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Abstract

This paper derives from a larger research on gender-based violence and precarity in the forced migration journeys of asylum-seeking women transiting through the Eastern Mediterranean route and arriving in Greece, in the tumultuous, second decade of the 21st century. In this paper we present the findings from the first phase of the research. We analyze and discuss the opinions and information gathered through semi-structured interviews with twenty key informants: service providers, staff of international and national NGOs, local government staff and public officials. Our findings locate the five points/loci in irregular cross-border movements and arrival at an EU member-state where precarity interweaves with gender-based violence. The first locus, is in transit and EU and Greek border crossing; second, during the asylum determination process; third, in their everyday life when they must deal with homelessness and harsh living conditions; fourth, in the deficiency of care services further aggravated by intersectional discrimination; finally, by being trapped in abusive settings and relationships due to the ineffective state response, a sluggish criminal justice system, and the victim's financial dependence on the perpetrator. Adopting a feminist and intersectional approach our analysis shows that violence and precarity are co-constituted and reinforce each other through the undermining of the citizenship status of asylum seekers and the inscription, on their bodies and lives, of unequal gendered social and institutional power relations.
The Gender-Based Violence and
Precarity Nexus: Asylum-Seeking
Women in the Eastern Mediterranean
Evangelia Tastsoglou
1
*, Xanthi Petrinioti
2
,
3
and Chara Karagiannopoulou
4
1
Department of Sociology, Saint Marys University, Halifax Regional Municipality, NS, Canada,
2
International Development
Studies, Adjunct Professor, Saint Marys University, Halifax Regional Municipality, NS, Canada,
3
Department of International,
European and Area Studies, Professor Emeritus, Panteion University, Athens, Greece,
4
Department of International, European
and Area Studies, Panteion University, Athens, Greece
This paper derives from a larger research on gender-based violence and precarity in the
forced migration journeys of asylum-seeking women transiting through the Eastern
Mediterranean route and arriving in Greece, in the tumultuous, second decade of the
21st century. In this paper we present the ndings from the rst phase of the research. We
analyze and discuss the opinions and information gathered through semi-structured
interviews with twenty key informants: service providers, staff of international and
national NGOs, local government staff and public ofcials. Our ndings locate the ve
points/loci in irregular cross-border movements and arrival at an EU member-state where
precarity interweaves with gender-based violence. The rst locus, is in transit and EU and
Greek border crossing; second, during the asylum determination process; third, in their
everyday life when they must deal with homelessness and harsh living conditions; fourth, in
the deciency of care services further aggravated by intersectional discrimination; nally, by
being trapped in abusive settings and relationships due to the ineffective state response, a
sluggish criminal justice system, and the victimsnancial dependence on the perpetrator.
Adopting a feminist and intersectional approach our analysis shows that violence and
precarity are co-constituted and reinforce each other through the undermining of the
citizenship status of asylum seekers and the inscription, on their bodies and lives, of
unequal gendered social and institutional power relations.
Keywords: gender-based violence, precarity, asylum seekers, women, gender, Eastern Mediterranean
INTRODUCTION
This paper derives from a larger study seeking to understand gender-based violence (GBV) and
precarity in the forced migration journeys of asylum-seeking women arriving in, transiting through,
and staying in Greece -an EU member state-in the tumultuous, second decade of the 21st century.
The present paper draws upon the perspectives of twenty key informants representing local
government, NGO frontline workers and executive ofcers, community leaders, and IGO staff
on the dimensions of precarity and risk of GBV, in the lives of asylum seekers.
The time and place of our research are marked by a great historical conuence of several co-
occurring crizes, affecting one another: an international humanitarian crisis, a regional EU crisis and
a national (Greek) multi-dimensionaleconomic, social, and politicalcrisis. This conuence
provides a sharp and powerful magnier on the issues at hand, even if through the lterof
Edited by:
Anitta Kynsilehto,
University of Tampere, Finland
Reviewed by:
Lucy Williams,
University of Kent, United Kingdom
Johanna Hiitola,
University of Oulu, Finland
*Correspondence:
Evangelia Tastsoglou
Evie.Tastsoglou@smu.ca
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Refugees and Conict,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Human Dynamics
Received: 29 January 2021
Accepted: 23 April 2021
Published: 26 May 2021
Citation:
Tastsoglou E, Petrinioti X and
Karagiannopoulou C (2021) The
Gender-Based Violence and Precarity
Nexus: Asylum-Seeking Women in the
Eastern Mediterranean.
Front. Hum. Dyn 3:660682.
doi: 10.3389/fhumd.2021.660682
Frontiers in Human Dynamics | www.frontiersin.org May 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 6606821
ORIGINAL RESEARCH
published: 26 May 2021
doi: 10.3389/fhumd.2021.660682
the gaze and understanding of the selected key informants. The
research site is the Eastern Mediterranean and more specically
Greece, and the time is the period from 2011 to 2019, starting
with the aftermath of the Arab springand the unraveling of
Syria. The international humanitarian crisis was a massive
refugee crisis.
1
The regional refers to a political EU crisis
over EU member state responsibility for asylum seekers and
involved EU asylum policies, securing of common external
borders and externalization of migration control to a third
country, in this case Turkey. At the same time, Greece was
undergoing its own crisis which presented as a sovereign debt
problem in 2009 and was perceived as an existential threat to the
Eurozone. Greekseconomic and social citizenship became
increasingly eroded, as they were severely affected by austerity
measures, imposed by international and European institutional
creditors.
Using a feminist and intersectional perspective we analyze our
key informantsperceptions on gender-based violence (GBV) and
precarity experienced by the asylum-seeking women they are
dealing with as professionals in various capacities. Through their
testimony and opinions we sought to understand the relationship
between GBV and precarity during the forced migration journeys,
border-crossings to the EU and stay in Greece as a way to better
focus our interviews with asylum seekers themselves, in a
subsequent phase of this research project. The ndings from
the key-informant interviews are triangulated with textual data
deriving from Greek and EU documents, NGO and IGO reports
and analyzed drawing from theoretical frames of GBV and
precarity.
In broad terms, we understand gender as a relational power
concept maintained and reproduced by materialist conditions
and discursive practices including the exercise or threat of
violence, while GBV as extending, beyond physical,
interpersonal occurrence, to institutional/legal/structural levels
becoming visiblethrough denial or failure of protection by law,
policy, or practice. Furthermore, we claim that violence in a
forced migration context has gender-specic expressions. We
understand precarity as the politically differentiated spread of
precariousness, a condition of insecurity brought about by failing
social and political supports which are conventionally expected to
mitigate the risks inherent in human life (Butler, 2009). When it
comes to asylum seekers, precarity may be a consequence of states
adopting restrictive immigration and asylum policies and
securing their borders (Freedman, 2012). Precarity may well
render diverse groups, dened by gender and other
intersectional identities, more vulnerable to GBV.
Based on our analysis, we argue that the asylum seekers
precarity of life in crossing the EU border and waiting for the
outcome of status determination processes, can be attributed to
policies and practices deriving from EU and national migration
regimes aiming at securing external borders and containing
asylum seekers, ordered in gendered and intersectional ways.
Moreover, this precarity is tantamount to institutional/structural
GBV and, as such, either increases the risk for interpersonal GBV
or directly contributes to reproducing it. Experiencing GBV, in
turn, may increase the precarity of life for asylum seekers by
decreasing livability(McNeilly, 2016). We conclude that GBV
and precarity co-constitute one another forming an inextricable
nexus in the forced migration journey, especially in crossing the
EU border and upon arrival. Interwoven in this precarity/GBV
nexus are the asylum-seeking womens agency, strategic choices
and struggles in challenging the impermeable border, resisting
victimhood, and achieving their purpose of freedom of
movement to a better life.
THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Structural and Intersectional Gender-Based
Violence in Asylum Seeking
Gender-based violenceis generally understood as the violence
directed toward a person or a group on account of their perceived
gender. Gender is a fundamental analytic concept for
understanding how the social world is ordered and the
hierarchies of power in it. It can also be detected through
experiences, social movements, and in texts that structure
experience and inuence individual or collective behavior. The
gender hierarchies of power that prevail as hegemonic
masculinity(Connell, 1987) are being preserved and
reproduced through ideologies and everyday processes of
normalization in the Gramscian sense as well as through
violence. Violence (or its threat) is central to the construction
of gender through perceptions of the relationship of the body to
violence. Thus, a fundamental element of femininity is perceived
vulnerability to violence while masculinity is associated with
dangerousness (Hollander, 2001, p. 84). These perceptions
about the female and male body are constantly reproduced
through everyday life routines, media and texts of various
sorts to the point of being thought of as naturaland normal.
Yet even as constructed views, they affect the performance of
gender (Butler, 1990) by shaping womens and mens ways of
living and interacting. Gender constructions are not only
underlying structural and institutional inequalities but also
being constantly reproduced through discursive practices.
Finally, intersections of gender and age, race and class further
amplify perceptions of vulnerability or dangerousness. In line
with a rich theoretical tradition of intersectionality in the social
sciences (Crenshaw, 1991;Choo and Ferree, 2010;Collins, 2010)
we take gender hierarchies and inequality-producing processes as
co-constitutive of race, sexuality, nation, class, and other context-
specic social divisions and processes.
If violence is inherent in the concept of gender, gender-based
violence can only be understood as emerging from material and
discursive gender inequalities rather than individual or group
perpetrator dynamics (Davies and True, 2015). GBV is
nevertheless, not only the result of patriarchy. The
enforcement processes mobilized by patriarchy are intertwined
1
According to the IOM, the adoption of the Global Compacts on Migration and on
Refugees, signed in 2018, emerged from the widely held sense of crisis in
population movements most spectacularly in the Mediterranean.» (IOM,
World Migration Report 2020: 293. Available online at: https://publications.
iom.int/system/les/pdf/wmr_2020.pdf.
Frontiers in Human Dynamics | www.frontiersin.org May 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 6606822
Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
and mutually constituted at various levels with culture, class, race,
age, and other relevant social divisions (Anderson, 1997).
Furthermore, GBV cannot be understood as operating within
the male-female, masculine-feminine binaries (OToole et al.,
2007;Shaw, 2017). While structurally based unequal gender
power can affect women, men, boys, girls, and LGBTQ+
individuals, in this paper we are focusing on women, as a
variety of studies and statistical measurements show that
globally women/girls are, by a large proportion, the principal
victims of such forms of violence (e.g., UNHCR, 2003;WHO,
2013). We understand women in non-essentialist terms, as also
including individuals with female gender expression, gender
identity or perceived gender.
According to UNHCR (2019), GBV is rooted in gender
inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms ... It also
includes threats of violence, coercion and manipulation.
Moreover, the expanded denitionof sexual and gender-
based violence (SGBV) makes explicit reference to the state
and institutions perpetratingor condoningit (UNHCR,
2003, p. 11) and claries that SGBV can take the form of a
denial of resources or access to services(UNHCR, 2021, p. 1).
The Istanbul Convention adds that while women face violence
and discrimination based on gender, some women experience
multiple and interlocking forms of violence [intersectionality]
(Council of Europe, 2014). This expanded denition of GBV
allows us to link acts of violence that occur interpersonally, rstly
to practices, policies, institutional and legal frameworks relating
to violence, racism, human rights, and secondly to underlying
systemic inequalities in sequence.
In the context of migration, we understand GBV as
fundamentally structural violence built into the structure
and showing up as unequal power and consequently as
unequal life chances(Galtung, 1967, p. 171). The violence is
exerted structurally, by institutions, laws, policies and practices
relating to migration governance that either directly generate
violence or fail to protect from it. It is also exerted by individuals,
citizens or others, against the undocumented, irregularly
arrived and insufciently protected others.This violence is
GBV because it is either driven by gender, or affecting
individuals differently because of their gender, gender
identities and gender perceptions. Such violence is likely to
occur at various time/place/legal status associated stages of the
non-linear migration trajectories, with intersectional processes
differentiating the GBV experiences and access to services of
individuals and groups. Additionally, it is important to note that
GBV in conict, ight and displacement are not separate cases
but rather the instances form a continuum of structural violence
(Krause, 2015).
The structural violence that is built into practices, policies,
institutional and legal frameworks manifests itself as
discrimination resulting in social exclusion from protection
and/or support. This discrimination/exclusion mechanism
leads to precarity and increases the likelihood/reproduction of
interpersonal GBV. Discrimination is a dynamic process
penetrating every level of social life -institutional, collective,
and individual. Though difcult to dene, it is generally
perceived as a selectively unjustied negative behavior toward
members of the target group(Henkel et al., 2006, p. 101) that
denies individuals or groups of people equality of treatment
which they may wish(Allport, 1954, p. 51), deprives them of
material goods or restricts their liberty (Altman, 2020). A more
structural denition of discrimination includes, in addition,
differential burdens, obligations or disadvantageswhich
result in limiting access to opportunities, benets, and
advantages available to other members of society(Andrews v.
Law Society of British Columbia, 1989).
Reection on discrimination in the context of an asylum
regime starts with Arendts bitter assertion that the concept
of the Rights of man based on the supposed existence of a human
being as such, collapsed in ruins as soon as those who professed it
found themselves ... before men who had truly lost every other
specic quality and connection except for the mere fact of being
humans(Arendt, 1943, p. 64). This bare life,moving outside
the nation-state,is thus beyond citizenship, and deprived of any
role as states terrestrial foundation(Agamben, 1995, p. 116).
Forced migration, a historical by-product of the nation-state
system, signies a conceptual disruption of citizenship. The
international refugee regime represents an effort of the global
community of states to normalizethe refugee by restoring
rights to protection and establishing the (limited) conditions
under which certain categories of forced migrants come under
the protection of the state of asylum as legitimaterefugees
(Turton, 2002;Dobrowolsky and Tastsoglou, 2006). Leaving
aside the denitions of legitimacy, the system still falls short of
equating refugees with full citizens. Prior stages upon irregular
arrival and registration, such as sorting out eligibility for
protection, the refugee determination process, possible
illegalization and waiting for deportation, are all stages fraught
with variable degrees of precarity and ongoing structural violence.
Each and every one may be a pivotal momentwhen liberty and
even bare lifeare being determined. All these arrangements
involving distinctions among individuals and places where they
occur are structural arrangements (de Vries and Guild, 2018) and
the violence their implementation inicts is structural as well,
with direct gendered consequences for individual lives.
In addition to being excluded from the protection of
citizenship, asylum seekers experience further intersectional
subordination and specic exclusions as they may, at the same
time, belong to multiple other disadvantaged social groups.
Gender identities and gender perceptions, sexualities, age, race,
religion, intersect on multiple levels (local, regional, national,
international) causing compounded disadvantages and
intensifying asylum seekersoppression. Individual and
systemic factors create an intersectionality of disadvantage for
them (Yacob-Haliso, 2016, p. 54) as this, in turn, multiplies their
challenges in accessing solutions (Ibid, p. 55).
Ethnic origin fuels xenophobia and racism (Pittaway and
Bartolomei, 2001), especially when it is implicated in the
West-rest hierarchy that categorizes the restas the
other”—racialized, colonized, or third country nationalin
Fortress Europeand, thus, of intrinsically lesser value.
Gender is a fundamental structure of inequality in society
based on, and in turn, fueled by a social construction of
inequality between men and women. This construction values
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
the former, perceived as breadwinners, protectors, rational actors,
over the latter, perceived as passive, emotional housewives and
care providers. When gender intersects with the positionality of
women asylum seekers’“otherness”—lacking the legitimacy of
mothering for the nation or educating future subjects (Arat-Koc,
1992;Yuval-Davis, 1993)- it leads to what Parreñas (2001) calls
limited,and Maher (2004) lessenedcitizenship.
But gender-based discrimination may be directed against men
too. War settings and asylum regimes often challenge
stereotypically assigned traits of masculinity. Drawing from
Elshtain (1995) archetypes of Just Warrior”–men constructed
as violent- and Beautiful Souls-women as nonviolent-as well as
upon Browning (1992) and Goldhagen (1996) ideas of
legitimateand non-legitimate victims of war,one can
piece together the construction of the male-perpetratorand
female-victimgender stereotypes in the backdrop of the
displacement journey. Such stereotypes cause male
victimization to be perceived as an anomaly that does not t
the gendered understanding of legitimate victims.Thus, men
asylum seekers remain trapped in their expected gender role of
violent perpetrators, deprived of the possibility to be victims. As
feminist thinkers have shown, the implications of this schematic
image are multiple (Karagiannopoulou, 2020); in the case of men,
male experiences are left out of humanitarian considerations
(Jones, 2016) while male victims, especially of GBV, become
the absent subjects(Connell, 2002). This distorted image of the
masculine other(the complexity of being a man and, at the
same time, victim of SGBV and asylum seeker) leads to
overwhelming exclusion that creates precarity and
perpetuates GBV.
Furthermore, when the gender binary is challenged or sexual
orientation deviates from heterosexual orthodoxy (Nagoshi et al.,
2008), asylum seekers’“othernessintersects with his/her/their
other inferior positionalities -race, ethnicity, religionleading to
being multiply discriminated against in political, economic, and
social contexts (Lee and Ostergard, 2017). Displacement and the
asylum-seeking context become loci where homophobia
intersects frequently and powerfully with many other forms of
discrimination to reveal the precarization and GBV in the lives of
these gender minorities.
GBV is often the cause of migration. It may form the main
reason for leaving, it may add on to other reasons or aggravate the
circumstances of forced migration or it may exacerbate the fear of
persecution on other grounds (Tastsoglou and Nourpanah,
2019). GBV can occur during migration in the hands of
smugglers, trafckers, fellow asylum seekers in camps and on
the road, and security forces in the countries asylum seekers are
transiting (Amnesty International, 2012;Anani, 2013;UN
Women, 2014). Restrictive migration policies and asylum
practices are responsible for increased GBV (Kengerlinksy,
2007) as they necessitate more protracted or dangerous
journeys for people seeking to avoid border controls
(Andrijasevic, 2009;Amnesty International, 2012). There is
some evidence from research of increased fatality rates for
women, compared to men, in border crossings around the
world, suggesting that the reasons may be gender specic
(Pickering and Cochrane, 2012). Moreover, there is a
signicant and growing literature documenting the increased
opportunistic and systemic GBV risks posed by smugglers,
facilitators, co-ethnics, family, police, paramilitaries, and
others, during such journeys in multiple geographical contexts
and sites of transit (e.g., Dolma et al., 2006;Hamood, 2006;Nagai
et al., 2008;JRS, 2009;Amnesty International, 2010;Pickering,
2011;Anani, 2013;Gerard and Pickering, 2013;Formson and
Hilhorst, 2016). Restrictive migration and asylum policies and
practices often derive from state institutional and legal
frameworks to control borders, the securitization of
migration(Gerard and Pickering, 2013) and to assert
sovereignty (Dauvergne, 2008), which in turn may reect
racist and sexist stereotypes of the other(Freedman, 2016a)
and embody intersecting systemic race, colonial, social and
gender hierarchies (Ibrahim, 2005).
Upon arrival to safecountries, reception conditions and
practices for the identication, registration and relocation or
settlement of asylum seekers may pose an additional risk for
SGBV (Gerard and Pickering, 2013). Overcrowded facilities, lack
of safe and sanitary accommodation, lack of access to
serviceshealth, protective or psychologicalfor GBV
survivors (Canning, 2016), as well as language barriers to
accessing services, render women and girls more vulnerable to
GBV. Finally, there are links between migrant womens
homelessness and domestic violence (Mayock et al., 2016).
Transactional sex,a form of GBV, is not exceptional both in
migrant and refugee routes as well as in camps as a strategy.
Gerard and Pickering in their study (2012) of Somali womens
extra-legal arrivalin Malta discuss forced pregnanciesas
strategic decisions in order to obtain release from detention
centers, as vulnerable persons.
On arrival, asylum seekers are obliged, because of their
irregularpresence at the border, to enter the refugee status
determination process or risk return. Legal and feminist research
have focused on the integration of gender into refugee status
determination (RSD) in various national contexts and the legal
and social barriers for women who wish to claim asylum on this
basis, even when gender(e.g., Government of Canada, 1996)
and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression(e.g.,
Government of Canada, 2017) are formally integrated into
asylum law (Chantler, 2010;Tastsoglou and Nourpanah,
2019). In the EU, state interpretations of the legal and policy
framework, including Regulations and Directives on asylum
(Papadimitriou and Papageorgiou, 2005) but also varying
practices of member states (Querton et al., 2012), disparities in
recognition rates (Schuster, 2011), and EU and member states
border regimes contribute to the precarity of asylum seekers
waiting for registration or for processing of their asylum
applications.
GBV may continue after leaving the camp or even gaining
refugee status, as domestic violence, transactionalor survival
sex (McGinnis, 2016), trafcking, or labor exploitation in a labor
market where asylum-seeking women are deprived of access to
legal protection because they do not have the requisite
employment authorizations or are cast in underpaid,
stereotypical feminine jobs such as domestic and care work.
Stereotypical employment casting of female migrant workers is
Frontiers in Human Dynamics | www.frontiersin.org May 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 6606824
Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
frequent even for women with conventional migration
trajectories. Sassen (2000) nds neoliberal restructuring
precarizing livelihoods in developing countries and driving all
womens migration trajectories, who are then typically pushed to
work in feminized occupations in developed countries.
We use the term asylum seekersas a broad descriptive term
that purposefully blurs the distinction between migrant and
refugee and recognizes that in fact individuals eeing are
affected by a range of factors, political and economic. While
refugeeimplies a status as per the terms of the Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees and its subsequent Protocol (UN
General Assembly, 1951;UN General Assembly, 1967), asylum
seekeris a broader term that captures the continuum beyond
those who achieve protected status to include those who are
waiting for a response, those who have not yet formally applied,
and those who do not meet the Conventions requirements
(Mitchell, 2006;Papastavridis, 2009). The term does not imply
illegality (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,
2006) as other terms do (e.g., undocumented migrants).
Finally, the term accurately captures the life circumstances of
the population we are focusing on in this paper.
Precariousness, Precarity, and
Precarization
We understood, from a multitude of studies of the mixed
migrations that gave birth to the Eastern Mediterranean
route,that one common feature that appeared in all accounts
was the precariousness of the lives of asylum-seeking women and
men (Akyüz and Cos
¸kun, 2014;Baban et al., 2017). We sought to
discover whether this precariousness is linked to politically
produced precarity and ongoing precarization and how this
may be related to GBV.
The dictionary denition of precarious is something that is
dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or
uncertain developmentsand also characterized by a lack of
security or stability that threatens with danger.
2
The epistemic
history of the term, along with its complements precariousness
and precarity, extends to several disciplines and traditions in the
social sciences. In addition, during the 2000s and the 2010s,
activism related to the casualization of work and the precarization
of life (Vanni and Marcello, 2005;Foti, 2017) took place in many
parts of Europe and the United States.
In the years following the oil crisis, around the middle and late
1970s, economic stagnation accompanied by high ination,
prompted changes to scal and monetary policies. At the same
time capital turned away from arrangements of secure, full-time,
lifelong jobs to exible arrangements where rms could shift
employment according to changing demand. Employment
exibilization gave impetus to the new, atypical jobs that were
proliferating, driven both by the undoing of the
KeynesianFordist compact between capital, labor, and the
state and by the application of information technologies
(Tsianos and Papadopoulos, 2006;Dyer-Witheford, 2015.). A
marked shift occurred as more countries, in the capitalist core and
the periphery, started implementing employment exibilization
measures (Standing, 1999) but also the entire gamut of liberal
ideas of free trade, privatizations, restructuring, austerity and
deregulation of capital and money markets and especially the
labor market.
Some scholars held that precarity has been, historically, the
capitalist norm(Betti, 2016). Precarious workhas been a
feature in much of the world in domestic and care work,
agriculture, hospitality retail and construction to name a few
(Mitropoulos, 2005:3). In global cities, Sassen (2001) argued, the
jobs of the services complex done by immigrants and people of
color, many of them women, are necessary for the working of the
global economic system. The entry of women in paid
employment, attributed to the failure of the family wage,
deindustrialization and the growth of the service sector gave
rise to global care chainsrmly placing migrant women in the
burgeoning care economy (Parreñas, 2001).
The genealogistof the usage of the term precarity,Jean-
Claude Barbier (2002), posited that precarity has acquired uid,
evolving meanings. From the late 1990s the term came into
common use and also applied to vulnerability or fragility and
insecurity in society at large (Bourdieu, 1999) as precarious living
and working conditions are normalized and thus become an
important instrument of governing(Lorey, 2011: 4).
The tradition which sees precarity as a condition of labor and
as a condition of capitalism, breeding inequality and setting
people in motion because they are so wretched where they are
and because things seem and indeed are better in the places they
are trying to get to(Robbins, 2018), is relevant to our subject as
we acknowledge the volition of the refugees and other migrants to
not only search for a sanctuary from war and persecution but also
a chance for a better life. Indeed, Castles (2015) asserts that the
inow of asylum seekers was a prominent form of immigration in
the 1980s and onwards as refugees from the Hungarian Uprizing,
the Prague Spring, conicts in Latin America, Asia and Africa and
the Yugoslavian wars claimed political refuge and opportunities
to earn a living in the afuent West. Informal economic activities,
which had been the mark of the Global South and the southern
European periphery, bloomed in the heart of advanced
capitalism, marked by subcontracting, temporary work, and
casualization made possible by the exploitation of these
imperfect citizens (Castles, 2015: 56).
Lewis and Waite (2015) use the concept of hyper-precarity to
describe the multiple insecurities experienced by forced migrants
in the global north. They argue that the (United Kingdom)
asylum system produces susceptibility to forced labor due to a
compromised socio legal status. Anderson claims that
immigration controls work with migrant trajectories to lead to
exploitation through the absence of status and access to rights,
but immigration controls can also be seen as producing
illegality. (Anderson, 2010: 306; de Genova, 2002). Thus,
precarity is an outcome of the articulation of precarious work
and precarious citizenship status.
Beyond the analysis of precarity as a labor condition (Vosko,
2000;Kallenberg, 2009), as a class identity, -the precariat-,
2
Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. precarious,» https://www.merriam-
webster.com/dictionary/precarious.
Frontiers in Human Dynamics | www.frontiersin.org May 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 6606825
Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
(Standing, 2011), and general condition of life under capitalism,
the precarity discourse gained, through the work of Judith Butler,
a gendered dimension, and an ethical gaze. Butler (2009)
references the ontological condition of the fragility of human
life: Anything living can be expunged at will or by accident.
Precariousness is the state of existence of all human beings
characterized by insecurity, vulnerability, and dependence (on
others) for survival, both as bodies and as social beings. Social and
political institutions are partly created to mitigate these jeopardies
(Butler 2009). Precarity is the politically differentiated condition
of precariousness i.e., different populations are differentially
exposed to precariousness by political decisions involving
hierarchization, and othering (Lorey, 2011) with distinct
gender expressions. Precarity is politically induced
vulnerability. Precarization is the governance process by which
precariousness intensies not only through destabilization of
wage labor but also a destabilization of ways of living(Lorey,
2011 p.1).
Common in all understandings of precarity is that the
vulnerability, contingency, and risk inherent in precarity is
induced by material structures, and cultural norms. It refers
not to individual or group identities but to precarious
situations. For example, in the context of forced migrations, de
Genova views humanitarianism as such a structure, specically as
it is used as a political technology with its different regimes of
visibility, temporal borders, tactics of border enforcementwhich
is key in the production of vulnerability.(de Genova, 2017: 28).
In the same context, national and EU migration and asylum laws,
and practices by border guards and ofcials also constitute such
structures, by raising obstacles for asylum seekers and
...inscribing precarityon them. (Hodge, 2019: 89).
Finally, vulnerability has also been used in the discourse about
gender-based violence. We do not refer here to the assignation of
vulnerablelabels by humanitarian practice but to the
conceptualization of GBV as resulting from relational
vulnerabilities,”“embedded in asymmetrical social relations
(Kabeer, 2014: 2). Discriminating border regimes, unequal
resources, uneven access to supporting networks, that is the
precarization of mobility, exacerbate these relational
vulnerabilities for bodies in arrested transit in the European
borderlands where different gender vulnerabilities produce
distinct forms of gender-based violence.
METHODOLOGICAL NOTE
This paper derives from a research project consisting of a
qualitative study on the experiences of gender-based violence by
asylum-seeking women on the Eastern Mediterranean route. The
present paper is based on data collected during the rst phase of the
project which included interviews with twenty selected key
informants, conducted by the three co-authors in the summer
and fall of 2019. In this paper we draw upon some of the thematic
categories we addressed in the interviews, namely GBV, precarity,
and discrimination/intersectionalities. Our interview protocol was
approved by both institutions we are afliated with, located in
Canada and Greece, respectively. Our participants included 6 men
and 14 women, all of which are University-educated and some with
graduate degrees. With a couple of exceptions, the interviews were
conducted in Greek, transcribed in Greek and coded and analyzed
using QDA Miner 5. The responses were translated in English by
the three co-authors.
While our key informants did provide information about their
knowledge of violence and precarity affecting women (and men)
asylum seekers, knowledge garnered from their work as front-line
service providers, staff of international and national NGOs, local
government staff and specialized public ofcials, records of case
histories were not made available to us, nor could our
interlocutors provide the authentic rst-person narratives of
experiences. This remains for the women themselves to relate
in the following phase of research, currently ongoing. We fully
acknowledge the biases and blind spots of the interviewees
perspectives and identities, the gaps in the accounts, the
conicts, and discrepancies between their views, as we
witnessed these ourselves in the interviews and as such
discrepancies and biases have been documented in scholarly
research. The case in point is made by a recent study of
professionals working in Asylum Reception Centers in eight
European countries including Greece, which reveals signicant
variation of conceptualization of SGVB which differs by age, sex
and country of work with some forms of violence not perceived as
such by some groups of professionals (Oliveira et al., 2019). With
these caveats in mind, we feel the lens the key-informant
interview data collectively provide in understanding the
situation on the groundis unique and valuable. Finally, we
triangulated our analysis with published work: other relevant
scholarly research, NGO and IGO reports, media accounts and
government and EU documents of statistical data, laws and
policies.
SETTING THE CONTEXT
To address gender-based violence among women asylum seekers
we had to look at migrations in the Mediterranean where sea
arrivals to Europe had been rising throughout the decade, peaking
in 2015 with 853,650 arrivals in Greece and 1,011,712 in total for
the EU (IOM, 2016a). These movements triggered an
international and European response involving massive outlays
of funds (Howden and Fotiadis, 2017) and the deployment of
dozens of international and Greek humanitarian actors creating
an emerging humanitarian marketplaceof global signicance
(Cabot, 2019 p. 760). This mobilization was to help Greece, on the
common European external border, cope with what was dubbed a
humanitarian crisis after the borders with Balkan countries,
mainly the FYR Macedonia (March 9, 2016)
3
but also
Bulgaria, Serbia, (and farther aeld the borders of Croatia,
Slovenia, and Hungary), had shut down, leaving tens of
3
Human Rights Watch, Greece/Macedonia: Asylum Seekers Trapped at Border
Blocked Access to Asylum; Beatings by Soldiers; Poor Conditions February 11,
2016 https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/11/greece/macedonia-asylum-seekers-
trapped-border.
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
thousands of asylum seekers, pursuing a path to western Europe,
stranded.
The EU-Turkey Statement (March 18, 2016),
4
a hastily
negotiated readmission agreement,decreased (but did not
stop) the ows to the islands. It did make the sea crossings
more perilous and uncertain (The fatalities in 2015 for this route
were 805 out of a total of 3,771 for all the Mediterranean routes
-IOM, 2016b). The ve Aegean islands which had been turned
into hotspots,on EU prompting, to help control the exceptional
ows of 2015,
5
became places where asylum seekers waited for
their application to be adjudicated.
6
The European Union recast Regulations, Directives, border
enforcement, asylum procedures, budget allocations, and
partnershipswith third,migrant transit, countries. The
EU, trying to navigate the new normal(Geddes and Hadj-
Abdou, 2018), followed a path of securing its external borders.
The owsof 2015 and all subsequent ows would be managed
as a continuing Mediterranean refugee emergency(Lopez-Sala
and Godenau, 2017) and as a state of exception.
Turning to Greece, the time frame of the refugee increases
overlapped the frame of the Greek crisis.The country presented
in 2009 a sovereign debt problem threatening the integrity of the
Eurozone. As successive Greek governments implemented
austerity and restructuring measures prescribed by the bailout
programmes, the resulting unemployment, wage and pension
cuts, emigration of young, educated people, loans and mortgage
defaults, privatizations, and business failures created a dismal
climate which the Greeks collectively referred to as the crisis.
The concurrence of the peaking of the refugee arrivals, and
their subsequent entrapment in Greece, with the on-going
precarization of Greek society was constructed as a ubiquitous
crisis in media accounts and in political discourse so that the two
criseswere conated in the public imaginary. This migrant
inux was not unprecedented: there were hundreds of thousands
of irregular border crossers from Albania and Bulgaria in the early
1990s, refugees,of Greek heritage, arriving from the dismantled
Soviet Republics in the mid-1980s, and returning Greek workers
from Western Europe in the 1970s (Petrinioti, 1993;Petrinioti,
2009). But what was different in 2015 was that the EU had
acquired, since 2004, the competence to set common rules about
asylum and thus had a leading role to play in this asylum crisis.
The drama of arrival of so many asylum seekers and the
governmentality of counting, identifying, ngerprinting (for the
EURODAC digital base) and sortingthem in the hotspots,
hides an aspect of the illegalized mixed migrantsprecarious
existence: the incidence of GVB. Freedman writes that the true
scope of sexual and gender-based violence against refugees
remains unknown(Freedman, 2015, p. 79). One dimension
of GBV, sexual violence, has been examined, notably by some
humanitarian organizations, (Keygnaert et al., 2015;de Schrijver
et al., 2018). A recent report from the Médecins sans Frontières
clinic on Lesvos island, found that 94% of the incidents reported
involved rape while among the 215 survivors 28% were men and
81% were from Africa. Interestingly, more than half of the
reported incidents (118) occurred in transit, mainly in Turkey,
and 76 (35%) in the country of origin while 10 cases (5%)
happened on Lesvos. (Belanteri et al., 2020).
THE PRECARITY AND GENDER-BASED
VIOLENCE NEXUS
We asked our key informants to share their observations and
thoughts on the everyday lives of asylum seekers pointing to
instances of precarity and GBV, from their experience with them,
either as front-line service providers, law enforcement and
national defense agents with various responsibilities on mixed
migrant arrivals, or their knowledge as policy makers or as
advisors.
Our analysis of the interviews identied ve loci of interface of
precarity with gender-based violence and connected them with
the various levels of the larger structures: 1. Transit and border
crossing, in particular the European and Greek border, heavily
secured by European migration control externalization policies
and border enforcement practices; 2. The refugee status
determination process with the uncertain outcome and the
associated lengthy waiting period which involves interacting
with staff of formal state apparatuses, lawyers, social workers,
and NGO supporters; 3. Accommodation and living conditions
which are inadequate, both in island hot spots and hospitality
structures in cities, especially for the categories most affected by
precarity and GBV. Living conditions are affected by national and
EU institutional regimes of care for asylum seekers, but also local
communitiesreactions toward them. 4. Services are
characterized by decient care and exclusion resulting from
inadequacy of resources in comparison to the need but also
discriminatory practices by state employees, and health care
practitioners. 5. State protection from GBV is sluggish and
poorly coordinated resulting in reproducing GBV and
perpetuating and amplifying precariousness for the asylum
seekers who are GBV survivors.
Our ndings based on key-informant interviews conrm that
1) there is a patent gender dimension to both precarity, and
violence experienced during the asylum-seeking journey and
upon arrival. Moreover, this dimension is signicantly
intersectional 2) there is an interrelationship between precarity
and GBV, with precarity increasing the GBV risk or contributing
to reproducing it and GBV, in turn, amplifying precarious living
for survivors 3) the specic policies and practices affecting
precarity and GBV in the lives of asylum seekers derive from
EU and national legal regimes of securing external borders and
institutional regimes of asylum seeker control and containment.
4
Council of the European Union. EU-Turkey statement, 18 March 2016Press
release 144/16. Brussels: General Secretariat of the Council; 2016.
5
Hotspots are facilities to screen people arriving by sea in Italy and Greece,
conceived in the European Agenda on Migration and adopted in May 2015.
Procedures in the hotspots are carried out by national authorities and personnel
from European institutions (EASO, Frontex, Europol and EuroJust). European
Commission (EC) 2015. Available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/
TXT/PDF/?uriCELEX:52015DC0240&fromE.
6
See details: EASO, Border Procedures for Asylum Applications in EU + Countries
2020. Available online https://www.easo.europa.eu/sites/default/les/publications/
Border-procedures-asylum-applications-2020.pdf.
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
These legal and institutional regimes are ordered in gendered and
intersectional ways and grounded on larger systemic inequities.
We discuss each of the ve loci highlighting the GBV-precarity
nexus and the gender and intersectional dimensions of the
relevant inequalities.
Transit and Border Crossing
Most key informants agreed that women and men have distinct
experiences of precarity and GBV while traveling and in border
crossing. Women are seen as susceptible to greater dangers
associated with transit and border crossing as irregular
travelers, especially under heightened security of external
borders. K.Y.,
7
a GBV specialist working on the protection of
survivors in an International Governmental Organization (IGO),
summarizes GBV risks in displacement: And trafcking is also a
result of trying to transit when individuals may not have the
resources, they are at higher risk of exploitation ... Women
especially on the road are extremely vulnerable to sexual
assaults ... and many of them arrive pregnant as a result of a
sexual assault ...En route, people may be affected by violence from
smugglers, from border police, from other refugees, within their
family or upon arrival in Greece.
In border crossing and in the European arrival context,
procedures are governed by overlapping regimes of national,
EU and international norms, laws, policies, and practices. The
external EU border, which asylum seekers must negotiate, is
secured by the deployment of Greek Coast Guard boats along
with Frontex patrol boats, and Turkish Coast Guard vessels
operating within Turkish territorial waters. These patrols
cannot legally intercept dinghies, and there have been many
rescue operations, but recently there have been reports of
push backsby Greek Coast Guard ofcers allegedly
toleratedby their Frontex counterparts (Christides et al.,
2020;Didili, 2020). Frontex also ies surveillance planes and
drones over the Aegean and has a force of over 600 ofcers
deployed in Greece in the maritime and land borders with Turkey
(Frontex, 2020a) while Greece has 4,500 border guards in place
to combat illegal migration(Frontex, 2020b).
In such circumstances, the logistics of arranging passage on a
boat require an intermediary. Although trafcking entails the
exploitation of the victim, the use of smugglers, or facilitators,
who undertake to provide passage for pay has become so frequent
as to be almost universal in the boat crossings from Turkey to the
Greek islands. Sophia, a psychologist working in an open
Reception and Identication Center, mentioned that single
women often must use human smugglers: Some women from
Sub-Saharan Africa, when they are single and travel alone, its
easier either to have arrived in our country through these webs or
to be approached by them.The previous statements are
supported by research, which was carried out in Greece
immediately after the peak months of arrivals in 2015: All the
respondents used a smuggler for at least one stage of their
journey, and all, save one, used a smuggler to cross the
Aegean Sea. One of the reasons mentioned was because they
could not obtain a passport or visa to travel a legal route to their
destination (Crawley et al., 2016).
There are distinct risks undertaken, with the use of a smuggler,
as well as strategic calculations in a situation of limited and less
desirable alternatives. Gabriele, a GVB specialist in an
international NGO, was explicit in her analysis of these risks:
She knows that from the moment that she proceeds with her
facilitator and there is no man with her, she might have to succumb
to attack in order to cross the border. Not that a woman wants to
be raped to cross the border, but what I mean to say is that there is
so much desperation she may nally accept even a forced
pregnancy because she knows that on the opposite side, when
she arrives in Greece, thats vulnerability, theres a better
treatment, maybe more chances for asylum and more
opportunities for welfare [...].The acceptance of rape and the
risk of pregnancy is not seen only as an instance of transactional
intercourse, in other words as a means to secure passage, but also
as a possible advantage once in the European destination.
Sexual violence and pregnancy then, can be conscious, risk-
accepting propositions, if not intentional exchanges. Both are also
well known, integral risks of transnational mobility, especially for
African women. To cope with the realistic expectation of sexual
violence, if a possible pregnancy carrying its own risks must be
avoided, most of the African women on the move that Gabriele, a
GVB specialist in an International NGO has met in Athens, bear
subcutaneous implants of time-releasing hormones as a means of
contraception. Their reason, as told to Gabriele, is starkly simple:
Because I know that I can be raped at any time since I am
traveling alone. So, I wear it if I get raped at least I wont get
pregnant.
The concept of transactional sex has been discussed as a
practice in Sub-Sahara Africa which women may engage in to
get money or favors from men because of womens limited
livelihood opportunities(Formson and Hilhorst, 2016, p. 8). In
the migration and displacement context it is viewed as a coerced
exchange: for example, to procure a fake passport or passage on
the boat to Greece (UNHCR, UNFPA and WRC, 2015).
Transactional sex is instrumentalizing intercourse as an
everyday means of transaction. Nadina, co-director of an
Athens-based grassroots migrant women network, comments:
Rape, let us say, becomes what we call transactional intercourse,
a means of exchange during travel, so we are talking about an open
cycle of precarity that starts from the society of origin, the family
circle and social surroundings and then continues during travel.
We place transactional sex in a gray zone between rape and
survival strategysometimes the only one - in the extremely
limited options available to asylum-seeking women to travel.
By doing so, we recognize the agency of the women who engage in
it (Gerard and Pickering, 2012). However, the normalization of
sexual violence, as constitutive of mobility toward Europe for
women without papers and money, is founded on the
precariousness of the status of asylum seekers at the European
external border and is an example of structural violence, with
distinct gender expression, affecting all illegalized asylum seekers.
7
Participants were given the option to select pseudonyms for anonymization. Some
expressed a clear preference to use their real names. As a result, we have a mixture
of pseudonyms and real (rst) names. Interview excerpts have been slightly edited
for readability.
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
Asylum Determination Process
The second locus of the precarity - SGBV nexus concerns legal
status as it relates to asylum procedures. There is a permanent
transience(Pickering, 2011) or suspension in a constant state of
arrival(Gerard and Pickering, 2012) that extra-legal arrival
entails for the asylum seekers. This transience means that the
journey of displacement is ongoing, with the risk of return
looming, with changes in legal status and physical space of
residence fragmenting their daily experience and resulting, in
turn, in enormous physical and mental exhaustion, a politics of
exhaustion(de Vries and Guild, 2018). Several key informants
speak powerfully about the anguish of waiting interminably for
the asylum process to unwind and the torment of uncertainty
about its outcome. Speaking about these [past] years in the
European Union, [following]...the EU-Turkey agreement,
precarity is exactly that: if I will be able to complete the
process, to be accepted, or if at some point ... in some
interview, I will be rejected and I will not get my asylum
(Thomas, advisor on asylum seekers to an island municipality).
The UNHCR in a survey of the asylum process in Greece,
found that most participants were frustrated by the lack of clarity
on procedures or feedback on the status of their asylum claim,
particularly on the islands. This has severe implications on
psycho-social wellbeing, irrespective of age and gender.
(UNHCR, 2018a). As to the length of the waiting period,
according to the Greek Ombudsman Annual Report, the
Asylum Service conrmed the waiting period for asylum
applications, from countries with high recognition rates, is
over three years (2019, p. 53).
The subject of vulnerabilityas elaboration on precarity has
been raised several times by our key informants. Vulnerability
has been operationalized by both the UNHCR (UNHCR-IDC,
2016) and the European Asylum Support Ofce (European
Asylum Support Ofce (EASO), n.d.), so that a parsing out of
asylum seekers can take place, according to normative criteria.
Human Rights Watch (2017a) claim that ...there has been
considerable pressure on Greece from the EU and its member
states to narrow the criteria to minimize the numbers of people
eligible.Konstantinos, an elected ofcial in the Municipality of
Athens responsible for migrant and refugee affairs, alludes to the
controlling nature of this sorting mechanism: So, vulnerability
has been dramatically reduced so that the stream toward the
mainland [from the islands] can be reduced and to increase the
pressure on those that are arriving you are not vulnerable like you
were in the past. The vulnerability criterion ... you tweak it
depending on how you want to drive the system [...].
In Greece individuals arriving by sea are given a preferential
treatment in that they are exempt from the geographic restriction
imposed by the EU-Turkey statement and are allowed to leave for
the mainland following registration only if they are designated as
vulnerable.Thus, they may escape the crowded, unhygienic,
and insecure living conditions of the camps -created on EU
instigation on the ve islands in 2015 and designated as
hotspots- where they are segregated, contained and slowed
down.Also, invoking vulnerability may confer privileges in
terms of having asylum claims processed faster and favorably.
Freedman reports a UNHCR ofcial interviewed in 2015, as
saying that more women are traveling alone or with children
as a strategic choice made by men to increase the chances of
entering the EU. They expect women will be perceived as
vulnerableand offered protection with the men then, being
accepted as part of a family reunication policy (Freedman,
2016b,p.1819). Women made up 21% of all asylum
claimants in 2015 and that number had jumped to 37% in
2019 (Greek Asylum Service, 2020).
The vulnerablelist includes pregnant women,
unaccompanied and separated children, single parents with
minor children, people with disabilities and medical
conditions, the elderly, victims of torture and gender-based
violence and trafcked persons, while special status is
accorded to those eligible for family reunication if other
family members are already in the EU. The criteria of
vulnerability are mostly gendered: pregnant women,
unaccompanied childrenmostly boys- and women identied
as survivors of GBV (men are often missed, because they do not
declare they have been victimized by GBV or they are not believed
when they do so). In an invocation of vulnerability to further
asylum applications, Freedman writes that NGO representatives
in Greece estimate that in some casesit is in womens strategic
interest to arrive pregnant (or become pregnant while in the
asylum process) as their claims will likely be processed faster and
in their favor (Freedman, 2019, p. 11).
The relationship of precarity in the asylum status
determination process and gender-based violence is complex
and ambiguous. The structural violence exerted on all
claimants due to the confusing, opaque, and lengthy
proceedings is indisputable. Waiting has become one of the
weapons in the battle to deterasylum seekers on the move
(Schuster, 2011, p. 41; Andersson, 2014). The precariousness of
waithoodmeans increased risk of everyday GBV especially
affecting women and children, due to poor physical
infrastructures, transactional sex and inadequate services inside
and outside the camps (see below).
While entering the asylum determination process may be
associated with increased risk for GBV, (protracted waiting) its
operationalization as vulnerable categoriesseems to create
conduits which allow some people a sliver of opportunity for
agency that moves them ahead in the queue, reducing thereby the
hotspot GBV risks. At the same time, the labeling creates an
identity in which the individual had no input and may create a
sense of victimhood that is mobilized by the asylum seeker in
turn, to claim rights and privileges (Honkasalo, 2018, p. 9). The
benetsof the constructed categories may shape behavior in a
way so that the individual tsthe denition. Konstantinos, an
elected ofcial in the Municipality of Athens responsible for
migrants and refugees, explains the mental process behind this
mobilization: Once, when a woman with ve kids entered Moria
[camp] she was considered vulnerable. But now, if these ve kids
dont have a health issue ... and then you see another Mom and
her two kids and one of them has a chronic condition, lets say
asthma, and she passes off as vulnerable.Then you look at your
kids and you say, one of them must become vulnerable, or I must
become vulnerableand ... the system, it makes you self-ideate,
[about] hurting yourself ... When you have someone so pressed
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
from the system that they cant pass through, at some point they are
going to do something to pass.
Given the unintended incentivesthe constructed categories
of vulnerability generate, it is not surprising that the vulnerability
rates among asylum seekers are on the rise. It is interesting to
compare the gures for 2015 and 2019: Pregnant women made up
3.8% of vulnerable persons in 2015 and 12.7% in 2019; abused
persons were 11.6% in 2015 and 15.9% in 2019 (Greek Asylum
Service, 2020).
Living Conditions
Another form of precarity increasing the risk of GBV is provided
by living conditions including inadequate or non-existent
accommodation and lack of support networks for asylum
seekers: Sophia, a psychologist and social worker at an open
Reception and Identication Center, sums this up succinctly The
basic thing is to secure shelter.
The Reception and Identication Centers (RICs) on the
islands and the ones on the mainland, in cities and rural
areas, as well as the rented accommodation under schemes
subsidized by the EU and administered either by the
municipalities or NGOs, as well as rooms in the private rental
market, all present their own different problems which create
precariousness for the two groups primarily identied by our key
informants as suffering precarity: unaccompanied minors and
single women.
For the island camps the UNHCR Inter-Agency Participatory
Assessment Report noted that especially in RICs (e.g., Moria,
Vathy) there are mixed latrines, showers, and accommodation
overcrowding, lack of lockable containers and poor lightning.
(UNHCR, 2018a). Sue, a child protection ofcer in an
International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO), told
us: Again, in the islands there is ...overcrowding in some
reception facilities which increases risk, there is increased stress
on the family context, which sees an increase in domestic violence
because people are managing this stress they have here.Thomas,
advisor on refugees to an island municipality, conrms that there
had been cases of prostitution with trafcked women who were
sexually abused and forced to offer their services to clients staying
in the camp, something he attributed to the formation of a
ghettoized population.
Under conditions of homelessness, relations with the
trafckingorsmugglingnetworkarelikelytocontinue
even after relocation to cities. A report by the Greek
Médecins du Monde noted that many of the women they
see are living in Greek cities in what they call Afghan hotels,
paying 1 a night to sleep 10 to a room(Boseley, 2017)Sexual
violence or transactional, aptly called survivalsex (Anani,
2013) are sometimes the requisite price to pay outside the
camp. Nadina, co-director of an Athens-based grass root
migrant women network, relates this story of control over
the trafcked woman by the trafcker: Last Friday a woman
with a baby came just before we were about to close and said she
had nowhere to go. She stayed in the trafckersplace,buthe
was throwing her and the baby out in the morning and when
she was returning in the eveninghaving nowhere to go-, he
demanded to rape her.
Unaccompanied children were the most often mentioned
group experiencing precarity, and, at the same time identied
as being at increased risk of gender-based violence. Konstantinos,
an elected ofcial in the Municipality of Athens responsible for
migrants and refugees, captures a temporal insecurity that aficts
minors uniquely and which arises from civil law classications
and asylum practices: ...when you are 18-1 they feed you, they
take care of you at 18+1 you are on the street. I cantnd anything
more, ...violent than that, from one day to the next the clock hand
turns and then you are on the other side ... and protection stops.
That is a horric state of precariousness.
Human Rights organizations have repeatedly reported on the
widespread detention of minors (often together with adults even
at the risk of sexual abuse) (Human Rights Watch, 2016), the
living conditions in RICs on the islands (Save the Children Net,
2017) in open camps under special care arrangements called safe
zones,or in informal arrangements (squats, parks). As of
September 30, 2020, out of a total of 4,222 children (almost all
boys) 1,019 lived in informal/insecure housing conditions such as
living temporarily in apartments with others, living in squats,
being homeless and moving frequently between different types of
accommodation, while 226 were in protective custody
(UNHCR Data Portal, 2020). The Ombudsman cites another
dimension of institutional violence: Children, especially children
with disabilities or chronic conditions, are institutionalized in
asylum type facilities at a very young age, in inadequate or abusive
living conditions and remain there until they come of age and
usually for life.(Greek Ombudsman Annual Report, 2019, p. 60).
From our key informants, Sue, a child protection ofcer in an
international NGO, speaks about the effects of homelessness and
the absence of family protection on unaccompanied boys in
camps: We hear stories from them, either trying to get cash
and maybe exchanging sex for money or in the context of no police,
not enough reception capacity to protect them in Greece. So over
50% are not living in a proper safe accommodation and so we hear
that, like, in the refugee camps maybe there are supposed to be safe
areas for these children, but after hours adult single males will take
over and start partying and using drugs and maybe subject them to
sexual harassment or exploitation.
Local communities often shun asylum seekers when it comes
to accommodation in their neighbourhoods. Theresa, an elected
ofcial, responsible for social solidarity in the Municipality of
Athens, narrated such a case: Oh, there was a strong reaction
from the local community. If we tried to make a shelter for
unaccompanied minors somewhere, there would be protests by
the residentsassociation. This is a big problem.
The national institutional frameworks on accommodation for
asylum seekers are undoubtedly decient and the support staff
inadequate not only because there has been an aversion -shared
by the public and political personnel-to the idea that these post-
2015 mixed migrantswould not simply transit through but stay,
and also because the austerity policies, in effect since 2010, have
seriously underfunded public services for citizens and newcomers
alike. The step up of the humanitarian actors to handlethe
refugees, is a constant reminder that the Greek economic and
social crisis precarized natives and aliens into a humanitarian
citizenshipplacing them along a partially shared continuum of
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
precarity(Cabot, 2019, p. 747). The recognition of incapacity
necessitated a devolution of state obligations to non-
governmental and even extra-national organizations.
Services
Inadequate services, problems of articulation of services and
discriminatory treatment of asylum seekers, exacerbated by
various intersectionalities, provide the key dimensions of the
precarity - GBV nexus. Inadequate services are an outcome of
excess demand over existing resources, while poor articulation of
services renders asylum seekers more vulnerable.
Overcrowding exists both in camps but also in asylum-seeker
accommodation in cities. ..., in some agencies, those in charge of
refugees in apartments are dealing with such high numbers that
they can do nothing else, as social workers, they only rush from one
apartment to another to take care of practical needs(Anastasia,
educator working in a feminist NGO).
Lack of adequate interpretation services is a major barrier
especially for women in making their cases before the Asylum
Service. Individuals may not feel comfortable to speak through
particular interpreters, especially because of their gender or
because the interpreters are perceived to have their own
personal, religious, or sexist views: it is not that the
interpreter does not understand, it is because the woman feels
ashamed to speak to him...that the interpreter will try to cover
things up in some way. To cover up based on traditional values ...
so that he does not function as an interpreter at the moment, he
functions as a member of that society ... (Julia, a sociologist
working with refugees in a Greek NGO).
Accessible psychological services for traumatized individuals
are gravely inadequate: For women who have suffered GBV
[before arrival], there are very few support programs in
organizations, so that they can overcome these past experiences
(Julia, a sociologist working with refugees in a Greek NGO). Prior
trauma and/or ongoing GBV are aggravated by anxiety due to
precarious living conditions and legal uncertainty. Living in fear
and shame are often consequences for women GBV survivors in
camps and outside: It is not easy, for the abused womanand I
am not speaking of domestic violence only, which may be seen [as]
socially normal, but even for women who have sustained assaults
by strangers, they cannot speak easily about rape. Shame and
stigma.(Gabriele, a GVB specialist in an international NGO).
Furthermore, GBV is not limited to women asylum seekers.
Gender discrimination limits malesaccess to health services. Our
key informants state that asylum-seeking men are rarely
consideredby the state, local authorities, NGOs, health
services or even other asylum seekersas GBV survivors. They
remark that the denial of rights or services to men is due to
stereotypical social casting of manhood and, possibly, to a learned
inability of male GBV survivors to open up and disclose what they
perceive to be humiliating experiences. Gender discrimination
here is tantamount to a systemic form of GBV, because barriers to
services helps reproduce GBV and associated emotional trauma.
This understanding of the systemic form of GBV agrees with the
UNHCR position (2003, p. 11) on SGBV denition as referring to
a range of acts that include systemic forms of exclusion and
marginalization, such as economic and institutional violence.
Konstantinos, an elected ofcial in the Municipality of Athens
in charge of migrant and refugee affairs, discussed at length GBV
against men. Men expect that they will ght in the war, that they
may perish in battle and that they will become heroes.... If you are a
victim of rape, e.g., because someone targets your identity, either
social or sexual or gender identity, this is not common, there is
much greater shame in these cases, that is, men do not open up in
the same way.Some key informants state they have seen cases of
GBV against men being treated as torture and the survivors as
victims of torture.
Key informants reported intersectional discrimination against
asylum seekers in accessing health services. When it comes to
primary medical care, even places like hospitals appear as places
of discrimination against asylum seekers, aggravated by ethnic
origin, gender, and race and resulting in a denial of care. Trifonas,
director of an open Reception and Identication Center,
remembers: There was a woman, nine months pregnant, ready
to give birth. I think she was from Kenya ... She went to the
hospital and she was told to leave. She came back [to the camp] and
during the afternoon she delivered. That was discrimination! They
had sent her away [...] if this woman were Greek, she would have
been given at least some information.
Interface with NGOs providing services is not necessarily free
of gender, sexual and ethnic stereotypes Gabriele, a GVB
specialist in an international NGO, was explicit: About the
African women ... gender and racist stereotypes [are] held by
people ... who work in the institutions which supposedly provide
protection.... What I hear constantly from the social workers, the
psychologists who educate others, is: for Gods sake, these African
women have all been raped?
Additionally, key informants argued that often, asylum seekers
and refugees outside the gender binary suffer discrimination.
Julia, a sociologist working with refugees in a Greek NGO, spoke
of case workers who are uneasy when they interact with LGBTQ+
individuals. These feelings are expressed in subtle and indirect
ways: Yes. There is discrimination. When someone [for example]
is transgender and behaves somehow [differently] and that can be
seen by the other [the case worker ... ] there is a grimace of
disapproval.
Key informants provided information on many instances of
intensifying precarity and increasing risks for GBV or directly
reproducing it, through denial of rights and remedial services.
Starting off from their primary identity as non-Greek (non-EU)
citizens, i.e., othersdiscrimination is based additionally on
asylum seekersgender intersecting(Crenshaw, 1991) with
multiple other forms of social divisions conceptualized as axes
of inequality or oppression (Collins, 2010). These intersections
create unique categories of heightened risk and exclusionary
processes (Choo and Ferree, 2010). Key informants agreed
that the groups more likely to experience discrimination and
oppression based on multiple intersections are women (especially
African women), men, LGBTQ+, and unaccompanied minors.
Asylum-seeking women and girls are discriminated against
through gender-based exclusions from protection. In their lives
then violence is seen as normal and as something that women
have to endure(Gabriele, a GVB specialist in an international
NGO).The interaction between gender and ethnic origin is often
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
discussed by the key informants. African women are more
discriminated against as being both asylum seekers and
women of color:...especially women coming from the Congo
or Nigeria, all of them, are considered prostitutes and they are
treated very badly, because there are a lot of African prostitutes,
mainly Nigerians, in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki. So,
when [African women] arrive in Moria [the camp on Lesvos
island] they are treated as whores’” (Gabriele, a GVB specialist
in an international NGO).
Key informants were cognizant that gender discrimination
affects also male asylum seekers due to the gender stereotype that
links masculinity with aggression and dangerousness and
excludes men from the category of vulnerableindividuals.
Konstantinos, an elected ofcial in the Municipality of Athens,
told us that at the beginning, around 20152016, the most
vulnerable group was single men. No one wanted to work with
them.
Asylum seekers who identify as LGBTQ+ are confronted more
often than the rest of the refugee population with multiple
othering.Gabriele, a GVB specialist in an international
NGO, was emphatic about how womenshould include those
who self-dene as women: Those who experience GBV are women
and those who self-dene as women, without this agreeing with
their biological sex ... Konstantinos, an elected ofcial in the
Municipality of Athens, summed up the exclusions against
LGBTQ+ individuals: It is one thing, to put it bluntly, a Greek
gay and quite another a foreign gay. The latter is not simply a man
who is gay.
Unaccompanied minors also suffer from a multiple
disadvantage when it comes to GBV at the intersections of
other,gender and age. All these key-informant opinions
relating to the intersectional gender identities of asylum
seekers in Greece, are in full agreement with ndings of many
international organizations about GBV globally (e.g., UNHCR,
2003;WHO, 2013).
Protection of Asylum Seekers From GBV
In 2017, UNHCR received reports from 622 survivors of sexual
and gender-based violence (SGBV) on the Greek Aegean islands,
out of which at least 28 per cent experienced SGBV after arriving
in Greece. Women reported inappropriate behavior, sexual
harassment and attempted sexual attacks as the most common
forms of SGBV. Of all the incidents registered by the agency in the
country during the second half of the year, 80 percent of the
survivors were female (UNHCR, 2018b). Similar reports were
released from Human Rights Watch in 2017 citing fear of assault
even in the sections of the notorious Moria camp that was
reserved for women and girls traveling alone. (Human Rights
Watch, 2017b).
Response to GBV at the national level is sluggish and poorly
coordinated at best. The justice system in Greece moves very
slowly in removing the perpetrators from the social scene, so that
they are free to terrorize their victim for a long time. This
sluggishness is particularly consequential in enclosed spaces,
such as hotspots, and with populations in precarious
conditions on account of a multiplicity of grounds, such as
asylum seekers. Furthermore, many communities may look
down upon or even condemn a woman who is accusing her
spouse of domestic violence or may not see the police as offering
protection. K.Y., a GBV specialist working on the protection of
survivors in an IGO, describes the impunityof perpetrators,
because of bureaucratic and legal procedures ending in
contradictory and precarious outcomes in terms of safety for
the survivors: Another contributing factor that we see a lot is
impunity. Even when we do have response, we have perpetrators
that are identied, that are detained, [then] they are often released
the next day and they are in the same location with the survivor
which exposes them to greater risks and also less willingness to even
report the case [because of] the risk of retaliation. Because until the
trial date it would be perhaps weeks and months and during this
time the perpetrator is freely living among the population.
Trifonas, director of an open Reception and Identication
Center, is more blunt on the missingrole of the state
viewing it as collusion with the perpetuation of GBV against
asylum seekers: We can say it is ultimately the states indifference
that does not want to help out in a certain situation.
Away from the camp but still living precariously, nancial
dependence on abusive spouses fuels asylum-seeking womens
hesitation to leave them. It is these anxieties that often drive
domestic violence immigrant and refugee survivors back to the
abusive domestic situation (Erez, 2000). State institutions and
humanitarian actors appear to hold gender stereotypes that result
in limiting access to nancial supports. Nadina, co-director of an
Athens-based grass root women migrant network, narrates such a
case of institutional discrimination. The stereotypical gender
perception of men being the breadwinners,rationally
managing the family budget, was reected in decisions related
to the provision of cash assistance (i.e., the prepaid cash cards
program by UNHCR) to men. The end result was men would
spend the cash they were entrusted with for the family on
cigarettes and alcohol, leaving the women to scrape for
essential items being given for free in NGO shops: when this
program started, the cash card was given to the head of the family-
the husband- and when I protested this decision, I was told that it
would be impossible to give cash cards to everyone. So, we give it to
the head of the family. If they [refugees] wish something different,
let them tell us that the head of the family is the woman. If that is
ever possible! The money was given to the husband and women
refugees were coming to us furious(Nadina). This practice
changed later.
The same key informant, Nadina, from the women migrants
network, paints vividly the full picture of structural negligence
against asylum-seeking women affected by domestic violence:
From the lack of a 24/7 referral and interpretation line (at that
time) to the fact that she must make the complaint herself, and not
another person on her behalf. Very often they tell you [at the police
station] that now is too late, 3 pm already, she should come back
tomorrow, and this woman may have set up an entire frontto be
able to leave the house at that hour... Even if she arrives at the
shelter the rst 100 h when it is still critical for such an incident
[domestic violence] she cannot see a social worker beyond the
initial intakewhich consists in giving her a nightgown, a piece of
soap, a key etc. She does not see any social worker or psychologist or
lawyer who can explain to her the prospects, where she will nd
Frontiers in Human Dynamics | www.frontiersin.org May 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 66068212
Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
herself, what she needs to do. She has no cash, she is forced to cut
herself off from the organization which has supported her so far,
because she cannot be involved with them if she has been referred
elsewhere.
In conclusion, in cases of domestic violence in the lives of
asylum-seeking women in Greece, there is a denite combination
of an ineffective state response, including lack of sensitivity by
police and other state actors, and lack of continuity in providing
support to domestic violence survivors. In the context of
precarious legal status, limited or non-existent linguistic skills,
lack of communication/information on legal options, limited
support networks and scarcity of nancial resources, it is not
surprising that domestic violence survivors often chooseto
return to the abuser. All these risk factors have been well
documented in scholarly research as contributing to
reproducing or aggravating the GBV experiences of migrant
women (e.g., Moynihan et al., 2008;Fong, 2010;Tastsoglou
et al., 2015).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
This qualitative study inquired into gender-based violence among
women asylum seekers using the theoretical lenses of gender and
precarity. We use precariousness in the tradition of Butler, and we
recognize the ontological vulnerability of bodies and social beings
left foundering by the abandonment of institutions which,
conventionally, are expected to mitigate the dangers inherent
in all life. These hazards are intensied and differentially affect
asylum seekers as they attempt to arrive in Europe, denuded of
whatever rights they may have once enjoyed as citizens in their
country of origin and invested in the category of irregular
others at the border. Gender-based violence is shown to be
systemic and structural and is enacted as different forms,
originating from institutions, practices, and individuals, and
directed against asylum seekers. It occurs in all the stages of
the migratory journey forming a continuum although in this
paper we focus on the segments of border crossing into Europe,
entry into the asylum determination process and early stages of
the latters completion.
We locate the points in this continuum where precarity
produces violence and show its gendered forms. The rst
locus, is in transit and European and Greek border crossing,
when asylum seekers are confronted with restrictive asylum
policies which increase both life -and GBV risk and
instrumentalize GBV as a mean of transaction; second,
duringthelongwaitingperiodfortheasylumprocess
which either keeps asylum seekers in limbo or forces them
to enter the vulnerablecategory, through the dark tunnel
ofsufferingGBV;third,intheireverydaylifewhentheymust
deal with homelessness and inadequate living conditions
that further precaritize their lives and increases the risk of
GBV; fourth, when they struggle to overcome language
barriers, deciency of care services and intersectional
discrimination (based on gender, gender perceptions, age,
country of origin, etc.) in order to access services; last, by
remaining trapped in abusive environments and
relationships due to the ineffective state response, a
sluggish criminal justice system, and the victimsnancial
dependence on the perpetrator.
We acknowledge that the sustained intensity of migrations
toward the EU- in the last two decades of the 20th but especially
the second decade of the 21st centuries, have provoked-in an
increasingly vehement securitization discourse- national and
European system of laws, policies and practices regarding
asylum seeking which present formidable obstacles to mobility
from outside the Union (at the same time that intra-EU mobility
is promoted through arrangements such as the Schengen Treaty).
These obstacles are, nonetheless, traversed, and surmounted,
albeit at great cost and suffering, by those that they are
intended to immobilize. The encounter of migrant agency and
EU/state apparatus of mobility controls and defense of external
borders reveals the acts of violence committed in the name of
security and sovereignty. However, it is this encounter which
allows us to recognize the precariousness of others and that it is
in this recognition that an ethical encounter becomes possible
(Millar, 2017, p. 4). It is interesting that most of our key
informants drew our attention to this structural violence and
criticized both European and national reception conditions and
regulations as being both ineffective and inhumane.
Looking through the lens of our key informants, and
adopting a feminist and intersectional approach our research
shows that 1) forced and mixed migration set apart asylum
seekers as otherfrom citizens and forces them into precarious
positions with GBV being a permanent feature of their
experiences, 2) intersectional discrimination aggravates the
precarity of these positions and facilitates the reproduction of
GBV ensuring asylum seekersincomplete or lessened
citizenship,and 3) systemic inequalities (re)construct
gendered social and institutional power relations that are
being performed (Butler, 1990) and validated on the bodies
-and in the lives of asylum seekers.
Incomplete citizenship built on intersectional discrimination
and multiple exclusions, forms the backbone for the precarity and
gender-based violence of the embodied and gendered asylum
seekers, as they face the classication and ordering of the EU
border and asylum regimes, but also the state and humanitarian
actorspolitical and cultural norms, as well as citizenseveryday
behaviors. It is this incomplete citizenship and intersectional
discrimination that become instruments of precarization,
which contribute (directly or indirectly) to gender-based
violence, which, in turn, intensies precarity. A vicious circle
is being constructed that follows a downward spiral entraining
and decreasing the liveability(McNeilly, 2016) of those already
located at precarious positions.
DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
The datasets presented in this article are not readily available
because research ethics requires that researchers limit the use of
interview data collected to the particular research project for
which the ethics permission is sought. Requests to access the
datasets should be directed to evie.tastsoglou@smu.ca.
Frontiers in Human Dynamics | www.frontiersin.org May 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 66068213
Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
ETHICS STATEMENT
The study involving human participants was reviewed and approved
by the Research Ethics Board (REB), Saint Marys University, Halifax
Canada and the Ethics Research Committee, Panteion University,
Athens, Greece. The participants provided their written informed
consent to participate in this study.
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual
contribution to the work and approved it for publication.
FUNDING
The research project was nancially made possible by a Social
Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant
(SSHRC-IDG # 430-2018-0746) There were no funds provided
for open access publication fees under this grant.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We express our gratitude to the twenty key informants
who generously shared their time, insights and experiences
with us.
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Conict of Interest: The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could be construed as a
potential conict of interest.
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Tastsoglou et al. Gender-Based Violence and Precarity Nexus
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El concepto de vulnerabilidad se ha convertido en el centro de la legislación y la política europeas de asilo y refugio en los últimos años. La adopción de medidas especiales diseñadas para ofrecer una mayor protección a los solicitantes de asilo vulnerables puede considerarse un paso positivo. Ahora bien, la forma en que se ha definido la vulnerabilidad es cuestionable. Con demasiada frecuencia, la vulnerabilidad se reduce a una categorización simplista y esencializada, que también es altamente generizada y racializada. Las mujeres son clasificadas como "vulnerables" a priori, sin una consideración real de las causas estructurales y contextuales de esta vulnerabilidad. Si bien ser clasificado como "vulnerable" puede aumentar las posibilidades de protección dentro de los sistemas de asilo y refugio de la UE, los impactos en quienes son clasificados como vulnerables pueden ser sentidos como formas de violencia simbólica que reducen la agencia y la autonomía. En base a entrevistas con solicitantes de asilo y refugiados, así como en un análisis de las recientes directivas de asilo de la UE, este artículo propone repensar los usos de la vulnerabilidad en las políticas de asilo de la UE para proporcionar una mejor protección al tiempo que reconozcan la agencia y la autonomía de los solicitantes de asilo y de los refugiados.