Being a woman has always been difficult but being a displaced woman is even harder and it consists of a life-threatening situation. In times of displacement, the problem escalates. Women and girls make up around 50 percent of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population most of the time living in camp settings exposed to a large number of risks in their daily life with those who are unaccompanied, pregnant, heads of households, disabled, or elderly being especially vulnerable. Inside the overcrowded refugee camps at the Greek islands the lack of infrastructure, like separated showers and toilets for women and girls and the lack of locks together with the poor lighting contribute to the occurrence of Gender-Based Violence. In the absence of any other choice, women have to live with the fear of sexual harassment. Remarkably, a significant percentage has already suffered some form of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence either in the country of origin, during the journey, or in the country of reception. In addition, many of them have underlying diseases or mental health issues.
According to UNHCR, there is a worrying increase of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Cases due to the Covid19 pandemic and the restrictions that came along with it. The financial difficulties and the frustration that derive from this situation also contribute to the increase of violence. Some forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence that are most often to occur in refugee settings are “domestic violence” which means abuse from the partner, sexual harassment or rape from strangers, human trafficking, and survival sex. Even though many of the victims have been recognized as vulnerable cases they are unable to move from the Greek islands to the mainland due to the geographical constraint according to the New Law for International Protection which was entered into force on 1 January 2020 and replaced the previous legislation on asylum and reception. The survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based violence require special care, however, they are trapped in the islands where the protection services are extremely limited, according to Diotima Center. They are forced to live in a precarious environment, in many cases very close to their abuser, which puts at further risk their physical and mental health.
Furthermore, the response and protection system has limited abilities and does not seem to have adapted to the emergency of the pandemic. Very few trials for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence cases are carried out and the applications for restrictive measures against the perpetrators are not examined as urgent. Escorts to the hospital are limited and some NGOs and public services are operating only via telephone or after the appointment. In addition, complaints to the police are discouraged because of the movement restrictions.
The access to protection services for victims of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Greek islands is insufficient and humanitarian workers are highlighting the need for their transportation to the mainland. However, this does not ensure their security. A large number of refugees that are moving to big cities are ending up homeless and exposed to various forms of sexual abuse like human trafficking and survival sex or are raped.