UNHCR concern over testimonies of abuse and sexual violence against refugee and migrant women and children on the move in Europe

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned by credible testimonies it has received of abuse of refugee and migrant women and children on the move in Europe. So far this year, over 644,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea. Of these, some 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.

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. 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.

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. UNHCR also asks authorities, as a matter of urgency, to find alternatives to the detention of children. UNHCR and partners are working to prevent and address immediately family separations, as women and girls on their own face enhanced risks. 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.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Melissa Fleming at +41 22 739 7965
  • In Geneva, William Spindler at +41 79 217 30 11
  • In Athens, Ron Redmond at +30 694 244 5037