RRDP: Women fear violence and rape in refugee camps

Study casts light on conditions women endure in refugee camps as they attempt to reach northern Europe.

Idomeni, Greece
The RRDP report said that women face particular dangers as refugees [AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos]

Women in refugee camps live in fear of violence, including rape, according to a report about the adversities female asylum-seekers face in Greece.

The study published on Tuesday by the Refugee Rights Data Project (RRDP) found that women were exposed to dangers including gender-based violence, abuse by authorities, and sexual harassment.

Researchers from the UK-based organisation spoke to more than 300 refugees and aid workers in nine camps and residences late last year.

They found incidences of rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage, and trafficking, with younger refugees particularly affected.

Perpetrators included fellow refugees and volunteers, the study said.

An NGO worker interviewed said that at one informal camp in Athens, virtually no security measures existed to protect women, who were at “constant risk” of sexual violence.

The camps are run by the Greek government and local NGOs, but some are informal and run by refugees themselves.

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More than 46 percent of women told researchers that they did not feel safe living in the camps, and 69 percent said they lived in dwellings that did not have a secure lock.

Many said they were afraid to go to toilets at night, because poor lighting in the camps made them vulnerable to attack.

“I am afraid of the snakes and the rats, the wild pigs … I am afraid of some of the people,” one woman told the researchers.

‘Safe spaces’ required

Marta Welander, RRDP director, told Al Jazeera that European governments should help survivors of abuse and ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to protect refugees in the first place.

“[The report] exposes a critical absence of adequate medical and psychosocial support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and highlights the need for dedicated ‘safe spaces’ within all camps,” she said.

“It is entirely unacceptable that Europe is failing to provide adequate protection and meet minimum standards for vulnerable women and girls.”

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Roland Schoenbauer, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, which provides assistance on the ground to refugees, said the organisation was concerned at reports of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Greece.

“Whenever such reports occur, authorities should proceed with an immediate and thorough investigation,” he said.

“SGBV is closely linked to substandard living conditions in areas accommodating refugees. Many sites were not set up to prevent or respond to such risks, contributing to the increase of risk and vulnerability,” he explained further.

Schoenbauer said local authorities should take “bold action” to prevent such incidents and called for further training to help support workers counsel survivors of abuse.

“UNHCR and partners have developed initiatives such as the Blue Dots to provide a single point for referral to appropriate service providers, safe spaces for women and children, and access to medical and legal services,” he said.

Health problems

In addition to safety, more than three-quarters of the women interviewed said they had experienced health problems since arriving at the camps, with a majority attributing their conditions to the physical and mental strains of living in them.

About 95 percent of women said they had experienced depression, with half saying they felt depressed all the time, according to the RRDP study.

The NGO said residents of the camps lived in unsanitary conditions without access to necessary reproductive health services.

Roughly a quarter of the residents said they did not know where to access services if they became pregnant and 88 percent said they did not where to obtain contraceptives.

After northern European and Balkan states closed off their borders to stop refugees entering their countries, many live in makeshift and formal settlements in Greece, the first EU country they enter.

Their presence has stoked anger from the far-right and left them vulnerable to criminals.

The refugees are mainly concentrated near the Macedonian border and in Athens. 

More than 173,000 people arrived in Greece as refugees in 2016, according to the UNHCR.

Source: Al Jazeera