Children as young as seven have been sexually assaulted in official European refugee camps, the Observer has been told. The claims come as testimony emerges suggesting that some camps are so unsafe that youngsters are too terrified to leave their tents at night.
Charities and human rights groups allege that children stranded in supposedly safe camps in Greece that were built to deal with Europe’s migration crisis – many of whom are likely to be eligible to claim asylum in the UK – have been sexually abused.
In one government-run camp, in a former Softex toilet roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, aid organisations claim that the level of risk of sexual attack is so acute that women are too afraid to visit the camp toilets alone at night.
Yvette Cooper MP, chairwoman of Labour’s refugee taskforce, said the revelations “should shame us all” and called for immediate action to protect vulnerable children.
A series of government camps were built near Thessaloniki after the informal one at Idomeni, near the Macedonian border, was closed in May. Weeks earlier, the European commission had unveiled an extra £71m of humanitarian funding for emergency projects to help the 57,000 refugees stranded in official government camps throughout Greece.
One volunteer serving at the Softex camp, which holds 1,400 mostly Syrian refugees, alleged that some young girls had been effectively groomed by male gangs. He said an Iraqi family had to be moved to emergency accommodation outside the camp after their daughter was attacked.
“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, who asked to remain anonymous.
Family members, he said, were so demoralised they were planning to abandon their dream of resettling in Europe and return to the country they had fled.