Mapping Gender Violence Along the Balkan Route: Humanitarian Assemblages, Securitization Policies, and the Experiences of Women Refugees and Migrants

by Laura Charney

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Winner, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights (2020)


Based on the lived experiences of migrants and refugees in Serbia, this paper argues that anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling humanitarian projects and securitization deals are serious sources of violence at the EU-Balkan borderlands. The ways migration management policies that emphasize anti-smuggling and anti-trafficking adversely affect women refugees and migrants highlights inconsistencies in human rights discourses within the refugee regime. The replacement of human rights with humanitarianism perpetuates a state of rightlessness for migrants and refugees, whether in the Balkans or elsewhere, and this complicates our understanding of where human rights violations in the context of migration actually occur.

Caught between the humanitarianization of migration management, international and state bureaucracies, and the borderlands between the EU and non-EU, migrants and refugees in Serbia live in a liminal legal zone that in itself subjects them to political, economic, and social vulnerabilities that we might consider as the gendered violence of regulated rightlessness. Rather than locating the gender violence of migration with a foreign smuggler, as migration policies tend todo, ethnographic data from interviews the author conducted with migrants and refugees in Serbia 2019 reveals that the violence of migration along the Balkan Route can be located in three key areas: through state consent and humanitarian facilitation of human smuggling at the EU border; at the borders through pushbacks and detention; and in the everyday violence of encountering and navigating rightlessness—what the author has called the soft violence of state bureaucracy.

About the author:

Laura Charney is pursing a JD at McGill University. She received her MA in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University in 2020, where her research focused on state power, gendered violence, and the construction of borders. Her paper is based on fieldwork for her MA thesis, which was funded by the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.

Project & Publications Type: Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights, Rapoport Center Working Paper Series