Unaccompanied women, kids at risk in village of tents

FRANKFURT • Four non-governmental groups told parliamentarians in a joint letter that unaccompanied women and children in Hesse's main transit camp in Giessen are "unprotected", complaining that men there regard unaccompanied women as "fair game".

 About 5,500 refugees, including around 3,000 Albanians, are housed in Giessen, a former United States army depot an hour away from Frankfurt and the biggest transit shelter in Germany. 

 Giessen is like a village of tents. It has a children's playground, school, cafeteria and kindergarten.

 Letter signatories ProFamilia, Paritaetischer Wohlfahrtsverband Hessen, Hessen Women Council and Working Group of Hessen Women said there were reports of rapes, sexual assaults and forced prostitution, and that these are supposedly not isolated cases. 

 "The women say they and also the children have been raped or sexually assaulted. Because of these, many women wear their street clothing when sleeping," said the letter dated Aug 18.

 "The women also regularly say that they do not want to go to the toilet at night because on the way there and to sanitary facilities they get attacked and raped," the letter added.  It urged the authorities to house unaccompanied women and children together, "taking into consideration their relationships, cultural as well as religious aspects".

 "The rooms must be set up in such a way that men have no access to them," it said. "Sleeping quarters, common rooms, kitchen and sanitary facilities must be integrated so that it is a single enclosed space, accessible only via a passage with guards," it added.

 A Paritaetischer spokesman said on Wednesday that the letter got "positive" response from the Hesse Interior Ministry.

 Ministry spokesman Marco Krause on Wednesday said the goal is to provide special accommodation only for unaccompanied women and mothers with children "as far as this is feasible and if those affected want them".

The number of sexually motivated violations, in which asylum seekers were either a victim or a perpetrator, was in the "low two-digit area" in Hesse so far this year, he said.

 "Regarding forced prostitution in refugee shelters, or forced prostitution of female refugees in Hesse, there is no case filed with police so far," he added.

 Security in Giessen and other Hesse transit camps are provided by a private company.

 Ms Aqela Samet, 33, who fled Afghanistan because a Taleban leader wanted to marry her, said she stayed in Giessen for a month in December 2013 until her transfer to a Frankfurt housing in January 2014.

 There were not too many people during her time there.

 "Security was good at night and in the day. I was with three other women from Afghanistan and Iran in one room, which we could close," she said over the telephone on Wednesday. "There was a toilet with shower facilities in our room and these were shared with four others in an adjoining room."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Unaccompanied women, kids at risk in village of tents'. Print Edition | Subscribe