Women at the external borders of the European Union

Migreurop Brief #8 - November 2018

The xenophobic doomsayers who foretold a “migrant rush for Europe” defended their sinister portents with images in which women were conspicuous by their absence. According to their predictions, there would be masses of young men flocking to our societies, which would then see our hard-won balance of the sexes undone, both in number and in power relations. The huge media coverage and politicisation of the “Cologne Sex Attacks” (31 December 2015) has also played a major role in turning German policy against migrants. When migrants are portrayed as predatory males due to their “cultural background”, refusing to accommodate them is somehow defensible.

This rationale is of course skewed by many ideological biases, but also due to factual and statistical errors. New entries to the European Union (EU) comprise both men and women, with the latter making up almost half of all migrants settling in the EU. This is not a new phenomenon. In the early 1930s, when France was the main country to welcome migrants, women already accounted for over 40% of new arrivals.

The way women are made invisible is not, of course, unique to immigration. In this instance, however, it is also used to bolster a drive to exclude certain men. Female migrants are indeed almost excluded from the “migrant flows” that receive the most media attention: more than 90 % of boat people from the Mediterranean or unaccompanied minors entering the EU are male. This, incidentally, also helps to defend the “machismo” that typifies the repressive measures against migrants. The
“war on migrants” is thus portrayed as a male issue! Yet, migrant women, far from having their presumed “vulnerability” taken into consideration, also get caught in the trap of increasingly militarised borders. The violence entailed in the repression of migration accentuates and multiplies that of the social divisions between men and