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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Women's Health 1/2018

Life on the margins: the experiences of sexual violence and exploitation among Eritrean asylum-seeking women in Israel

BMC Women's Health > Ausgabe 1/2018
Tsega Gebreyesus, Zebib Sultan, Habtom M. Ghebrezghiabher, Wietse A. Tol, Peter J. Winch, Nadav Davidovitch, Pamela J. Surkan
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12905-018-0624-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Eritrean migrants in Israel, the majority of whom are seeking asylum, have limited access to institutional support. While the temporary group protection granted to Eritreans by Israel ensures that they are not deported, it does not confer permanent legal status, nor does it allow access to the formal work sector. This study qualitatively explores how political and economic marginalization increases the risk of sexual and other forms of violence as well as the exploitation of Eritrean women asylum seekers living in Israel.


Twenty-five interviews with key informants, twelve individual interviews (six with men and six with women), and eight focus group discussions (four with men and four with women) were conducted among Eritreans of reproductive age in Tel Aviv, Israel. Qualitative data analysis was conducted using open, focused, and axial coding.


Participants reported that Israel’s restrictive immigration policies laid the foundation for the political and economic marginalization of asylum seekers. This manifested in limited access to institutional support during and after arrival, and hindered access to formal employment and its associated protections. The Israeli government’s decision to grant provisional status with a stipulation banning Eritreans from the formal work sector was perceived to create direct and indirect conditions for a heightened sense of structural vulnerability, particularly for women. Participants reported that this structural vulnerability increased the risk of sexual and domestic violence in addition to the risk for the exploitation of women asylum seekers.


Israel’s immigration policies may contribute to women asylum seekers’ vulnerability to sexual violence upon arrival in their host country. These policies shape the social realities of women asylum seekers, potentially increasing their risk of violence and exploitation during their time in Israel. This study provides an example of the effects of political and economic marginalization on violence against women, a concept that may apply to other settings globally.
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