Women, children face sexual assault in Greek refugee camps

As refugees remain stranded in Greece, the fear of sexual assault in Greek refugee camps is an everyday reality.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Migrants sleep on the ground outside the former international airport in Athens, currently used as a temporary camp for migrants and refugees, on August 10, 2016.

Children and women in Greek refugee camps are struggling to survive in inhuman conditions where the probabilities of being sexually abused are so high that women fear visiting restrooms alone during the night.

According to human rights groups, the allegedly safe camps, which were built to host refugees trying to reach other EU countries, are dogged reports of sexually abused children.

A camp set up in a former Softex toilet roll factory near the outskirts of Thessaloniki, which hosts 1,400 refugees - mostly Syrian - has a high level of risk of being assault, reports state. 

Refugees in Greece, from Softex camp out of Thessaloniki on 8 August 2016/Getty Images

One volunteer serving at the Softex camp said young girls are often attacked by male gangs. An Iraqi family in particular moved away from the camp after their daughter was assaulted.

“The parents are still in disbelief over what happened. A man from one of the ‘mafia’ groups asked their seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent. She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later the girl described how she was sexually abused. It has scarred a seven-year-old child for life,” the volunteer said.

The camps near Thessaloniki were built after the path to the Balkans was closed and the Idomeni camp near the Macedonian border was evacuated.

Anita Dullard of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Greece told the Guardian that alleged incidents of sexual violence have been forwarded to the UN.

Anna Chiara Nava of Médecins Sans Frontières in Thessaloniki also confirmed the allegations from at least 10 women from the Softex camp.

“It’s really hard for the unaccompanied minors – 16- and 17-years-olds – to survive. It’s the survival of the fittest in there. In the evening and night it’s impossible to find them [children] because they are hiding in the tents. The women are afraid. They complain that during the night and evening they cannot go to the toilet alone. They have all heard of reports of others being attacked,” said Nava.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that the issue of security in the camp is one of their main concerns.

However, the government coordinator for the refugee crisis in Greece, Giorgos Kyritsis, denied the allegations.

Greece tries to relieve overwhelmed islands

Around 57,000 refugees are stranded in Greece and around 10,300 of them live in five Greek islands which are extremely overcrowded.

For that reason, Greece has decided to build new camps which will host around 1,000 people each. Refugees now feel frustrated over the fact that they are stranded on the islands.

“We are facing a lot of problems on the islands. People feel trapped and disillusion is growing. They came very close to materialising their dream of reaching Europe but it didn’t happen,” an official told Reuters.

“We are moving to a decongestion process while speeding up the processing of asylum requests,” the official said. “The new facilities will be better, more permanent, smaller dwellings.”

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, refugees caught at sea will be returned to Turkey. This reduced the amount of refugees trying to cross to Europe by boat.

But the problem is yet to be solved as the number of asylum seekers is again rising. In the first two weeks of July, 560 refugees reached the islands while in August that number increased to 1,400.

According to an EU plan, refugees will be relocated to other European countries. But this plan has not yet been implemented.

TRTWorld and agencies