Women Refugee Route Forum Week, July 2017, Lesvos

The WRR Forum Week was a new concept which we carried out for the first time this summer on Lesvos island. Our goal was to make the most of our one-week stay in Mytiline and provide trainings for refugee women and volunteers, while also conducting field research and learn about the situation on the island first hand.
Over the course of the week the WRR Team hosted two Volunteer Trainings, one Advocacy Training, Tech Trainings and a Dialogue Event.

Volunteer Trainings

During the WRR Forum week we held to sets of volunteer trainings, each lasting for two consecutive days. The volunteer trainings aim to train NGO workers and volunteers who work in the field on gender-sensitive approaches to their work with refugees. By training them on how to accommodate the needs of refugee women, we aim at reducing the information gap suffered by refugee women on the ground. In addition the participants are also encouraged to take their own health into consideration and learn about self-care and protection.The first set took place at One Happy Community Centre and had over 30 participants, including independent volunteers, medical workers, cultural mediators and others.

Advocacy Training

This two-day training equipped participants with the knowledge to influence policies which impact refugee women at all levels.
One training session topic was: “Why we need refugee women as advocates”, led by Mina Jaf, founder of Women Refugee Route. A former refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan, she shared her story and her motivations for founding her own organisation, empowering others.
The “Breaking stereotypes” session was essential for women, and more specifically refugee women, to advocate for their rights and those of their communities. Sessions also covered international refugee law and how it protects the rights of refugee women. The public speaking and creative thinking session inspired one participant to volunteer for the subsequent dialogue event.

The trainings were a great success. Over 2 days, 20 refugee women were present. In fact, thanks to word of mouth, more refugee women joined the second day of the training. Some brought their teen daughters, so that they could benefit from the training too. Guests made the most of the childcare facilities provided by WRR and One Happy Family, who took care of around 17 children.

Tech Trainings

This new iteration of our tech training was rich in learning opportunities. Our two brave initiates navigated with us on the web, created a Google Document and even discovered how a simple app is made with MIT App Inventor.

Yes, two learners. This doesn’t sound impressive to you? It all depends on your perspective.
During the forum, there was a huge confrontation at Moria, one of the island’s camps. We were therefore humbled to see these two women join us to learn new skills. The lesson, for us, was also there: context is primordial.
In the future, to improve coherence, we’ll have our workshops in community centres which have regular classes/groups, to integrate the training into a broader, pre-existing context.

Dialogue Event

The title “Making the invisible visible” was supposed to point out the impression/problem that refugee women, making half of the refugee population, are often marginalized and their challenges are being overlooked. Specific needs are often not taken into consideration, neither by governments, nor politics or humanitarian institutions. Migration and asylum policy in Europe is predominantly gender-blind and there is not enough done to bridge the existing cap.

Although refugee women might seem invisible on paper, in legislation, at high level discussions and even sometimes in the camps – it is not because they do not exist. The dialogue aimed to empower refugee women, help them build up the skills and courage them to speak up, to address their needs and to claim a gender mainstreamed migration policy.

With the WRR dialogue event we want to not simply analyse problems, but also look for solutions and link people with each other. Building up a network is important for every woman to get the support she needs, but also to help others succeed.

The event was attended by more than 100 people. Please find the agenda and list of speakers here.


Looking back on our insightful time in Lesvos, we are touched by the engagement, courage and strength of the people we met and worked with. Daily, refugee women face devastating circumstances, setbacks and various forms of discrimination. We learned about these challenges while listening to ideas on how to improve the situation in the camps, making them safer, more sustainable and humane.
Besides these inspiring women, we met motivated and dedicated volunteers, doing their best to help the refugees living in Lesvos, while having difficulties of their own. They are working overtime, and are not given proper guidelines or supervision, all the while financing their own trips, transport, accommodation and basic care.
More generally, our team observed that, the situation that refugees are facing on Lesvos island is unbearable, inhumane and dangerous.
Protection mechanisms are often followed insufficiently which puts refugees, volunteers and workers at risk. People finding their own sources hope and doing their best to survive does not make up for the large-scale failure of administrative and political decision-makers who appear unable to provide decent living conditions.

Finally, we would to thank those who made the WRR Forum Week possible.
We have received donations and organisational support from numerous private supporters/donors as well as from:
One Happy Family Community Centre, who provided training facilities, food and drink, and technical equipment. SAO Association who let us use their women’s centre for our second round of volunteer trainings and covered travel expenses for one of our facilitators. Oxfam Greece who did not only rent a minibus for us to transport participants around, but also gave financial aid to our facilitating team members.
We are also grateful to our facilitators and interpreters Alice Lucas (Refugee Rights Data Project), Jean-Ann Ndow and Nefeli Themeli (WAGGGS – the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), Marchu Girma (Women for Refugee Women, Dr. Sabeena PheeruungeeBridget Chivers (Doc.Mobile), Rahma Henchiri, and Maryam Warasi. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *