UN warns of rampant sexual violence in Greek refugee camps

Alex Green — Mail Online Feb 9, 2018

Migrants from Afghanistan clash with Syrians during a food distribution organized by the local football team Olympiacos Piraeus on March 17, 2016 on the pier of the port of Piraeus near Athens, where about 4000 migrants have been stranded for several days. / AFP / PANAYOTIS TZAMAROS        (Photo credit should read PANAYOTIS TZAMAROS/AFP/Getty Images)

Migrants from Afghanistan clash with Syrians during a food distribution organized by a local football team in Athens on March 17, 2016. Click to enlarge

Sexual violence is rampant is Greek refugee camps where bathrooms and latrines have become no-go zones after dark for women and children, the UN has warned.

Asylum seekers suffer widespread sexual violence and harassment in the country’s overcrowded reception centres.

The situations has become so bad in some centres, like Moira on Lesbos and Vathy on Samos, that even bathing during the daytime is a risk.

‘In these two centres, bathrooms and latrines are no-go zones after dahavefor women and children,’ said UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Cecile Pouilly, adding that ‘even bathing during the daytime can be dangerous’.

Pouilly said there is a reluctance to report such violence out of fear, shame and concerns about discrimination, retaliation and stigma.

‘The actual number of incidents is therefore likely to be much higher than reported,’ she told reporters in Geneva, acknowledging that the UN has only a ‘very partial picture of what the reality is.’

In Moira, one woman told UNHCR staff that she had not showered for two months for fear of being attacked.

In 2017 alone, the UNHCR received reports from 622 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence on the Greek islands.

About one third of those said they had been assaulted after arriving in Greece.

These centres are currently holding around 5,500 people – double their capacity, Pouilly added. 

She said an acceleration in recent weeks of transfers to the mainland had slightly reduced overcrowding.

But she warned that even now ‘crowded conditions hinder outreach and prevention activities.’

In Moira, 30 government medical staff, psychologists and social workers are squeezed together in three rooms where they conduct examinations and assessments with little to no privacy, she said.

UNHCR welcomed measures taken by Athens to reduce the violence, but said other steps were needed.

It said, for instance, that women should not be forced to live in close quarters with men they do not know.

The UN agency also called for more efforts to reduce overcrowding and improve lighting in toilet and shower areas, as well as an increased police presence.

The Aegean Sea had been a main point of entry for asylum seekers to Europe, which has been facing its worst migrant crisis since World War II.

But the flow of migrants to Greece has been sharply cut since the EU signed a controversial deal with Turkey in 2016 to send back migrants.

Greece said last month that it still shouldered a ‘disproportionate burden’ of the EU’s asylum applications in 2017, taking 8.5 percent of the bloc’s total requests.

The country of 11 million people recorded 58,661 applications last year, making Greece the European country with the highest number of asylum seekers per capita, according to the Greek Asylum Service.