Violence against migrant and refugee women isn't going away
Violence against migrant and refugee women isn't going away

If you have a migrant background and want to support other migrant and refugee women, training is available to become a counselor providing help to victims of violence.

Soraya Tabatabai has been in Germany for 34 years. Having left Iran in the midst of the war with Iraq, she knows what it means to escape from conflict and try to settle in a foreign country.

A lot of women like Tabatabai, from countries like Syria, Iran or Iraq come to Germany seeking a new life. And like her, they face huge challenges on arrival, not least learning a new language. But many women also have to cope with much more serious problems of sexual violence – by family members or by strangers, sometimes in refugee camps or hostels.

After decades of interactions with migrant women in Hamburg, Soraya Tabatabai felt it was time to help refugee women suffering from violent abuse. In 2016, she became a trained counselor at a service called MiMi (Migrants for Migrants) set up by the National Migrant Health Service (EMZ). 

The MiMi project coordinator in Hamburg, Mine Lavas, says migrants are best able to support refugee women seeking help. “Language and culture-wise, they have better access to them, so they can gain their trust more easily and understand them,” Lavas says. “They understand the role of women in the refugees’ home countries. They know that there’s a different concept of authority there from what we understand in Germany.”

Becoming a MiMi mediator

To become a MiMi mediator, you need to complete an eight-day (about 50-hour) course. Information sessions are held regularly, explaining how to apply and what is involved in the course. Men can also train as mediators.

The course includes education on a range of subjects including migration and asylum, forms and causes of violence, perpetrator tactics and risk factors, rights and legal aspects, and legal processes for women and children. It is not necessary to have previous experience in counseling or domestic violence.

Training sessions are usually held in the evenings and on weekends, and they are free of charge. Having qualified as a MiMi-mediator, you can start helping other women as soon, and as often, as you like. Mediators may participate in a range of ways, including helping to train others mediators or organizing information sessions.

MiMi services are currently offered in Arabic, Albanian, Dari, German, Farsi, Kurdish, Turkish, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, English and French.

EMZ violence prevention booklet

Hard to take the first step

Working with MiMi, it was initially hard to reach out to women who needed help, Tabatabai says. Many refugee women who suffer family violence are illiterate, so it’s almost impossible for them to seek help. And many are too afraid, she says.

“Fear. Fear that the family would be destroyed. That they would have to separate in order to be safe. Often they are dependent on the men for their visa, for their livelihood.”

Tabatabai adds that refugee women invariably have histories of trauma and suffering which sometimes make it even harder to help them out of violent situations. “Depression is the least of their problems. They have much worse mental health issues that have to be dealt with,” she says.

In the future, Soraya Tabatabai wants to see a greater focus not just on helping victims of violence, but on support and education about family violence for migrants as soon as they arrive in the country, rather than when it’s too late.

The MiMi violence prevention project has bases in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Hannover, and at least seven other locations in Germany. There are nearly three hundred mediators. It’s supported by the Federal Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration as well as the state, health insurers and private companies.

Where to go for help

Violence against women support hotline 08000 116 016

Terre de Femmes in Berlin also offers counseling and support. (0)30 4050 469930


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