Risks for Women and Children
Transiting through multiple countries to reach Europe is especially dangerous for women and children. Tightened border restrictions push many female migrants and unaccompanied minors to take even riskier routes, exposing them to an increased risk of violence and trafficking.
Women, especially when travelling on their own, are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation on the migration route from Turkey to Western Europe. According to data from the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), many women are sexually exploited in the countries they cross on the way to Serbia. Many women do not have the funds to pay for the journey and are forced to offer sexual services, in return for shelter and food.
Women often have to sleep outside on the journey due to a lack of accommodation en route and are subject to abuse and exploitation by smugglers and criminal groups.
Women face violence and harassment in transit and reception centres in Serbia. However, many women are afraid to report cases of abuse to the authorities due to fear of reprisals from the perpetrators. Several NGOs in Serbia run safe houses to ensure victims of trafficking are given protection and assistance.
Once they arrive in Europe, many women say they face high levels of harassment and abuse while staying in reception centres, detention facilities and other temporary accommodation. A study by charities in Germany showed that most women live without adequate support for the traumas they faced along the migration route.
The specific needs of vulnerable female migrants are often not addressed. For example, pregnant women struggle to access healthcare and get regular check-ups. Unhygienic living conditions also increase the risk of complications for pregnant women.
The irregular migration journey from Turkey to Western Europe is extremely dangerous for children. Unaccompanied minors face violent pushbacks at borders and harsh treatment by border guards as well as exploitation by smugglers.
Nearly a third of unaccompanied children passing through Serbia have experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence, according to data from Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The majority of these children suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and are at risk of developing long term behavioral issues.
In Serbia, unaccompanied children face the risk of violence and abuse. Many live in dire conditions and there have been several incidents of security guards assaulting minors in camps.
Even when a child makes it to Europe, they continue to face major challenges. While living in camps, they often struggle to access basic services, like adequate healthcare and education. They often become isolated and miss their families as they can be placed with hosts who do not understand their language or culture.
Once unaccompanied minors reach Europe, a substantial number go missing. In 2019 alone, there were nearly 400 children missing in Austria and over 1,000 missing in Belgium in 2018, according to the PACE report.