UN refugee agency appeals for protection against sexual abuse of women and children on move in Europe

A woman carrying a young child receives relief items for her family, at a Red Cross station set up outdoors at the reception centre for refugees and migrants, in the town of Šid, Serbia, on the border with Croatia. Photo: UNICEF/ Shubuckl

23 October 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern over the reported abuse of refugee and migrant women and children on the move in Europe, including “instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey,” appealing to all concerned to take measures to ensure their protection.

“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,” said Spokesperson Melissa Fleming for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Unaccompanied children can be particularly vulnerable as they lack the protection and care of an adult,” Ms. Fleming told the regular Friday press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to UNHCR, more than 644,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, and of these, some 34 percent 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,” the spokesperson 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,” she said.

“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,” Ms. Fleming said.

On behalf of the refugee agency, she asked authorities, “as a matter of urgency,” to find alternatives to the detention of children.

“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,” the agency official said.

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