Women and children fleeing war zones and arriving in Europe face heightened risks of sexual violence, including child sex work, the U.N. refugee agency warned Friday.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said it had received “credible testimonies” to raise serious concern over the risk of sexual violence and abuse faced by the estimated 214,000 refugee women and children that have arrived in Europe this year.
"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," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news conference in Geneva.
"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 added.
The UNHCR further urged European authorities to find alternatives to the detention of children, who they say are often separated from their families and locked up together with adults, thereby increasing the risk of sexual abuse.
The lack of adequate services and female-only shelters for refugee and migrant women also increased their vulnerability to violence, the agency added in their appeal to European officials to secure their safety.
In their report, detailing personal stories of sexual abuse, one UNHCR official is quoted as saying “there’s not even time for that … At the moment, this [sexual assault or exploitation] is definitely not the problem.”
Melita Šunjić, the senior public information office for the UNHCR Serbia office, told Buzzfeed: “I don’t see how there’s a gender issue here, honestly. I’m fully aware of what you’re talking about, but these issues happen when you register women in refugee camps, when certain people get privileges and aid and others don’t, things like that.”