hen the sun disappears each day at Greece’s largest refugee camp, so too do the women and children who live there.
Taking refuge in their tents and caravans, mothers living at Lesvos’ Moria refugee camp say they spend their nights lying awake, wracked by fears for their families’ safety after hearing widespread reports of violence and sexual abuse against women and children across the camp.
Since mid-May instances of sexual assault have skyrocketed at Moria refugee camp and at the “Olive Grove,” an unprotected overflow site where hundreds of families have been living in tents outside overcrowded Moria.
Médecins Sans Frontières’ Greece Medical Coordinator Dr. Declan Barry told Newsweek that since mid-May, the organization has seen an average of one reported case of sexual assault per week, which adds up to at least 21 cases reported to MSF alone in less than five months.
Barry said that those cases involved women, men and children at the Moria refugee camp, but nearly half, or at least 10, have involved boys and girls under the age of 18, with at least two incidents involving five-year-old children, Barry said.
Some of the reported incidents of abuse against children involved penetrative rape, while others involved “inappropriate sexualized touching.”
“In one particular case, it was a single father and he had just left his tent to get food… And he came back to find his child had been sexually abused,” Barry said.
Abuse followed by self-harm, suicidal thoughts
The revelation comes after MSF recently raised the alarm that a growing number of children and teenagers at Moria had been found to have attempted suicide, self-harmed or struggled with suicidal thoughts.
Asked whether any of the children believed to have suffered sexual abuse were part of that group, Barry said several had in fact self-harmed or expressed suicidal thoughts after the alleged abuse.
“One case is not acceptable, let alone one a week,” Barry said of the reported abuse. “And I’m sure it’s happening a lot more frequently than that,” he said.
“We need to acknowledge that this is a systemic failure,” Barry added.
‘Women and children here live scared’
Across Moria and the “Olive Grove,” the feeling that Greek authorities have failed the nearly 8,500 people living there is deeply felt, with women, children and many men too afraid to even make the journey to the few portable toilets available across the camp at night.
“It’s very bad. Moria is not safe,” one 32-year-old Afghan mother who fled to Greece from Iran with her husband and infant child told Newsweek.
The mother, whose name has been withheld to protect her identity, said her family has been living in fear after hearing stories of children being abducted and abused on the grounds.
“I have heard men go to the jungle and drink and throw stones… That they [steal] children and girls,” she said.
“People tell me they take children,” she said. “It is very bad. All the women and children here live scared.”
A 21-year-old man walking by to his tent roughly 100 meters away felt compelled to join the conversation after overhearing the mother’s comments.
“It happens a lot…And not just rape,” he said.
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