On Perilous Migrant Trail, Women Often Become Prey to Sexual Abuse

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BERLIN — One Syrian woman who joined the stream of migrants to Germany was forced to pay down her husband’s debt to smugglers by making herself available for sex along the way. Another was beaten unconscious by a Hungarian prison guard after refusing his advances.

A third, a former makeup artist, dressed as a boy and stopped washing to ward off the men in her group of refugees. Now in an emergency shelter in Berlin, she still sleeps in her clothes and, like several women here, pushes a cupboard in front of her door at night.

“There is no lock or key or anything,” said Esraa al-Horani, the makeup artist and one of the few women here not afraid to give her name. She has been lucky, Ms. Horani said: “I’ve only been beaten and robbed.”

War and violence at home, exploitative smugglers and perilous seas along the way, an uncertain welcome and future on a foreign continent — these are some of the risks faced by tens of thousands of migrants who continue to make their way to Europe from the Middle East and beyond. But at each step of the way, the dangers are amplified for women.

 

Esraa al-Horani, from Syria, at a refugee shelter in Berlin in November. She still sleeps in her clothes and, like several women at the shelter, pushes a cupboard in front of her door at night. 

CreditDjamila Grossman for The New York Times

Interviews with dozens of migrants, social workers and psychologists caring for traumatized new arrivals across Germany suggest that the current mass migration has been accompanied by a surge of violence against women. From forced marriages and sex trafficking to domestic abuse, women report violence from fellow refugees, smugglers, male family members and even European police officers. There are no reliable statistics for sexual and other abuse of female refugees.

Among the more than one million migrants who have entered Europe over the past year,fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, men outnumber women by more than three to one, United Nations statistics show. “The men dominate, numerically and otherwise,” says Heike Rabe, a gender expert at the German Institute for Human Rights.

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