Europe is experiencing a massive movement of incoming refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing from war, conflicts and persecutions in their country of origin. Recent figures show that women and children make up 55% of those making the journey, compared to just 27% this time last year. Women refugees and asylum seekers have specific protection and integration needs which have too often been overlooked and this needs to change.
To meet the needs of everyone seeking protection, our asylum laws and policies must be sensitive to these different needs at every stage. Research shows that women and girls face violence, assault, exploitation and sexual harassment throughout their journey, including on European soil. Women - and indeed children - who are entitled to claim asylum are being coerced into transactional sex and forced into prostitution to pay for travel documents or a place in a boat or lorry. They need safer alternatives.
Exactly for this reason, it is essential to develop and implement measures and polices aimed at protecting and empowering women refugees in order to allow them to become active contributors to the host society. We must invest in skills-matching, quality language training, flexible education and flexible childcare so that we can equip and skill women refugees and asylum-seekers to improve their situation in their host country. We must ensure adequate housing so that women have the physical protection from gender-based violence and can also begin to build their life in safety. We must also place emphasis on healthcare services and assistance for women and children who have suffered along the way.
This is why Labour MEPs sent a very clear message today by voting for Mary Honeyball's report which advocates the safe passage of women refugees and calls for the gender dimension of polices and measures to deal with the refugee crisis. Europe is about working together across nations to improve the lives of millions of citizens. It is about using our strength to create a better society for all. With this in mind we must protect women and children seeking asylum in the EU and show them that we do not shy away from human suffering and instead seek to protect and empower.