The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says it is concerned by credible testimonies it has received of abuse of refugee and migrant women and children on the move in Europe.
So far in 2015, more than 644 000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea. Of these, about 34 per cent are women and children. In addition to the reported risks and abuse they face during the journey before arriving on Europe’s shores, women and children are also confronted with numerous risks in their onward movement through Europe, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said on October 23.
Refugee and migrant children moving in Europe are at heightened risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, especially in overcrowded reception sites, or in many locations where refugees and migrants gather, such as parks, train stations, bus stations and roadsides, the UNHCR said.
“From testimony and reports we have received there have been instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey, either because they have run out money, or because they have been robbed.
“Unaccompanied children can be particularly vulnerable as they lack the protection and care of an adult. They may also be placed in detention in some countries, including with adults, posing great risks to them,” Fleming said.
Refugee and migrant women travelling on their own are also at heightened risk as they move through Europe, sometimes at night, along insecure routes or staying in places that lack basic security. Many reception centres are overcrowded, and lack adequate lighting and separated spaces for single women and families with children.
“UNHCR appeals to all concerned national authorities in Europe to take measures to ensure the protection of women and girls, including through providing adequate and safe reception facilities,” Fleming said.
The UNHCR also called on authorities, as a matter of urgency, to find alternatives to the detention of children.
The UNHCR and partners are working to prevent and address immediately family separations, as women and girls on their own face enhanced risks, Fleming said.
“Together with partners we are also working with authorities to ensure access to information, to enhance the identification of persons with specific needs, including unaccompanied children, and their referral to appropriate services, to provide psychosocial support and to enhance reception areas, including through the provision of safe spaces,” she said.
(Photo: UNHCR/S. Baltagiannis)