Integration difficult without support:
Experiences of female refugees in Austria
Gudrun Biffl | Department for Migration and Globalization, Danube University Krems
Female refugees are a particularly vulnerable group. They have fled from their countries of origin, either on their own or with family members, or they have joined their family members who have already successfully reached Austria. The majority of them are with underaged children in Austria. They have fled from war or terrorism, from sexual violence, forced marriage, trafficking, honor killings etc. Their escape and flight are marked by violence, fear and lack of resources to adequately care for themselves and their children. Upon arrival they often suffer from traumata, which are rarely adequately addressed, not least because of barriers of communication, be they objective (language) or subjective (carry shameful connotations in the origin culture) (Sansonetti, 2016).
The interviews with refugee women in Austria indicate a pronounced motivation to participate in the Austrian society. There are, however, various factors which make this objective hard to achieve, e.g. health problems and lack of therapy, inadequate housing, limited access to child care services to facilitate the attendance of language courses. But even if child care services are available, the educational attainment level of women are often so limited that it is hard to learn a foreign language, let alone read and write in another language. A large number of women is in need of basic skills acquisition in combination with language courses. But also women with medium to higher educational attainment face difficulties on the labor market. Their qualifications are rarely recognized which means that they will have to take up jobs below their skill levels – if they find jobs at all (BMEIA, 2018).
Accordingly, the unemployment rates of refugee women are high, with Syrian women taking the lead with 80% unemployed; the lowest unemployment rates are seen in women from Somalia with 59% and from Afghanistan with 55%. But this does not mean that Syrian women have the greatest problems entering the labor market. Just the contrary. They have the highest labor force participation rates of all the refugee women, which means that they have managed to surface as unemployed at the labor market service – where almost 50% receive further education and training. This is not the case with the other women, who are invisible to labor market institutions and have therefore no access to active labor market policy measures (BMEIA, 2018).
It is the various factors mentioned above that account for the isolation of some of the refugee women, in particular, often a lack of adequate health service provision, especially psychotherapy (Barbière, 2016).