immigrants, Chechens, Armenians, and Bosnians, among others. The

papers showed that the Middle East has also witnessed internal waves of migration and refuge, for social, political, economic and security reasons. Due to the occupation, the Palestinians have been displaced within Palestine, and have sought refuge in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The Iraqis following the so-called war of liberation sought refuge in Jordan and Syria and other countries. The Syrians are currently seeking refuge in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon and even in Gaza.

The event concluded with a screening of a short documentary film produced by CTDC, in collaboration with the Hope Projects, Anti-Type Films and 12.01 Project. The film shed light on the experiences of women asylum seekers in the UK. The event was sold out and was very popular and received positive feedback from attendees and speakers. Video sessions from the conference will be made available online to give the chance to share it with those who could not attend.