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Keep The Borders Open!

20 November 2015

This week WILPF has participated in the delegation of theNobel Women’s Initiative #WomenRefugeesWelcome for  a fact-finding mission to the Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. The aim was see first hand what travelling the’ Balkans’ route to Western Europe, was really like for those feeling conflict, and to understand better what support civic and humanitarian groups need in responding to the urgent needs of refugees.

The majority of the thousands of women, men and children passing through every day are fleeing extreme violence and extreme poverty. They are fleeing countries that have been destabilized by; weapons exports, direct military invasion, drone strikes, adventures in ‘regime change’, engagement in proxy wars, economic exploitation, and the coveting of natural resources. The thousands passing through every day are principally seeking safety and stability, they reject war, radicalization and the extremism Europe wants to find a solution for. There is a common goal and they are not the enemy.

The women and men we met all have their personal stories of leaving everything behind, embarking on an extreme and dangerous journey, jeopardizing their lives to find security. Many of them have been traveling for weeks, for months. These thousands of women, men and children now face the possibility of Europe closing its borders. In many countries: Bulgaria, Slovenia and Hungary they are already met with wired fences, armed forces, police brutality, attacks and rejection. Fortunately, this is not the case everywhere and on our journey, we witnessed an amazing humanity from local communities, volunteers and organisations and also a coordinated dignified and human Government lead response in Croatia. These are leading examples of where support should be strengthened.

However, new policies and practices are put in place every day, making it extremely hard to get access to information. So far the EU has not been able to ensure a coordinated response for safe passage of refugees, which inevitable lead to a growing war economy of smugglers, middlemen, and others taking advantage of their desperate situation.

Today the EU interior and justice ministers are meeting in Brussels for an emergency meeting to discuss tightening of the European borders as an emergency measure after the attacks in Paris. The ministers will agree to “implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement,” according to draft conclusions. Reports also show that Macedonia has lead the way in refusing to allow entry to any but Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. Not only is this a clear violation of the Refugee Convention, and human rights law, it is also short-sighted, dangerous and counter productive. Many refugees will be trapped between borders with no way of moving in either direction. They will have no choice but to seek to cross borders illegally. How can borders of thousands of kilometres be effectively policed? The result will be unregistered and therefore ‘illegal asylum seekers” (and there is no such concept in law!) hiding out in Europe. There are direct possibilities of re foulement (being sent back) to the country of origin with potential horrific consequences.

WILPF urges the politicians of the EU to show real leadership. So far, save for those in Sweden and Angel Merkel of Germany they have singularly failed to do so. In their panic, they break laws, destroy values and put at risk thousands of people whose lives they have failed to protect by their failed policies in the Middle East, in particular in Syria and Iraq. Number one is that they must not close the borders. They must progress the Vienna talks, pass resolutions at the Security Council, which address not just ISIL but the barrel bombs of the regime. This will give hope to the refugees that there may be some seriousness to the process. They should increase financial support to refugees in neighbouring countries and prevent the desperation that forces refugees to take the terrible choice of risking everything to survive. 92% of those coming form Syria want to go home but cannot until there is peace.

Do that as a start . There is more, much more that needs to be done and which would make economic and political sense, as well as ensuring compliance with law. ‪We need our leaders to do better.

We echo the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams in saying “We must not let what happened in Paris be used to encourage fear, xenophobia and intolerance”. We have been here before, in 1938, let us not repeat our failure.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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