Child refugee abuse rampant – UN report
Refugee women and children fleeing conflict, drought and poverty in Africa and making dangerous journeys to Europe are being beaten, raped and starved in “living hellholes” in Libya, according to a UNICEF report.
The United Nations children’s agency says children are being sexually abused, coerced into prostitution and work, and held to ransom for months in squalid, overcrowded detention centres, as they make their way along the Central Mediterranean migration route.
The report, titled ‘A Deadly Journey for Children’ says a total of 25,846 children – most of them unaccompanied – crossed from North Africa to Italy using the Mediterranean route in 2016.
More than 181,000 refugees and migrants in total crossed through Libya, and thousands of people died on the way.
Unofficial detention centres controlled by militia serve as lucrative businesses that profit from trafficking, and are “no more than forced labour camps … and makeshift prisons,” the UNICEF report said.
“For the thousands of migrant women and children incarcerated, [the centres] were living hellholes where people were held for months,” it said.
In compiling the report, the researchers surveyed and interviewed a total of 122 refugees – 82 women and 40 children – who tried to complete the perilous journey.
Seventy-five per cent of migrant children interviewed in Libya reported experiencing violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults during their journey to Italy.
Nearly half of the women interviewed reported suffering sexual violence or abuse during the journey.
“Most children and women indicated that they had to rely on smugglers leaving many in debt under ‘pay as you go’ arrangements and vulnerable to abuse, abduction and trafficking,” the report said.
“Most of the children reported verbal or emotional abuse while half suffered beatings,” it said.
And many children did not have access to adequate food on the journey, the report said.
The survey also found a growing number of teenage girls forced by smugglers to have contraceptive injections, so they could be raped without becoming pregnant.
Sexual violence and abuse was widespread and systematic at crossings and checkpoints, the report said.
“A third of the women and children interviewed said their assailants wore uniforms or appeared to be associated with the military and nearly half of the women and children reported sexual abuse during migration, often multiple times and in multiple locations,” the report said.
Men were reportedly often threatened or killed if they intervened to prevent sexual violence, and women were often expected to provide sexual services or cash in exchange for crossing the Libyan border.
“The results of this rapid assessment demand action. We can’t have a situation where children and women disappear into a hellhole. They are being sexually assaulted, abused, exploited and killed,” said deputy executive director of UNICEF, Justin Forsyth.
The report called on Libya, the EU and the international community to establish safe and legal pathways for children fleeing war or poverty along the route.
The central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women.
The route is routinely controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are seeking refuge or a better life.
This month the EU backed an agreement between Italy and Libya to stem the arrival of migrants to Europe, which prompted condemnation by human rights groups.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist