Refugee women, children face risk of sexual violence on Greek islands: UNHCR

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GENEVA - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said Friday it is very concerned by reports from asylum seekers of sexual harassment and violence in sub-standard reception centers on the Greek islands. UNHCR spokesperson Cecile Pouilly said at UN media briefing: "This is despite welcomed government measures to address overcrowding and dire living conditions." 

In 2017, UNHCR received reports from 622 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) on the Greek Aegean islands, out of which at least 28 percent experienced SGBV after arriving in Greece. Women reported inappropriate behavior, sexual harassment and attempted sexual attacks as the most common forms of SGBV. 

"The situation is particularly worrying in the Reception and Identification Centers (RIC) of Moria, on Lesvos and Vathy on Samos, where thousands of refugees continue to stay in unsuitable shelter with inadequate security," said Pouilly. 

Some 5,500 people are in these centers, which is double their intended capacity. Reports of sexual harassment in Moria are particularly high, said the UN spokesperson. In these centers, bathrooms and latrines are no-go zones after dark for women or children, unless they are accompanied. Even bathing during day time can be dangerous. In Moria, one woman told our teams that she had not taken a shower in two months from fear, she said. 

Moreover, identifying and helping survivors is hampered by a reluctance to report assaults out of fear, shame, helplessness, concerns about discrimination, stigma and retaliation, and insufficient trust to open up, said Pouilly. 

That reluctance to reports extends UNHCR and medical and mental health experts from national services. The actual number of incidents is therefore likely to be much higher than reported, said the spokesperson. 

"Thanks to recent accelerated transfers to the mainland by the authorities, overcrowding has slightly reduced over the past weeks," she noted. Pouilly added that the UNHCR will continue to work with and support the Greek government to strengthen its operational response and build capacity as well as to prevent SGBV. 


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