No Where To Turn: Children As Young As Four Brutually Raped in Greek Refugee Camp

A child carries a blanket at the makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-​Macedonian border last March.​ ​(Photo: AF​P​ / Guardian UK)

“I told myself, ‘Look at yourself – you came to Europe, what was your aim?’ I am not doing this because I like it but I don’t have the money, I don’t have a choice.”

Those are the words of one of many refugee children forced into selling sex to survive in Greece, where a four-year-old girl is among those raped in camps that were supposed to afford them protection.

A study by Harvard University is warning of a “growing epidemic” of sexual exploitation and abuse in the country, which houses 62,000 asylum seekers stranded by the EU-Turkey deal and border closures through Europe. “We had a case of a four-year-old girl who was raped,” a psychologist at a camp in Athens told researchers. “The mother did whatever was possible to report it.”

But aid workers and officials say there is often nowhere to turn, with victims trapped in camps with their abusers too frightened to go to police or authorities, who frequently lack interpreters and specialists. The absence of arrests can lead asylum seekers to take violent retribution. In one Greek camp, a man who had already married one child raped another underage girl, and was badly beaten by other migrants. Aid workers told the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of criminal gangs “thriving” in squalid camps, where many refugees have been living for more than a year, and terrorizing victims into silence.

“Having endured the risks of sexual violence or having experienced sexual violence during their journey, migrant children suffer from the fear of sexual abuse in a place that should have guaranteed them safety and protection,” the report said. It found that “weak or non-existent” structures leave children at heightened danger, with reports of sexual assault rising while gangs blackmail minors and threaten to send humiliating photos to their families.

“A man from one of the ‘mafia’ groups asked a couple’s seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent,” a doctor told researchers. “She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later, the girl described how she was sexually abused.”

In one government-run camp, in a former Softex toilet roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, aid organizations claim that the level of risk of sexual attack is so acute that women are too afraid to visit the camp toilets alone at night. One volunteer serving at the Softex camp, which holds 1,400 mostly Syrian refugees, alleged that some young girls had been effectively groomed by male gangs. He said an Iraqi family had to be moved to emergency accommodation outside the camp after their daughter was attacked.

Rape and sexual assault is feared to be significantly underreported because of the fear of retribution and stigma, while administrative backlogs can cause long delays before victims can be moved away from their abusers.

The EU-Turkey deal has left thousands of children detained among 13,000 migrants in overcrowded island camps, despite concerns from the UN over unsafe conditions, seeing several refugees die of hypothermia and killed in fires over the winter. Charities previously warned of rising self-harm and attempted suicide in detention centers and elsewhere in Greece, where at least one asylum seeker has killed himself this year amid rising desperation to escape.

Smugglers in Greece, Italy and elsewhere in Europe are known to force refugees including children into prostitution to pay “debts”, while migrants are also resorting to “survival sex” for food and shelter, or to raise money to leave Greece.

“This can be children who are unaccompanied, or it can be women who come here without a husband or person to protect them,” says Eleni Kotsoni, a psychologist at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Athens. Refugee women can make “deals” with men from their home countries in exchange for safety inside detention camps, where overcrowding, outbreaks of violence and a lack of security and facilities leave them vulnerable.

In Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities, refugees tend to live in open camps or informal settlements, where adolescents may be preyed on by older men. Children desperate to raise money or find shelter also seek to sell sex themselves, particularly in notorious parks in Athens where they wait to be approached by pedophiles.

The Harvard study found that the purchasers of migrant child sex were mainly men over 35, while children engaging in “survival sex” are mainly teenage boys, particularly from Afghanistan. Some purchasers demand children to accompany them to their homes or meet at a hotel, the report said, while others insist on having sex in a park such as the notorious Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares) in Athens. The report also found prices “rarely exceed €15 (£13) per exchange”. With smugglers hiking fees as borders and fences have gone up across Europe, prospects of escaping Greece are fading.

Children at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens. A report says the European commission should insist on a child protection officer for every site. (Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Aid workers expect the situation to worsen as refugees remain trapped in Greece for ever-lengthening periods and relocation programs including a British scheme are scrapped. Within the first 10 months of 2016, more than 10,400 children applied for asylum in Greece, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern and north African nations, creating huge backlogs in an unprepared system. But by the end of the year only 2,413 migrant children – 11 per cent of those stranded in the country – had been successfully relocated to other European countries despite 160,000 slots being promised.

​Marleen Korthals Altes, a senior child protection adviser at Save the Children, said the closure of borders through the Balkans route had increased the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Ms Korthals Altes said that although child protection is heavily legislated in Greece, laws are “inconsistently applied” by overwhelmed authorities, adding: “The policies and the practices are different.”

The Harvard report identified six major risk factors needing to be urgently addressed – the lack of children’s facilities, risky living conditions inside camps, unsupervised mixing of migrant adults and children, under-resourced child protection systems, a lack of coordination among authorities and a “radically inadequate” relocation scheme.

Its authors, Vasileia Digidiki and Jacqueline Bhabha, concluded that EU policies were exacerbating risks by forcing the youngest and most vulnerable refugees to turn to smugglers and take desperate measure to meet their extortionate fees.

While more migrants are dying in treacherous attempts to reach Europe than ever before, political will to help survivors is waning, they noted, adding: “National and international stakeholders should come together to ensure adequate prevention measures, as well as to create safe and legal paths to migration for migrant children in acute need of protection.”

Sources & Recommended…
Four-Year-Old Girl Among Refugees Raped in Greece as Thousands of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Camps -By Lizzie Dearden | The Independent
‘Sexual Assaults on Children’ at Greek Refugee Camps -By Matthew Townsend | The Guardian
RRDP: Women Fear Violence and Rape in Refugee Camps | Al Jazeera
New Report: Emergency Within an Emergency, Exploitation of Migrant Children in Greece | Report

Advertisements

Deportation of Gay Man to Uganda Deferred…For Now | HuffPost

Robert Segwanyi

A Ugandan man in Britain who says he is gay and a victim of torture has had his deportation from the UK deferred at the last minute after fears that he could face persecution on his arrival back.

A human rights organization had petitioned Kenya Airways to stop the deportation which was due to take place at 20:00 on Thursday at Heathrow airport, after the Home Office said he had no right to remain in the country.

“Robert’s removal was deferred by the Home Office in a message to his lawyer less than a hour before he was due to be flown to Kampala. An earlier request to a judge for an injunction to stop the removal was refused,” his campaigners said on Thursday.

“This is a battle victory – but we have not won the war. The Home Office can still refuse to accept the fresh evidence and his asylum claim and issue new removal instructions. However his supporters will fight this and will argue that Robert’s mental state and his post-traumatic stress means he should be released from detention, as well as that his claim must be given a proper hearing.”

Campaigners and lawyers had argued that Segwanyi would face harsh measures, including ‘mob justice’ if he is sent back to his homeland.

Excerpt, read: Britain Defers Deportation of ‘Gay Man’ To Uganda After Petition | HuffPost UK

UNHCR: 80% of World Refugees in Developing Countries

Pakistanian refugees: Pakistan, Iran and Syria have the largest refugee populations at 1.9 million, 1.1 million and 1 million respectively (Photo: AP).

A UNHCR report released on World Refugee Day (June 20th) reveals deep imbalance in international support for the world’s forcibly displaced, with a full four-fifths of the world’s refugees being hosted by developing countries – and at a time of rising anti-refugee sentiment in many industrialized ones.

UNHCR’s 2010 Global Trends report shows that many of the world’s poorest countries are hosting huge refugee populations, both in absolute terms and in relation to the size of their economies. Pakistan, Iran and Syria have the largest refugee populations at 1.9 million, 1.1 million and 1 million respectively.

Pakistan also has the biggest economic impact with 710 refugees for each US dollar of its per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product), followed by Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya with 475 and 247 refugees respectively. By comparison, Germany, the industrialized country with the largest refugee population (594,000 people), has 17 refugees for each dollar of per capita GDP.

Overall, the picture presented by the 2010 report is of a drastically changed protection environment to that of 60 years ago when the UN refugee agency was founded. At that time UNHCR’s caseload was 2.1 million Europeans, uprooted by World War Two. Today, UNHCR’s work extends to more than 120 countries and encompasses people forced to flee across borders as well as those in flight within their own countries.

The 2010 Global Trends report shows that 43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide – roughly equalling the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea, or of Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined. Within this total are 15.4 million refugees (10.55 million under UNHCR’s care and 4.82 million registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), 27.5 million people displaced within their own country by conflict, and nearly 850,000 asylum-seekers, nearly one fifth of them in South Africa alone.

Particularly distressing are the 15,500 asylum applications by unaccompanied or separated children, most of them Somali or Afghan. The report does not cover displacement seen during 2011, including from Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Syria.

“In today’s world there are worrying misperceptions about refugee movements and the international protection paradigm,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialized countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration. Meanwhile, it’s poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.”

Reflecting the prolonged nature of several of today’s major international conflicts, the report finds that the refugee experience is becoming increasingly drawn-out for millions of people worldwide. UNHCR defines a protracted refugee situation as one in which a large number of people are stuck in exile for five years or longer.

In 2010, and of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 7.2 million people were in such a situation – more than at any time since 2001. Meanwhile only 197,600 people were able to return home, the lowest number since 1990.

Some refugees have been in exile for more than 30 years. Afghans, who first fled the Soviet invasion in 1979, accounted for a third of the world’s refugees in both 2001 and in 2010. Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Sudanese were also among the top 10 nationalities of refugees at both the start and end of the decade.

“One refugee without hope is too many,” said High Commissioner Guterres. “The world is failing these people, leaving them to wait out the instability back home and put their lives on hold indefinitely. Developing countries cannot continue to bear this burden alone and the industrialized world must address this imbalance. We need to see increased resettlement quotas. We need accelerated peace initiatives in long-standing conflicts so that refugees can go home.”

Despite the low level of refugee returns last year, the situation for people displaced within their own countries – so-called internally displaced people, or IDPs – showed some movement. In 2010, more than 2.9 million IDPs returned home in countries including Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan. Nonetheless even with these return levels, at 27.5 million people the global number of internally displaced was the highest in a decade.

A further but harder-to-quantify group that UNHCR cares for is stateless people, or people lacking the basic safety net of a nationality. The number of countries reporting stateless populations has increased steadily since 2004, but differences in definitions and methodologies still prevent reliable measurement of the problem.

In 2010, the reported number of stateless people (3.5 million) was nearly half of that in 2009, but mainly due to methodological changes in some countries that supply data. Unofficial estimates put the global number closer to 12 million. UNHCR will be launching a worldwide campaign in August this year to bring better attention to the plight of the world’s stateless and to accelerate action to help them.

Reprint: UNHCR Finds 80 Percent of World Refugees in Developing Countries