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Conditions worsen for refugee women in Greece

Lesbos Refugee Camp Aviva 10 5 18
Women and children at the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

Women trapped in Greek refugee camps are dealing with squalid conditions and the constant threat of sexualized violence, according to a report released Thursday by Amnesty International. The findings come amidst the continued rise of anti-immigrant extremism in Europe, and the increased targeting of aid volunteers by law enforcement agencies.

“I spend most of the time in the container because I don’t feel safe,” one Syrian woman told Amnesty. “I never go out at night and I don’t allow my children to stay on their own outside, even if it’s close by. The police do not intervene. They don’t want to know what’s happening here. No one is protecting us.”

In Greece, the migrant crisis is still in full flux. As of September 21, nearly 20,000 migrants were living in camps on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Kos and others. In interviews with Amnesty International, women living in the camps described the perilous and difficult journeys they took to escape war and poverty, and the brutal realities of what they encountered when they finally arrived on European soil.

The camps are severely overcrowded, plagued with mice, rats, and the presence of raw sewage. Some pregnant women are forced to sleep on the floor, and many find it impossible to keep clean when they have their periods. Residents also said the camps are extremely dangerous, with women and gender and sexual minorities especially fearful that they could be assaulted or raped. Survivors of gender-based violence don’t have sufficient access to support services, and the barriers to family reunification are exacerbating women’s anxiety and depression, according to the report.

The rise of anti-immigrant extremism in Europe has only accelerated over the past year. In June, the Italian interior minister refused to allow a boat crowded with hundreds of rescued migrants to dock, forcing the ship to reroute to Spain. In August, mobs roamed the streets of the east German city of Chemnitz, on the prowl for “foreign-looking” people to attack. And in September, the far-right populist Sweden Democrats won 18 percent of the vote, making it the third most popular political party in the country.  

Meanwhile, European states have also begun targeting volunteers and political leaders who assist migrants in need. Citizens in Italy, Spain and Greece have been charged with human trafficking and other criminal offenses simply for aiding migrants, including for rescuing people who were at risk of drowning. In the U.K., 15 activists who locked themselves to a charter plane in March 2017 to prevent the deportation of migrants have been charged with terrorism and are now on trial. If convicted, they could face life in prison.  

Amnesty International identifies two key factors — the March 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey, which mandated that new migrants who arrive in Greece and fail to qualify for asylum are deported to Turkey, in addition to ever-more restrictive European asylum laws — as the two key factors that have put so many migrant women in danger.

“European leaders should welcome their fair share of people fleeing violence and persecution,” states the report, even as it appears that the anti-immigrant political climate in Europe will only get worse. “Failure to do so is not only failing people in urgent need of protection, it is also failing the people of Europe more widely who are losing confidence in their governments’ ability to stand by the EU’s founding human rights principles.”

More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, International, Violence against women
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