Children hoping to reach Western Europe via the Balkans are frequently victims of violence, according to a new report published by the NGO Save The Children. Border police and smugglers are the most common perpetrators, but not the only ones.
Physical violence at the hands of border police is the most common form of violence experienced by migrant and refugee children. on the Balkan routedeclares Save The Children in a report published Monday September 12.
This usually happens during pushbacks, the illegal act of pushing migrants and refugees back across a border without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum, the newspaper said. “Children interviewed described being stripped naked, forced to stand in the cold, and receiving electric shocks and beatings with sticks, resulting in serious physical injuries such as broken bones or severe bruising,” the researchers write.
All young migrants and refugees interviewed experienced violence
The report is based on in-depth interviews with 48 children aged 13 to 19 in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, mostly unaccompanied boys, but also eight boys and ten girls traveling with their families; as well as interviews with field workers who support refugee and migrant children.
All the children interviewed by the researchers “reported having been subjected to physical, psychological, sexual or other violence, directly or indirectly” – in their country of origin, during their travel, when crossing borders, in the centers of reception, asylum and detention. , in squats, on the streets and in workplaces.
Border police and smugglers are the most common perpetrators
According to the report, after border police officers, smugglers and their accomplices are the most likely perpetrators of violence against migrant and refugee children. One in three children reported having suffered violence from smugglers.
“Smugglers usually beat children on the road when they start to lag behind or when they are noisy or ‘disobedient’. Several children testified that smugglers killed or left adults and children in conditions in which they could not survive on their own. because they could not physically support the journey, were injured or ill, or had no money to continue the journey,” the report said.
A 19-year-old girl recounted the following incident to researchers: “During the boat trip in the dark, when the police were not supposed to hear or see us, one of the children started to cry in his mother’s arms. The smuggler took the child from the mother’s arms and threw him into the sea to silence him or to protect himself. The mother started arguing with him, she tried to scream, at that moment the smuggler threw her overboard too and no one knows where they are now. »
Threat of sexual abuse against children in camps
The Save The Children report also reveals that migrant and refugee children are at very high risk of sexual violence, particularly those traveling alone. Although none of the children surveyed reported being victims of sexual abuse themselves, nearly two-thirds of children surveyed said they had witnessed child sexual abuse or heard stories from people who had. been witnesses. Some also told researchers that they were in situations where money or favors were offered to them in exchange for sexual services.
Many people interviewed said smugglers pressured children and forced them to commit sexual acts. Camps in Greece have also been mentioned as dangerous due to the threat of sexual violence, especially Moria camp, now defunct, on the island of Lesbos.
Children forced to work in dangerous conditions
Many children interviewed for the report described having to work, particularly in countries where they stayed longer. They described working in factories in Turkey and on farms in Greece.
“Children sometimes work long days, up to 14 hours, in dangerous conditions which impact their physical and mental health and have serious consequences for their development. People who employ children blackmail them by deferring their wages, paying them much lower wages. than other workers who have a regular position, or who do not pay them at all,” the report says.
Some children also described minors being recruited by smugglers, usually to help with border crossings, but also sometimes to sell drugs. Respondents also reported seeing migrant and refugee children turning to begging and sexual exploitation to make ends meet.
Migrant children and refugees traumatized by violence
The report reveals that due to the stress and difficulties encountered during their journey, many refugee and migrant children – particularly those who were unaccompanied and therefore particularly vulnerable – were traumatized and showed signs of self-harm, suicide attempts and alcohol or drugs. abuse.
“The lack of protection at Europe’s borders has terrible consequences for children. Europe’s focus on deterring arrivals means children are subjected to shocking violence at the hands of police and border guards “violence that goes unpunished,” said Ylva Sperling, director of Save The Children Europe. “Refugee and migrant children should have access to legal and safe migration pathways so that they never face the abuses documented in this report.”