Women report sexual abuse fears at Greek reception centres

UNHCR particularly worried about the situation at overcrowded centres on the Aegean islands of Lesvos and Samos.

Two Syrian cjildren collect water at the overcrowded reception centre in Vathy on the Aegean island of Samos.  © UNHCR/Yorgos Kyvernitis

GENEVA – Reports of sexual harassment and violence at some overcrowded refugee reception centres in Greece are a cause for concern and one woman said she had not taken a shower for two months from fear of being attacked, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today.

It said more than 600 asylum seekers on the Greek Aegean islands reported sexual and gender-based violence in 2017, of whom more than a quarter experienced abuse after arriving in Greece, despite the government’s attempts to tackle overcrowding and poor living conditions.

UNHCR spokesperson Cécile Pouilly told a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva that the situation was particularly worrying at the reception centres of Moria on the island of Lesvos and Vathy on Samos, where thousands of refugees were living in unsuitable shelter with inadequate security.

“Even bathing during daytime can be dangerous."

Some 5,500 people live in these centres, double their intended capacity.

“In these two centres, bathrooms and latrines are no-go zones after dark for women or children, unless they are accompanied,” Pouilly said. “Even bathing during daytime can be dangerous. In Moria, one woman told our teams that she had not taken a shower in two months from fear.”

Survivors were reluctant to report assaults out of fear, shame, helplessness, concerns about discrimination, stigma and lack of trust. The actual number of incidents was likely to be much higher than reported, she said.

Transfers to the mainland had speeded up and overcrowding had eased in recent weeks, but crowded conditions persisted, hindering prevention efforts.

For example, in Moria, 30 government medical staff, psychologists and social workers shared three rooms, conducting examinations and assessments without privacy.

Police patrols were insufficient, particularly at night, and areas near the reception centres where people lived in tents had no security presence, Pouilly added.