Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Women refugees face assault, exploitation and sexual harassment journeying through Europe

These women and girls have fled war in Syria and Iraq, walked for days across  hostile terrains, put their lives in the hands of ruthless traffickers, crossed seas on flimsy dinghies and finally made it to Europe.  Safe at last? No, these women and girls who have fled some of the world’s most dangerous areas, faced assault, exploitation and sexual harassment at every stage of their entire journey, including on European soil, according to a new report by Amnesty International released this week.

Amnesty interviewed 40 refugee women and girls in Germany and Norway last month. They had travelled from Turkey to Greece and then across the Balkans. All the women, who had endured the horror of war in their countries, said they felt threatened and unsafe during the journey. Many reported that in almost all of the countries they passed through, they experienced physical abuse and financial exploitation, being groped or pressured to have sex by smugglers, security staff or other refugees. 

“Nobody should have to take these dangerous routes in the first place. The best way to avoid abuses and exploitation by smugglers is for European governments to allow safe and legal routes from the outset. For those who have no other choice, it is completely unacceptable that their passage across Europe exposes them to further humiliation, uncertainty and insecurity, says Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan said:

Women and girls travelling alone and those accompanied only by their children felt particularly under threat in transit areas and camps in Hungary, Croatia and Greece, where they were forced to sleep alongside hundreds of refugee men, according to the report. In some instances women left the designated areas to sleep in the open on the beach because they felt safer there. 

Women also reported having to use the same bathroom and shower facilities as men. One woman told Amnesty that in a reception center in Germany, some refugee men would watch women as they went to the bathroom. Some women took extreme measures such as not eating or drinking to avoid having to go to the toilet where they felt unsafe. 

It is shameful that governments and aid agencies cannot give basic protection to these women and girls who have risked everything to find safety in Europe. It seems extraordinary that they cannot provide at the very least single-sex toilets and safe sleeping areas.  

Monday, 4 January 2016

2015 - another deadly year for journalists

The passing year has been another deadly one for journalists, with at least 109 journalists and media staff killed in targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents, according to the annual report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).   Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’ annual round-up puts the figure at 110 – in addition to 27 citizen-journalists also killed in 2015.  In total, 787 journalists have been killed since 2005, according to RSF.

The very high number of journalists killed in 2015 (although there was a slight drop from 2014) reflects the increasingly deliberate use of violence against journalists. It is also indicative of the failure of initiatives designed to protect journalists and of the near absolute impunity for such crimes.

2015 was marked, in particular, by an increase in targeted terrorist attacks against journalists. French journalists paid a disproportionately high price when terrorists gunned down media workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In the United States, the killing by a disgruntled ex-employee of two former colleagues at US TV WDBJ in Virginia took place in front of a global TV audience during a live transmission.

The IFJ 2015 list names the 109 journalists and media staff killed across 30 countries, together with 3 who died of accidental deaths.

This year, the killing of journalists in the Americas topped the toll, at 27 dead. For the second year in a row, the Middle East comes second, with 25 deaths. Asia Pacific comes third, with 21– a drop on last year due to the big fall in violence in Pakistan. Africa is in fourth place with 19 dead, followed by Europe with 16.

In response to the increasing violence against journalists, Jim Boumelha, IFJ President, is calling for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of UN agencies to enforce international laws protecting journalists. “The attacks in Paris shocked the world and put on the world stage the tragedy of the drip-drip slaughter of journalists worldwide, which are today the only professional group that pays so dearly for just doing the job… Journalism is put daily to the sword in many regions of the world, where extremists, drug lords and reckless warring factions continue murdering journalists with impunity.”

The Federation is urging the UN to take concrete measures through its Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists and take a strong stand against impunity for crimes targeting journalists. The IFJ ran a three-week campaign this year to hold governments accountable for the lack of investigation of crimes against journalists, which leads to the erosion of freedom of expression across the world.