The life of a refugee starts with an impossible choice and continues with a dangerous journey to an uncertain future, to escape the violent and grim circumstances of their countries. Many are beaten, shot or drowned in their paths to find peace and security. Yet, in some ways, their journey never ends because the receiving countries see them as threats to their society. On the other hand, the complex and protracted system of asylum seeking and the high probability of rejection of protection applications has intensively put these marginalized people social and psychological health at risk. The governments have visibly failed to provide protection and enforce civil, economic, political and social rights of minority groups, particularly of minority women.
In this regard, life of a refugee woman with Muslim background, such as myself, becomes even more vulnerable and exposed to myriad challenges. The precarious situation of their presence in a new society not only exposes them to racist practices but also forces them to adapt involuntary segregation.
The greatest segregation of refugee Muslim women is seen in the job market. They are highly concentrated in low-skilled jobs irrespective of their human capital (prior experiences, skills and qualifications). As one of my friends explained her job hunt experience: “Every time, when I try to find a job that suits my qualification and experience through recruitment agencies, I have been directed to the jobs which are totally under-skilled for me. Every time I have been reminded that my competency is not required in education but if I want to have work, I must accept the jobs where they need workers. I needed work badly, so I accepted a cleaning job.”
Another issue that emerges during interviews, is that refugees are not only steered towards low-skilled employment but also directed to the regional areas where labor-shortage has been identified. Safety and a grant of valid residency is only possible if that job falls in the region-required-category.
“After six months of constant work in cleaning, I came to know that I cannot apply for a work permit on the basis of my cleaning work form the region I am working in, because that region does not fall under the area where cleaners are required. Now I am moving to another region just to secure my residence permit.”
Another factor that aggravates marginalization, is that these refugee Muslim women don’t feel like they are in a situation to be “picky”. They are coming from distressed lands and precarious situations and they have no one to support them. This is why they often take whatever comes up regardless of the fact that the jobs being offered are much below their labour market experience, qualification and potential.
Such institutional and structural constraints keep refugees’, particularly Muslim women refugees, economically and culturally distant from the labour market. This aggravates the atmosphere of despair and anxiety, which manifests in loss of faith in the system and a lowered believe in opportunities to achieve better life standards. Structural discrimination causes not only adverse economic sentiments and social exclusion, but also imprints psychological scars. The ingrained discrimination, attitudinal and structural, results in lowering of self-esteem and depreciates the morale.
Secondly, due to misconceptions about Muslim women, particularly those who wear hijab, they are often seen as being passive and oppressed in the hands of religion and men. They are mocked for religious practices and rampantly queried to adapt in to the so-called Finnish norms. The notion of oppression and subjugation in their communities further marginalizes them and depletes opportunities to participate productively in the mainstream society. As a result of this, they become a clear and easy target for hate crimes, whether they are sitting in classrooms or participating in workplaces. In other words, Muslim women are profusely alienized in the host society and stigmatized for their choices. Muslim women experience more vulnerability and discrimination because their identities are coupled with religion.
The exclusion of Muslim women from mainstream society by means of gender, religion and culture reinforces racial inequalities. When Muslims are being expulsed from public spheres and employment opportunities, their abilities and capabilities to assimilate into mainstream society are simultaneously decreased. Moreover, precarious positions in social and economic spheres and their probability of progression are compromised. Therefore, instead of focusing on Muslim womens bodies and their attire in order to liberalize them, it is more important to underline the racialization of gender identities, defaecate islamophobia, and diminish other social hindrances which hamper in the social and economic inclusion of refugee Muslim women in the contemporary Finnish society.
Written by: Fath e Mubeen
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