Credit: UNHCR/Domonic Nahr
Credit: UNHCR/Domonic Nahr

The UNHCR, the UN's refugees agency, has released a report stating that rape, torture and sexual exploitation of men and boys may be far more common in the Syrian conflict than had previously been believed.

The report is the result of interviews and accounts from 196 refugees in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan conducted in late 2016. The experiences of Syrians previously detained are documented, many of which included ''rape and mutilation or shooting of genitals at point blank range".

 'I thought we would die'

The UN agency report noted that ''between 19.5 to 27 percent of male survey respondents confirmed having experienced sexual harassment or unwanted sexual contact as boys". A focus group of female refugees in Jordan "estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of all adult men in their community had experienced sexual violence while in detention in Syria". The accounts detail abuse suffered by children under age 10 and elderly men over age 80, most of which occurred in detention centers. One case involving a man named Tarek involved his being ''held in a darkened cell for a month with 80 other people - but those harsh conditions were the least of it. Kept naked, he and other detainees were strung up by their hands at night, tortured with electric shocks to their genitals and gang raped by their captors.'' 

"They would come into the cell to violate us, but it was dark - we couldn't see them. All we could hear were people saying, 'Stop! Don't! … I thought we would die," he recalled, according to the report. The study noted that homosexual, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex individuals experienced a higher level of risk when in detention.

Abuse also in countries of asylum

 "Refugee boys in countries of asylum suffer sexual violence at the hands of other male refugees and from males in the local community,'' the UNHCR said. "Sexual exploitation and blackmail of refugee males in countries of asylum was reported, especially among those working in the informal economy, where the vast majority of their families live below the poverty line". Among boys in countries of asylum, ''one respondent described sexual violence often by older youths, as happening 'on a daily basis'. The report quotes a legal aid officer as saying the problem is often referred to as 'bullying', but that later it would be found out that sexual acts such as rape were involved.Many boys drop out of school,'' the report stated. 

"These are most disturbing accounts revealing just how grave the risk of sexual violence has become both for women and girls and, as shown by this recent report, also men and boys," said Volker Türk, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. To reduce these crimes, UNHCR noted "the need for stronger prevention strategies, better confidentiality arrangements, protection against reprisals, improved survivor care, and strengthened awareness among aid workers". The report also suggested "that further research be done with a view to providing more effective prevention and response to sexual violence against males in conflict and displacement, an ordeal which frequently leaves survivors with physical and emotional pain that can sometimes prove unendurable".

 

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