The SEREDA project: Highlighting the continuum of SGBV in forced migration

Over 82 million people were forcibly displaced in 2020. Female forced migrants face specific vulnerabilities, but men, boys, gender and sexual minorities are also vulnerable. Risks include heightened exposure to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including structural and interpersonal violence

The SEREDA project examines the nature of SGBV experienced by forced migrants and mechanisms needed to improve protection and support from SGBV-related trauma. Funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, with additional support from Lansons, the project is led by the University of Birmingham with the University of Melbourne, Bilkent University and Uppsala University, Women’s Refugee Commission and other NGO partners. Between 2018-2021 indepth interviews were undertaken in the UK, Turkey, Tunisia, Sweden and Australia with 107 service providers and 168 survivors from the MENA and SubSaharan African regions. This brief outlines findings from the interviews, focusing on interactions between SGBV, mobility and immigration and asylum systems.

The continuum of SGBV experiences

The majority of respondents experienced repeated SGBV incidents inflicted by different perpetrators over time and place. Survivors outlined a continuum of violence running from pre-displacement, through conflict, transit and refuge wherein different forms of violence intertwined. An intensification of interpersonal violence was reported post-conflict, in flight and in countries of refuge with an increased vulnerability to harm resulting from immigration and asylum policies. Some types of violence were more commonly recounted in particular contexts and in relation to survivors from particular regions

Gendered harms along the continuum of violence

Despite heightened risks of violence and prevalence of SGBV while mobile, survivors lacked access to protection and healthcare services post-exposure to violence across forced migration pathways in both transit and detention. They reported the absence of support services while mobile and barriers to access post-exposure contraception or prophylaxis. Most survivors received no medical screening upon arrival to countries of refuge and continued suffering from SGBV-related health problems. Violence resulted in trauma including physical and psychological harms. Organisations in refuge countries lacked a formal definition capable of capturing experiences across the continuum of violence which limited systematic data to enable development of evidence-based interventions.

Service providers and survivors reported that risk and violence continued in countries of refuge, albeit in different forms. Gender insensitive asylum systems often perpetuated, reinforced or even introduced new harms. Asylum processes were said to re-traumatise or exacerbate existing traumas, making respondents relive their experiences during lengthy, sometimes aggressive, asylum interviews. Restricted access to welfare services reduced access to health, housing and other support services. Failed asylum seekers and migrants with irregular status experienced destitution, and homelessness compounding trauma and increasing risks of victimisation. Heightened psychological distress in refuge affected survivors’ ability to trust, build social connections and develop language skills. Four interactions between SGBV, asylum and immigration systems were identified:

  • Encouraging violent dependency - Asylum systems encouraged dependency on perpetrators
  • Traumatic asylum processes – Asylum procedures exacerbated the impacts of pre-arrival SGBV
  • Unstable and unsafe housing – Lack of, and inappropriate, shelter increased risks of SGBV
  • Limited SGBV sensitivities and capacities - Lack of SGBV and migrant-health knowledge among service providers was a common theme


  • Recognise that violence extends beyond conflict into flight and refuge with survivors often encountering multiple experiences and introduce appropriate actions in SGBV programming.
  • Introduce measures to enhance pre-exposure protection and access to post-exposure services (healthcare, contraception, prophylaxis) for forced migrants on the move.
  • Adapt a survivor-centred approach to case management for survivors in transit and immigration settings. y Encourage states to end immigration regulations that enable violent dependency.
  • Recognise the potential for asylum systems to generate trauma and expose survivors to further harms working with them to introduce gendersensitive systems which protect survivors.
  • Provide guidance on how to introduce a traumainformed approach into asylum systems.
  • Fund specialist support for SGBV survivors in countries of refuge.
  • Ensure interventions and staff are culturally competent and do no harm to survivors.


Professor Jenny Phillimore (University of Birmingham)

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