Female refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq have faced violence, assault, exploitation and sexual harassment at many stages of their journey through Europe, a report released by Amnesty International said.
Forty female refugees in Germany and Norway who travelled through Europe were interviewed by Amnesty International last month. They described their journey as threatening and unsafe, with some reporting they experienced physical abuse, financial exploitation, groping or pressured to have sex with smugglers, staff or other refugees.
Rania, a 19 year old pregnant woman from Syria, told Amnesty International about her experience in Hungary, saying police moved them to a place full of cages with no air coming in.
“We were locked up,” she said.
Amnesty International’s crisis response director, Tirana Hassan, said the women and their children have fled some of the world’s most dangerous areas and it’s “shameful” that they are still at risk on European soil and stated that governments "must up their game."
A dozen women interviewed said that they had been touched, stroked or stared at in European transit camps, the report said.
It mentioned several women being beaten or verbally abused by security officers in Greece, Hungary and Slovenia in particular.
Reem, a 20 year old Syrian woman, told Amnesty International that the tents they stayed in were all gender mixed and she had witnessed violence, "I felt safer on the bus, the only place i could shut my eyes and sleep."
Smugglers would often try to coerce women who lacked the financial resources to pay for their journey. A uniformed security guard offered to give a 22 year old Iraqi woman some clothes in exchange for "spending time alone" with him, the woman reported.
Hassan said the best way to avoid abuse and exploitation by smugglers is for European governments to allow safe and legal routes from the outset.
Nahla, a 20 year old Syrian refugee, told Amnesty International that a smuggler was "harassing" her. "He tried to touch me a couple of times, i was very afraid, especially that we hear stories along the way of women who can’t afford the smugglers."
The report said that pregnant women in particular found little or no support. Women reported that toilet facilities were often squalid and they felt unsafe as some sanitary facilities were not segregated by sex.
"Police attacked everyone with sticks, they even hit younger kids, they hit me on the head, i got dizzy and fell," Maryam, a 16 year old from Syria, told Amnesty International.
"It is completely unacceptable that their passage across Europe exposes them to further humiliation, uncertainty and insecurity,” said Tirana Hassan.