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222 Chapter 6 The Fragmentation of Families: Eritrean Women in Exile in Uganda Eyob Ghilazghy, Sacha Kuilman & Lena Reim I have 3 kids. Now I don't know where they are. I don’t know if they are still suffering under the regime or if they have left, or if they have died in the Sahara. Not knowing where my kids are really kills me. (Interview, Anon., Africa Monitors, Uganda, 2015) Especially for single mothers it is very difficult, no one can protect them [...]. (Interview, Anon., Africa Monitors, Uganda, 2015) Introduction Women’s voices are largely neglected in the narrative of the Eritrean mass exodus, as their voices rarely travel as far as those of Eritrean men (Van Reisen, 2016). Their lack of physical strength, particular vulnerability to abduction and abuse (particularly sexual abuse), and child care responsibilities often prevent Eritrean women from continuing their forced migration journey’s as far as Eritrean men. The result is gendered experiences of displacement and a neglect of women’s different experiences in the literature. Without minimising the plight of Eritrean men, this chapter zooms in on the specific experiences of female Eritrean refugees in order to create a better understanding of the ways in which they are affected by forced migration and displacement. The foundation of this chapter is provided by qualitative research conducted by Africa Monitors in 2015 and 2016 among 27 Eritrean women asylum 223 seekers and refugees29 living in Uganda.30 These women were interviewed about their decision to flee their home country to Uganda and their experiences along the way, current challenges, and future plans.31 In order to contextualise the experiences of these women, this chapter draws on interviews and personal communications with another Eritrean woman, human rights activists and researchers, reports by Africa Monitors (2016) and the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) (2013), as well as the personal expertise of one of the authors of this chapter, Eyob Ghilazghy, who is head of Africa Monitors and a member of the Eritrean refugee community in Uganda. It was not possible to interview Eritrean refugee women in all countries in the region or even in all countries of displacement. Further research should be conducted in other countries to expand our knowledge of the particular challenges of Eritrean women in different locations of displacement. That being said, the research 29 For the purpose of this study, ‘asylum seekers’ refers to those who have submitted an application for refugee status and ‘refugees’ are those who have had their applications for asylum granted. However, the term ‘refugees’ is also used generically to refer to women in both categories, acknowledging that a person “does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because he [or she] is a refugee” (UNHCR, 2011, para. 28). 30 The qualitative survey was conducted by a teamled by Eyob Ghilazghy in September, November and December 2015 and January 2016. The Eritrean women interviewed were aged 25–60 and living as asylum seekers or refugees in Kampala (N=13) and the refugee settlement of Nakivale (N=14) in Uganda. Sampling was done based on personal knowledge of those willing to be interviewed and using the snowball technique. Most of the interviewees in Kampala city were asylum seekers, however, some women with refugee status were included to compare the conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. The organisation and analysis of the resulting data was conducted by the head of Africa Monitors, Eyob Ghilazghy, and his intern, Sacha Kuilman. A copy of the survey questionnaire is available on request with lead author ( 31 To ensure the security of our sources, information has been anoymised where neccessary. Interviews have also been edited for readibility. Names, dates, and interview transcripts are held by the authors. 224 conducted in Uganda provides an impression of common experiences of Eritrean refugee women. During the interviews, Eritrean women reported facing many problems. In Eritrea, they suffered due to the mandatory and indefinite national service and from sexual abuse, imprisonment, torture, religious persecution and economic hardship. Due to the strict emigration policy in Eritrea (and the surrounding countries), most of the women interviewed crossed borders illegally and were forced to entrust themselves into the hands of smugglers. As irregular migrants, they risked encountering security forces or human traffickers on their long and dangerous journeys. Once in exile, most women interviewed were forced to reside in refugee camps and cities where provisions and support are limited and where...


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