Germany 'grossly' failing female refugees on sexual violence: report

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Germany 'grossly' failing female refugees on sexual violence: report
A refugee centre in Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin. Photo: DPA

A investigation by news service Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) carried out in Berlin’s refugee camps has found that women in the camps face "grossly inadequate protection from sexual and gender-based violence."


Dozens of the women that IRIN spoke to reported facing sexual harassment while living at Berlin shelters, and many said that they were offered very little support, and lived in constant fear of attack.

One of the main problems highlighted in the report released on Wednesday, was that the standards introduced by the government in June last year on protecting women, which include strict codes of conduct for guards, have still not been adequately introduced.

While there were some shelters that had trained the staff to protect against sexual assault, the standards were not legally binding, meaning that most workers were left without proper training. This has left many women at risk of violence.

The report further outlined that women often feel like the security guards in the camps were more of a threat than a protection.

Sally Abazeed, a 20-year-old refugee from Damascus, told IRIN how she had been repeatedly pestered by one guard at the camp, who tried to kiss her and always asked for her phone number. She also recounted being followed into the toilets at night by a guard.

The young Syrian fled the camp but ended up being raped by a countryman who claimed he wanted to help her. When she reported the crime to the police, she was told she did not have enough evidence and was sent back to her refugee shelter without the offer of counselling.

Only after three suicide attempts did Abazeed receive therapy from social workers.

Another woman, Zina, told of how she was scared to go to the toilet at night because the guards would make “inappropriate noises and gestures”.

While some charities have set up “mobile help units” to try and provide support and counselling for women who have suffered sexual assault, they report not being able to provide enough care because of the scale of the problem.

IRIN described how one counselling group, Lara, provided support for 190 women between October and December 2016, and two thirds of them had suffered sexual violence.

Another Berlin group to end violence against women, BIG, is reported to only have one social worker who last year in November and December spoke to 84 women who had suffered domestic or sexual violence in the shelters.

The Regional Office of Refugee Affairs (LAF) however denied that there was a problem.

“After countless conversations with shelter managers, I can assure you that there is no unusual occurrence [of sexualized violence] reported from emergency or community shelters,” said Sascha Langenbach, LAF’s spokesman.

But several women's groups contacted by IRIN said that the scale of the problem was seriously under-reported, as women who didn't know their rights in Germany often didn't go to the authorities.

According to the same organizations, there is a need for women-only shelters that is not being met by the state.


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