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12 Feb, 2017 18:08

'Sexual assault, violence, rape far too common’ at France’s Dunkirk refugee camp – report

'Sexual assault, violence, rape far too common’ at France’s Dunkirk refugee camp – report

Children and women are assaulted and raped by traffickers inside a refugee camp in northern France, where unaccompanied individuals are viewed as easy prey, according to volunteers, medics, refugees, and officials interviewed by the Observer.

“Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common,” one volunteer told the Observer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies,” she said.

“Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them. This has happened to women I know very well,” added the volunteer who has worked at the camp since last year.

She said that adult nappies are one of the most in-demand items distributed to women at the Dunkirk Camp, which is home to about 2,000 refugees, of whom an estimated 100 are unaccompanied minors.

“Women are too scared to go to the toilets in the night. None of the locks in the women’s toilets in the camp work,” she said.

Minors have also been attacked, the volunteer said.

“A 12-year-old girl was groomed in the camp by a man well over twice her age. When she no longer wanted to speak with him because his behavior towards her had become so obscene, he threatened her. A 13-year-old boy ended up returning to his home country having been raped in the camp.”

According to another testimony, which was provided by an ex-NGO worker who spent three and a half years volunteering at Dunkirk, men targeted women and children because they were the most vulnerable.

“You see women in a male environment with men that are disconnected from reality, so there are serious incidents such as rape. Women, children, young teens, male and female.”

The worker said children were referred to as “little steaks,” appetizing and unable to protect themselves against traffickers, dozens of whom live at the site.

The sexual assault of a young child at the camp left her mother so shocked that she was rendered mute.

“We have also seen in the past a woman holding a seven or eight-year-old girl by her arm next to GSF [Gynaecology Sans Frontières charity which has a unit on site] and apparently, this child had been raped just before, and the woman was afraid to report it to police. She was there, standing silent refusing to report it,” one worker’s testimony said.

READ MORE: UN watchdog slams UK & France for ‘completely disregarding’ plight of Calais child migrants

The risk of violence at the camp has been described as so high that many reported seeing guns and knives being carried openly, the Observer reports.

One woman traveling by herself said unaccompanied individuals are soft targets.

“All men see that I’m alone, and it’s the same for the children. Men see me and they want to rape me,” she said.

Traffickers force women and children to have sex in return for blankets, food, or the offer of passage to the UK, according to various accounts from volunteers, medics, refugees, and officials.

Bindmans law firm, prominent defenders of civil liberties and human rights, will initiate legal proceedings against the Home Office, which is accused of unfairly choosing to settle only minors from the Calais camp that closed in October, while ignoring the child refugees in Dunkirk, the Observer reports.

Failure of the authorities to properly police the site has allowed the smugglers to take control, the Dunkirk Legal Support Team says.

“We have done all that we can to draw the plight of the Dunkirk children to the attention of the UK government and implored them to act to honor the pledges made,” Georgia Feilding of the Dunkirk Legal Support Team told the Observer.

“We now have no other choice but to turn to the high court to challenge their failure to protect these most vulnerable of children and provide them with a safe route and sanctuary in the UK,” she said.

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the decision to end the Dubs Amendment, which was designed to let unaccompanied refugee children in to the UK. The scheme was “a magnet for people traffickers,” Rudd said on Thursday.

The law, which was the brainchild of Lord Dubs, who is a former refugee himself, was aimed at helping some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children across Europe, but only 350 were actually brought to Britain under the scheme.

Responding to the decision to kill the program, Lord Dubs, who was six years old when he fled Prague after Nazis took Czechoslovakia in 1939, said “Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees. At a time when Donald Trump is banning refugees from America, it would be shameful if the UK followed suit by closing down this route to sanctuary for unaccompanied children just months after it was opened.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury also said he was “saddened and shocked” by the demise of the Dubs Amendment.

A petition signed by 50,000 people urging Theresa May to continue taking in lone child refugees was handed to the PM on Saturday.