Youngsters in Greece's refugee camps as young as seven are alleged to have been targeted by sexual predators, with charities and human rights groups claiming that the camps are unsafe. In one government-run camp in Greece, just outside Thessaloniki, women are terrified to go to the camp toilets in the dark for fear of sexual attacks. The camp contains around 1,400 mainly Syrian refugees.
A volunteer at the camp in a former Softex toilet roll factory claims that young girls were being groomed by male gangs. An Iraqi family was hastily removed from the camp to emergency accommodation after their young daughter was subjected to an assault.
"The parents are still in disbelief over what happened. A man from one of the 'mafia' groups asked their seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent. She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later the girl described how she was sexually abused. It has scarred a seven-year-old child for life," said the volunteer.
The family are said to have changed their plans of settling in Europe and want to move back to Iraq, which they had fled from, according to the Guardian.
The allegations were disputed by the Greek coordinator for the refugee crisis. "Softex is the camp with the most cases of small criminal behaviour, but there was not any case of rape reported to the camp's staff," Giorgos Kyritsis said.
However, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Thessaloniki confirmed that they had heard reports of children being subjected to sexual violence.
"In the evening and night it's impossible to find them [children] because they are hiding in the tents. The women are afraid. They complain that during the night and evening they cannot go to the toilet alone. They have all heard of reports of others being attacked," Anna Chiara Nava of MSF said.
She added that her organisation was in regular contact with at least 10 women from the Softex camp as well as children. Many others were too frightened to report other instances.
There has been an increase in sexual violence in Greece's refugee camps, according to the Red Cross. "We've been receiving reports [of sexual violence] and making reports of the incidents. We are concerned about the serious protection issues," Anita Dullard of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
In other Greek refugee camps such as in Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Athens also report similar incidents. Staff at Save the Children in Lesvos were told by youngsters that they were afraid to go to sleep outside or use the toilets because they feared abuse.