Female refugees face violence, sexual exploitation and harassment as they make their journey from Syria and Iraq to Europe, Amnesty International said in a report released Monday.
The report comes as anti-refugee sentiment throughout Europe is fueled the sexual assaults of dozens of women at New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany, by alleged asylum seekers. So far only one person, an asylum seeker from Algeria, has been charged in connection with the assaults.
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Amnesty accuses governments and aid agencies of not doing enough to protect women and girls seeking asylum.
“After living through the horrors of the war in Iraq and Syria these women have risked everything to find safety for themselves and their children. But from the moment they begin this journey they are again exposed to violence and exploitation, with little support or protection,” Crisis Response director Tirana Hassan said in a statement.
According to Amnesty, refugee women say they are being victimized by smugglers, security guard and male asylum seekers.
“At the hotel in Turkey, one of the men working with the smuggler, a Syrian man, said if I sleep with him, I will not pay or pay less. Of course I said no, it was disgusting,” Amnesty quoted 23-year-old Hala, from Aleppo, Syria as saying.
“My friend who came with me from Syria ran out of money in Turkey, so the smuggler’s assistant offered her to have sex with him [in exchange for a place on a boat]; she of course said no, and couldn’t leave Turkey, so she’s staying there.”
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While some women described the threats they faced from smugglers, others said they lived in fear of the male asylum seekers, police, and security officers they were forced to share space with in transit camps.
“They hit me on my arm with a stick. They even hit younger kids. They hit everyone even on the head. I got dizzy and I fell, people were stepping on me. I was crying and was separated from my mother,” 16-year-old Maryam from Syria told Amnesty of the situation she experienced in Greece.
“I felt safer in movements, especially on the bus, the only place I could shut my eyes and sleep. In the camps we are so prone to being touched, and women can’t really complain and they don’t want to cause issues to disrupt their trip,” 20-year-old Reem from Syria told Amnesty.
“I never got the chance to sleep in settlements. I was too scared that anyone would touch me. The tents were all mixed and I witnessed violence.”
“If this humanitarian crisis was unfolding anywhere else in the world we would expect immediate practical steps to be taken to protect groups most at risk of abuse, such as women travelling alone and female-headed families,” Amnesty’s Hassan said.
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“More steps need to be taken to ensure that refugee women, especially those most at risk, are identified and special processes and services are put in place to ensure that their basic rights, safety and security are protected.”
Amnesty is not alone in calling for more measures to be taken to protect female refugees on their way to Europe — where more than a million refugees and migrants fled to last year.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees raised the same concerns in October, noting 34 per cent of those who had arrived in Europe by sea were women and children.