Rape rife in Mediterranean ‘crisis’

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AS the Mediterranean ‘crisis’ continues to grab global headlines, the yet to be fully unravelled story of this whole fiasco is the plight of women and children embarking on this journey from Africa to Europe. Their conditions apart from being brutal due to their vulnerability are intertwined in a web of uncertainty mostly through the prospects of rape and kidnapping for children. With Europe, the cause of this ‘crisis’ due to their role in colonialism, still in denial and at sixes and sevens on how to handle the influx of migrants from Africa, numbers crossing dangerous waters are increasing on a daily basis. Although it is widely considered ‘a journey to a good life’, many, especially women are facing difficulties as their rights are easily infringed upon. In the period between 2000 and 2009 many people from Zimbabwe, including women risked their lives by crossing the dreaded Limpopo River to South Africa. According to a report released by Institute of Medicine (IOM), there was a high prevalence of HIV and AIDs infections as many women were allegedly raped while crossing the border into South Africa. Meanwhile, Amnesty International reports that about 35 781 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean sea from Africa to Europe since the beginning of the year. United Nations Support Mission in Libya claims that in 2015, up to 1 800 people are believed to have perished in the Mediterranean en route to Europe. The migrants are coming from African countries that include Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Senegal and Libya and women and children are part of the thousands vulnerable migrants who are crossing the Mediterranean in search of a ‘better life’ in Europe. The sad part is that they face harsh conditions in ferries while thousands die along the way. Amnesty International highlights the plight on this dangerous journey. Women migrants face rape, torture and abductions for ransom by traffickers and smugglers. The Amnesty International report also says, “women, particularly those travelling alone or without men, are at serious risk of rape or sexual abuse by smugglers and criminal gangs.” Women abducted along the smuggling route who are unable to pay the ransom are at times pressured into sex in exchange for being released or being allowed to continue their journey. “I know that the smuggler used three Eritrean women,” one eyewitness told Amnesty International. “He raped them and they were crying. “It happened at least twice.” Another migrant woman from Nigeria described how she was gang-raped by 11 men from an armed gang. “They took us to a place outside the city in the desert, tied my husband’s hands and legs to a pole and gang-raped me in front of his eyes,” she said. “There were 11 men in total.” The abuse of migrant women also occurs at immigration detention centres. Women held in these centres have also reported sexual harassment and sexual violence. A woman told Amnesty International how officials at an immigration centre beat to death a pregnant woman detained in one such centre. “They used to beat us with pipes on the back of our thighs; they even beat the pregnant women,” she said. “At night they would come to our rooms and try to sleep with us. “Some of the women were raped. “One got pregnant, this is why I decided to go to Europe. “I suffered too much in prison.” For female migrants, especially those travelling alone, the journey is particularly treacherous. Some women are pressured into sex along the smuggling route in order to continue their journey, or if they are unable to pay a fee to their smugglers. The highest ransom Amnesty International documented was US$8 000. “If you are a woman and they see you have strong men around you and surround you and protect you, no one comes close to you, but if you’re alone or the men with you are weak then you get into trouble,” a Somali woman told Amnesty International. Others who cannot pay are held, sometimes for many months, to work without pay. Migrants told Amnesty International that they were seen as ‘slaves’ by smugglers and treated ‘like animals’. One Nigerian woman told Amnesty International of her time at an immigration detention centre in Sabratah: “I stayed in prison for two months. “It was a women’s prison, but all the guards were male. “At night, they would come to our rooms and tried to sleep with us. Some of the women were raped. “One woman even got pregnant after she was raped. No one touched me because I was pregnant. This is why I decided to go to Europe. I suffered too much in prison,” she said. It is through such horrible ordeals of women migrants that highlight that the journey to Europe present a miserable life of Africans created by colonialism. African countries still face problems that were created by Europeans during colonial era. Many European countries still rely on Africa for raw materials to boost their industries, creating a dependency syndrome, therefore Africans embark on these dangerous journeys in search of employment in Europe. It is that dependency syndrome instilled in many Africans by their former colonies that sees a woman risking both her life and that of her child to cross the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded boats.

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