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.