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UN: Refugees Increasingly at Risk of Sexual Violence on Greek Islands

FILE - A volunteer and security guard stand outside one of Lesvos’ temporary camps.

An increasing number of refugee women and children are victims of sexual harassment and violence in the overcrowded reception centers on the Greek islands, the U.N. refugee agency says.

The risk is greatest on Lesvos and Samos, according to UNHCR, which says some 5,500 people on those islands are living in dire conditions.

UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly says the reception centers on the islands where refugees live are extremely overcrowded, with little or no security to protect them from attack.

"In these two centers, bathrooms and latrines are no-go zones after dark for women and children. Even bathing during daytime can be dangerous. Identifying and helping survivors is hampered by a reluctance to report assaults out of fear of shame, concerns about discrimination, and insufficient trust to open up," Pouilly said.

Last year, the UNHCR received reports from 622 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Pouilly says the actual number of incidents is probably much higher, with children particularly vulnerable to abuse.

"This is also why we have been advocating for, especially unaccompanied children, to be taken to specific accommodations and we, ourselves have created specific places for unaccompanied children. There are about 1,000 unaccompanied children who are now in UNHCR accommodations," Pouilly said.

The UNHCR is urging the Greek government to take action to reduce the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. It is calling on the government to provide appropriate shelters that separate women from unknown men, to improve medical and psychological services, to increase police presence and patrolling, and to put more lighting in public areas.