Lesvos, Greece – Rosa, a young medical student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was raped, tortured and imprisoned in her country due to her participation in a pacific march against the government. After returning home from the march, the military found her home and broke in around midnight. Soldiers not only killed her 9-month-old boy and her father in law with a machete in front of her eyes, but they also raped her in front of her husband and her son’s dead body. She was then taken to jail for 4 months where she was victim of daily sexual violence before escaping.
After being tortured and raped for months, and having no family left, Rosa decided to seek safety in Europe. She now lives in constant fear in a transit refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. Throughout her long journey to Greece by land and by sea, Rosa got robbed and assaulted, but she was still hoping to find safety and peace in Europe.
Rosa, in fact, is just one of the many women who fled harm and persecution and who hoped to find a better future. However, many of those women face new fears of violence and sexual harassment in the camps, particularly in the “hot spots” of the Greek Islands.
“I left hell to find another hell”
– Fereshta (refugee woman from Afghanistan)
Many women who did not feel safe in their home country do not feel safe in Greece either. Fereshta, who is a young refugee woman from Afghanistan, told me she was scared to leave her tent at night or go to the bathroom because she has heard so many stories of women being raped within Moria refugee camp. However, one night, a man broke into her tent and assaulted her. She told me, “I left hell to find another hell.”
At the Moria refugee camp particularly, both men and women live together under the same tents, which is very threatening to women and children. The cohabitation of strangers inside small tents creates high levels of risks and tensions. Because of the harsh conditions of the camp and because of what people have gone through, they become violent towards one another. There are countless numbers of verbal and sexual assaults every single day.
Last week, Rosa and Fereshta both moved from Moria to Kara Tepe refugee camp, which is almost considered a “5-star camp” compared to Moria. Women and men are separated unless they are a family; there are gender-segregated toilets, as well as showers with doors; and volunteers and guards from different organizations patrol 24/7 within the camp to make sure everything goes smoothly. Those are all measures taken to prevent sexual violence and to increase the security of female refugees.
However, despite those security measures, women still do not feel safe and a lot of them are subject to panic attacks in camps due to an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. Fereshta for example is still too scared to leave her room at night – and what I mean by “room” is a container in which about 9 other women sleep in, sometimes even on hard floors. If Fereshta has to go to the toilets at night, she just does it in her room in a bucket because of her fear to go outside at night.
Unfortunately, a lot of women who have been victim of rape and sexual assault in camps are reluctant to come forward and talk about it because they are scared the bureaucratic procedures will take too long and they don’t want to be “stuck in the camp forever”, as Rosa said. Thus, a lot of victims prefer to keep quiet and move on, in order to be transferred as quickly as possible.
Written by Anais Wardak, a volunteer Project Coordinator at Asylum Links EU. Anais worked and lived in France, Switzerland, USA, UK, China, Afghanistan and Greece. She holds a MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development and a BA in Global Affairs. She wrote her master dissertation on mobility and transnational networks and focused primarily on the case of Afghan male refugees. She volunteered with many organizations to help refugees in France, UK and Greece.
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