Global Resources

Initial Assessment Report: protection risks for women and girls in the European refugee and migrant crisis

Publisher: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Publication Date: Jan 2016

Not since World War II has Europe seen such massive movements of refugees and migrants fleeing from armed conflict, persecution, and pervasive sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Almost one million people arrived through the Mediterranean between January and November of 2015, the vast majority of which came through Greece, and often via Turkey. Just under half of those arriving had fled from war-torn Syria, enduring a dangerous journey over hundreds of miles, and at constant risk of violence and SGBV. Concerned by the protection risks faced by women and girls, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and others undertook a joint seven-day assessment mission to Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This report is the result of that mission.

The assessment team visited a number of key sites and refugee camps, both temporary and more long-term, and adopted a qualitative research methodology focused on making direct contact with refugees, as well as key stakeholders involved in their protection. Individual interviews, group interviews, and a focus group session were conducted with refugees, and meetings held with UNHCR, UNFPA, and UNICEF, among others. While the mandate for the mission was to be focused on women and girls, the team observed severe risks for men and boys as well, in particular recruitment into armed groups.

The bulk of the report presents the findings from the initial assessment on women’s and girls’ protection and responses. The authors profile the population, and examines risks in countries of origin, on migrant routes, and in Greece and Macedonia. In the examination of the two countries, the authors go into more detail about SGBV, access to services and facilities, and reproductive health. Finally, the report discusses the protective responses of the Greek and Macedonian governments, including their capacity, leadership and coordination, and information distribution. The report concludes with a large list of recommendations, grouped according to the stakeholder and sector audiences to which they are addressed:


  • Governments and the EU: preserve the human rights and dignity of all refugees and migrants, and ensure that all are free from exploitation and abuse and that they have access to the right of asylum and international protection. Coordination should be strengthened to create an effective streamlined response to the crisis. Monitors should collect sex- and age-disaggregated data, integrate gender-sensitive and risk-aware planning, and develop a standard set of vulnerability criteria. It is vital to have trained healthcare experts both in refugee destinations and along migrant routes, including staff trained in SGBV prevention and response. Information should be accessible in native languages, and guidelines should be implemented to ensure that safe, secure and sanitary necessities and basic services are accessible to all..
  • Humanitarian actors, including civil society organisations (CSOs): greater coordination is required to collect reliable sex- and age-disaggregated data on all aspect of humanitarian programming. Standardise processes to prioritise the most vulnerable, and support gender concerns in all planning. Deploy trained SGBV experts, particularly female staff, to function as field coordinators, together with Arabic and Farsi interpreters. National and local authorities, both in migrant destinations and en-route, must be supported in ensuring comprehensive SGBV prevention, healthcare provision, and legal assistance for all refugees. This must be visible and accessible to all, with information disseminated in native languages, and in culturally appropriate ways.