Many women and girls making the perilous journey to Europe to seek asylum in the continent have been subjected to sexual harassment and violence, Amnesty International says.
The human rights organization said in a Monday report that female refugees, especially those traveling alone or accompanied only by children, faced violence and mistreatment at every stage of their journey.
The report was based on interviews last month with 40 women and girls in Germany and Norway who had traveled from Turkey to Greece and then across the Balkans. The interviewees, including refugees from Iraq and Syria, said they felt mainly under threat in Hungary, Croatia and Greece, where they were forced to sleep alongside hundreds of male refugees.
Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees who are fleeing conflict-hit zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. Many blame major European powers for the exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and wars, forcing people out of their homes.
A refugee child sits on a bench inside a registration center on the Greek island of Samos, January 17, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
A large number of the asylum seekers streaming into Europe are male, which leaves the minority women particularly vulnerable, aid workers say.
The female refugees interviewed by Amnesty were reportedly forced to use the same bathroom and shower facilities at camps as men, with some saying they did not eat or drink to avoid having to go to the toilet.
They also complained about harassment by European men. One 22-year-old Iraqi woman said a German security guard offered her clothes in return for spending time alone with him.
Some aid workers say violence against asylum seekers in Europe is difficult to prevent due to an ad hoc system for receiving and registering them.
“One of the challenges we have been facing is that it is taking a long time for the international community, and by that I mean governments, to wake up to this crisis and to realize that it is not something that they can wish away,” said Jenny Becker, a coordinator with the International Rescue Committee in Greece.
According to figures released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than one million refugees reached Europe’s shores in 2015. More than 3,300 people either died or went missing in their hazardous journey to the continent.