Strasbourg round-up: Undocumented women migrants in EU facing abuse and exploitation

MEPs have narrowly approved a call for undocumented women migrants in the EU to receive better protection. Key rapporteurs from across the political spectrum give the Parliament Magazine their views following the plenary vote.

Norica Nicolai is parliament's rapporteur on undocumented women migrants in the European Union

Each day, hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant women are at risk of forced prostitution, labour exploitation and physical abuse without any possibility to appeal to any legal or medical recourse because they lack proper identification and consequently, fear arrest and deportation by the authorities.

As rapporteur on the first European parliament report to address the issue of undocumented migrant women, I welcome its adoption in plenary on 4 February, as a significant step in raising awareness and achieving progress in securing the respect of the basic human rights for a category of individuals which is often unfairly overlooked due to their uncertain legal situation.

"While immigration policy is the competence of the member states, the fundamental rights of immigrants are protected under international law and must be respected"

The report draws attention to the risks confronting these migrant women which come as a consequence of their undocumented legal status. As women, they are inherently exposed to the risk of physical and sexual abuse more than men and they are also more likely to have small children as dependants.

Undocumented women might find themselves homeless because no landlord would accept signing a contract without seeing an ID; or pregnant and in need of pre-natal care but no hospital would admit them; or even the victims of physical abuse but unable to seek help at a state-run women's shelter, both because they lack identification papers. This leaves them vulnerable to falling prey to human trafficking or forced prostitution and they are also susceptible to labour exploitation by unscrupulous employers. While immigration policy is the competence of the member states, the fundamental rights of immigrants are protected under international law and must be respected.

Therefore, the report calls on the member states to correctly implement the provisions in a number of directives which are already in place, such as the returns directive, the employer sanctions directive and the victims directive, in order to help remedy the desperate situations some undocumented migrant women might find themselves in. The victims directive represents significant judicial progress in this matter, because it does not condition the victims' rights on their residence status. The report also calls for a strengthening of the protection of the fundamental rights for detainees in a future revision of the returns directive.

This report does not seek to reinvent the wheel; its aim is to strengthen the fundamental rights to which every human being, undocumented or not, is entitled to. It is unacceptable that the EU continues to insist on denying the basic rights of an entire group of women which, due to their lack of identification and the immigration policies of the member states, is rendered vulnerable to abuse. The adoption of this report once again proves the commitment of the European parliament to protecting not only the human rights of its own citizens, but of all citizens whose rights are at risk of being infringed.


Mikael Gustafsson is chair of parliament's women's rights and gender equality committee and GUE/NGL group rapporteur on undocumented women migrants in the European Union

The situation of undocumented migrant women in the European Union is in many aspects very inhuman. The uncertainty about the future for themselves and their children, in combination with a lack of legal protection and safe social networks put them at a greater risk.

The EU and its member states should act to ensure all women in the EU a life free from violence and abuse. And I am very happy that the European parliament has taken important steps in this direction. We have an important role in fighting inequalities and structural discrimination, irrespective of people's legal status. Therefore I am glad that the reports key issues were passed.

"The EU and its member states should act to ensure all women in the EU a life free from violence and abuse"

First, all migrant women, including undocumented migrant women, who have been victims of abuse or gender-based violence, including those exploited in the prostitution industry, should be provided protection and support and considered to have particular reasons to be granted asylum or residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Second, the right to health is a fundamental human right and therefore the member states are encouraged to unlink health policies from immigration control. The report encourages member states to refrain from requiring schools to report attendance of children of undocumented migrants. And finally, there should be mechanisms enabling undocumented migrants to anonymously report formal complaints against an abusive employer and claims against an employer for any wages due.

These are important steps towards better conditions for undocumented migrant women. In my personal view it is important to stimulate, support and make visible the outstanding work of civil society and NGOs in this field. We need to cooperate with the NGOs, the migrant communities and local and regional authorities to find the best solutions and measures for housing, healthcare services, education, fair working conditions and access to justice.


Barbara Matera is parliament's EPP group shadow rapporteur on undocumented women migrants in the European Union

I voted in support of the Nicolai report on undocumented women migrants because these are some of the most vulnerable women in European society and we need to do all we can to protect them. I am more than satisfied that this report was voted through, even with a very tight margin of 327 in favour and 303 against.

"... Undocumented migrant women are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, honour killings and female genital mutilation, all human rights issues that I am striving to end"

One of my priorities has always been tolerance, promotion of gender equality and the protection of women's rights. This extends to all women, even if they are undocumented. There is not much data regarding domestic violence against undocumented female workers due to their fear of stepping forward and facing criminal repercussions. However, according to the European commission's report on violence against women, "Domestic violence remains very common: one respondent in four across the EU knows a woman among friends or in the family circle who is a victim of domestic violence" and while undocumented women were likely not surveyed, it can be assumed that they may be victims of gender crimes as well.

While it is understandable that they may not come forward to the police, this results in the perpetrator never receiving punishment, escaping justice and possibly enabling them to commit a similar act. Furthermore, undocumented female migrant workers are not able to access the necessary rehabilitation and protection services offered by their national governments due to needing an ID in order to receive help from these state-funded institutions. Thus these women are not receiving the support they need. Additionally, undocumented migrant women are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, honour killings and female genital mutilation, all human rights issues that I am striving to end. Voting for the Nicolai report on undocumented women migrant workers is a step towards raising awareness of the plights of these often-ignored women.


Zita Gurmai is parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur on undocumented women migrants in the European Union

Immigration, be it regular or not, is currently at the centre of European debates. However, and besides the fact that these issues are often misused for electoral purposes, the day-to-day situation faced by undocumented migrants is often overlooked.

Through this report, the European parliament and its women's rights and gender equality committee want to underline the reality behind the figures and statistics. When it comes to irregular immigration, undocumented women migrants are indeed particularly vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuses due to their (absence of) legal status. That is why the S&D group strongly supported this report through which parliament calls on EU member states to step up efforts to protect undocumented women migrants who are often victims of abuse and inhuman practices.

"We cannot compromise on basic and fundamental human rights whatever the legal status of the persons concerned"

Sexual violence and exploitation, forced labour, restricted access to basic healthcare and schooling or to decent housing: the list of abuses they face is extensive. Therefore it is crucial for us that member states and the commission recognise - as has already been done by several international organisations - that undocumented women migrants as a vulnerable social group are explicitly exposed to trafficking, discrimination and exploitation on the labour market.

We cannot compromise on basic and fundamental human rights whatever the legal status of the persons concerned. So I hope that this report will be duly taken into consideration: we need undocumented migrant women to be much better informed of their rights, as well as to do the utmost to prevent them from experiencing any kind of exploitation. We also need better trained staff to make sure that their particular situation can be properly assessed and addressed and to ensure more decent living conditions for women and their children.

Finally, let me underlined that I was appalled by the very thin margin with which this report was adopted: it is not because these women are not potential voters that they do not count and we should feel responsible for what happens to them within our very own member states.


Marina Yannakoudakis is parliament's ECR group shadow rapporteur on undocumented women migrants in the European Union

The Nicolai report poses more questions than answers. When researching the issue of undocumented migrants I found this definition: "An undocumented migrant is a person without a residency permit authorising them to regularly or legitimately stay in their country of destination. It is thought that many irregular migrants have been unsuccessful in the asylum procedure, have overstayed their visa or have entered irregularly or illegally" On the basis of this definition I have a number of concerns about the Nicolai report.

While this report does address some important issues like children in detention, the particular needs of pregnant women, mothers with young children, the elderly and people with special needs, most of it focuses on irregular women migrants and their rights. And this is where the concern lies. If we, the EU, incentivise and reward illegal immigrants by proposing healthcare rights, education and training rights, housing rights, employment rights, we will end up supporting a system of illegal immigration which is unsafe. This path will also leave women vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

"If we, the EU, incentivise and reward illegal immigrants by proposing healthcare rights, education and training rights, housing rights, employment rights, we will end up supporting a system of illegal immigration which is unsafe"

The ECR group is committed to prosecuting traffickers and ending the trade in human beings. It is also committed to assisting those who have been trafficked and exploited either for sexual gains or through forced and poorly paid labour. During this mandate we have supported a number of criminal law instruments to combat the trafficking of human beings, to protect victims and to combat child exploitation.

The main message this report sends to third country nationals is calamitous. We are telling them that it doesn't matter whether you enter Europe through legal or illegal channels because you will be rewarded with rights and entitlements either way. If we are going to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, trafficking and exploitation, we shouldn’t incentivise people to come via illegal means.

Categories

Health Justice
Share this page