Working with refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking women, field workers realized that most of the services were created with a view to supporting women in parenting and the care of children and other family members. Similarly, the activities organised thus far supported the women to engage in so called “female jobs”. The Safe Space for Women in the asylum center in Krnjača was established in response to the observed lack of awareness of women about their rights, the legal system of the country they are in and the integration opportunities. This is the spot where women may seek and obtain support and assistance if they have survived any form of gender-based violence or abuse

Starting from the fact that migration is not a gender-neutral phenomenon and that the experiences of refugee and migrant women and the ways to fulfill their needs differ from those of migrating men, the Danish Refugee Council (with UNHCR support) initiated activities aimed at provision of a new service for asylum-seeking and migrant women accommodated in the asylum center in Krnjača.

”The State and various stakeholders have been investing efforts to build the asylum system that will adequately respond to the needs of these people, for instance through improvement of accommodation conditions, accessibility of legal assistance and health care, inclusion into mainstream education since 2015”, says Bojana Balević from the Danish Refugee Council. This organisation has been involved in different domains since the very beginning of the process: from improvement of accommodation capacities, establishment of specialized services, health care, child protection, inclusion into mainstream education through to provision of legal assistance to the vulnerable groups and the survivors of gender-based violence in particular.

”Working directly with refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking women we realised most of the services were created with a view to supporting women in parenting and the care of children and other family members,” Balević says and adds that additional support activities were organised for women engaged in the so called “female jobs” such as cooking lessons, crocheting and sewing courses, beauty courses such as make-up, hair-dresser, manicure, etc. Balević stressed that women often lack information about their rights, the legal system of the country they are in, and about integration opportunities. Identification of survivors of gender-based violence and the provision of adequate protection was often more difficult in situations when there is no safe space for conducting interviews, for instance.

Experiences of women that the DRC had contact with vary. Starting from the reasons for embarking on such a risky journey, migration channels they used up to the decision to file for asylum in the Republic of Serbia. ”Regretfully, many of them experienced some form of gender-based violence. Some survived violence in their countries of origin and made a decision to leave through migration channels for lack of protection from violence they were exposed to on a daily basis. Many were deprived of the rights to education, free will to marry, access to documents or free movement without a written consent of a male family member, right to employment and the partner violence they survived in their countries of origin”, Balević explains and adds that the women shared their experiences about the violence they survived during the journey notably mentioning sexual abuse and harassment.

Also, refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking women spoke about labour exploitation they were victims of in an effort to secure funds for continuation of their journey. Some were forced into child marriages because the patriarchal setting they grew up had no respect for their emotions and pushed them into early marriages or were, sadly, forced to marry in order to continue the journey safely.

The Safe Space for Women in Krnjača is the location where women will be able to obtain timely information about their rights, ways to exercise them, the services available. All the organizations working with women may use the Space with a view to empowering women to exercise their rights. This is where women voices will be heard and where they will be able to take an active part in creating future services. Importantly, it is a physical space where the survivors of gender-based violence will be safe to reach out for and obtain help. Due to the current epidemiological situation, a set of awareness-raising sessions on the protection from COVID-19 were held in coordination with the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration and the epidemiologist of the Health Care Center Palilula.