UN Agency Says Sexual Violence Threat in Greece Refugee Camps

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

ATHENS – With human rights groups saying conditions at refugee centers and camps is worsening, the United Nations refugee agency said separate housing and washing facilities for women and children should be set up to prevent sexual violence.

The UNHCR said it had reports from about 180 camp residents who say they have suffered some form of sexual or gender-based violence after arriving in Greece.

A UNHCR statement said the situation is particularly worrying in the crowded refugee camps of Moria on Lesbos and Vathy on Samos, where toilets and washing facilities are “no-go zones” after dark for unaccompanied women and children who fear they will be attacked.

The report said one woman at Moria had not showered for two months for fear of attack and the agency said the government should do more to protect residents of refugee camps and detention centers, echoing cries from other activists.

With migrant and refugee arrivals to Greek islands doubling since August, 2017, conditions at the detention centers and camps holding them are getting worse although a mild winter has kept people from freezing.

Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said as many as 180 are arriving daily despite a European Union swap deal with Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to operate and is supposed to take back those declared ineligible for asylum.

The arrangement was suspended almost as soon as it began two years ago after the EU closed its doors to the newcomers, dumping the problem on Greece during a crushing economic crisis, leading most of the more than 64,000 abandoned, including some 15,000 on the islands to seek asylum, overwhelming the authorities.

While most are refugees from Syria’s civil war, arrivals from other countries such as Pakistan and Africa and Iraq and Afghanistan generally fall into the category of economic migrants who aren’t welcome in Europe.

The increase in arrivals from Turkey has resulted “in a bad situation again” on the islands of the eastern Aegean that host migrant reception and processing centers, Mouzalas admitted, saying he’s still trying to improve conditions.

Overcrowding, and anger and frustration at the long-delayed asylum process has led to violence and clashes with riot police guarding the facilities and led island officials and residents to demand all the refugees and migrants be moved to the mainland.

Mouzalas, who has allowed thousands of the most vulnerable to be moved, said he can’t allow wholesale transfers without jeopardizing the EU-Turkey deal even though it isn’t working and only a relative handful have been sent back to Turkey, where they landed in a push to get to Europe.

Mouzalas told Thema radio that the EU is at fault for not honoring commitments and doing too little to help although European officials said Greece has received more than enough aid and isn’t using it right, relying on non-governmental organizations and volunteers to help run the detention centers and camps and medical facilities.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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