New report finds female refugees in Berlin shelters at heightened risk of sexual assault

A temporary shelter in Berlin, highlighting the lack of privacy and safety identified in the IRIN investigation A temporary shelter in Berlin, highlighting the lack of privacy and safety identified in the IRIN investigation Ivor Prickett/UNHCR

10 May 2017
A 6-month IRIN investigation into temporary shelters for refugees in Berlin revealed that female residents have been susceptible to sexual violence.

A lack of legally-binding minimum standards in the quality of shelters and the services provided was identified as creating an environment in which the safety of female refugees is at risk.

As German authorities have rushed to accommodate newly arrived asylum seekers, many shelters were hurriedly converted from sport halls or warehouses, thus lacking basic conditions for women’s protection and privacy such as separate sleeping rooms and bathrooms. The minimum standards set by the German government as measures to protect female refugees are far from legally binding and hence rarely enforced by local authorities and shelter operators.

Currently, more than 31,000 asylum seekers and refugees are living in emergency and community shelters in Berlin, while they wait for more permanent residence. There is no official tally of female refugees residing in Germany, but in 2016 just over a third of all asylum applications in Germany were made by women. Interviewed female refugees confessed to living in fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted by both fellow male residents and shelter security staffs.

Meanwhile, the Regional Office of Refugee Affairs, in charge of monitoring the implementation of minimum standards, has found no cause for alarm  as the number of reported cases is low. Nevertheless, according to Claudia Kruse, a therapist at the Zentrum für Ueberleben (Centre for Survival), which provides counselling services to migrants and refugees, as well as several women’s organisations IRIN spoke, police statistics are an unreliable measure of the true extent of the problem.

Female refugees find it exceedingly difficult to seek help or report sexual harassment and violence to the police due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with local laws.

The report cites women’s organisations as calling for improved security, female-only hostels and individually lockable units as ways to improve the safety of refugees, plus psychological help for those who have survived sexual assault and harassment.

 

For more information, please read:

https://www.irinnews.org/investigations/2017/05/10/women-refugees-risk-sexual-assault-berlin-shelters
https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article161959938/Vier-Jahre-fuer-Fluechtling-der-Frauen-ueberfiel.html

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