Thousands of unaccompanied refugee minors and women end up in the hands of human traffickers By lejla brackovic

‘’I felt overwhelmed, helpless and angry that the world would let this happen. I was paralyzed with the thought that this could be my family… my beloved children washed ashore. After months of feeling quite sad, I knew that I needed to make peace with this situation or to do something. Inaction was not helping anyone.’’ - Jennifer, Co-Founder of Eyes on Refugees

According to Interpol, an estimate of 270,000 child refugees entered Europe in 2015. 26,000 of those arrived unaccompanied, hoping for a brighter future in the West. However, the dream of a violent-free life was short-lasting for more than 10,000 of the registered unaccompanied children, which according to Interpol have gone missing and have very likely ended up in the hands of wrong people. Nevertheless, the actual numbers are feared to be much darker. As many as half of those have disappeared from Italy alone. Europol, the European equivalent to Interpol reported evidence of refugee children and females being sexually exploited.

Global Trends 2015 according to UNHCR

Europol recently announced that 2015 has been the most profitable year for human traffickers known in modern time. As many as nine out of ten refugees that entered Europe since the breakout of the refugee crisis have done so through the help of criminal gangs. An extraordinary large amount of money have been given to these criminals in order to escape the war-zones that they come from. UNHCR estimate that the profit has been between three and six billion USD.

Eyes on Refugees on the ground at a refugee camp in Europe

The little three-year old boy, Aylan has been headlining news around the world, reflecting the horrors of the refugee crisis. He is one of thousands unfortunate people that end up dead through their terrifying journeys in search of safety and a better life in Europe. A heartbreaking photo of a dead little boy who was found stranded on the beach has been breaking many hearts around the globe. The tragic end of his journey became the icon of the refugee crisis. The Mediterranean ocean has become nothing but a cemetery for Syrian refugees over the past year. However, during dark moments comes some of the finest inspiration. The little boy, flushed up from the sea in small baby-jeans and a red t-shirt was the wake-up call for Sami Abdallah, Jennifer Silverstone and Heidi Sleiman, the founders of humanitarian non-profit ‘Eyes on refugees’. ‘’I felt overwhelmed, helpless and angry that the world would let this happen. I was paralyzed with the thought that this could be my family… my beloved children washed ashore. After months of feeling quite sad, I knew that I needed to make peace with this situation or to do something. Inaction was not helping anyone.’’ Jennifer said about her wake-up call that lead to Eyes on Refugees.

A nurse, an activist and an engineer was all that was needed to bring hope to at least a few victims of what is referred to the biggest humanitarian crisis after WWII. Together they have come up with a business model that has so far been evoked in France and Greece. The mission is to provide displaced, fragile people with basic needs while ensuring sustainable solutions that maintain their dignity and eliminate social injustice. Eyes on Refugees works closely with both US and European governments in order to create safe houses for unaccompanied minors and women traveling alone. While on the ground they are assessing for sustainable options that can help in the long term crisis.

Sami Abdallah at a refugee camp in Europe

’It is hard to understand the horror and danger minors and females in particular are facing during their journey to Europe, even more so when they arrive to Europe. Minors and women are the most vulnerable group in any crisis, even more so in a crisis that is a result of war. They are fragile, have limited language skills and an easy target to abuse.’’ Said Sami before he continued telling telling about specific cases he had witnessed during his time on the ground at refugee camps in Europe

‘’All refugee camps have easy access to mafia that are trying to profit from this catastrophe. Nevertheless, Calais camp in France has been left without supervision of any kind. You can it in the eyes of those who have been abused. They reflect loss of faith in humanity. We met a young woman with a child that had been separated from her husband as they were forced to jump a fence on the Greek border to Macedonia. The horror she had been through is equivalent to a horror movie. Even worse. After a lot of work, we somehow managed to track her husband and reunite the young family. This ended up with a happy ending to a horrific experience. However, that is one in a million. Most end up in the hands of wrong people, never seeing the light of freedom again.’’ Sami said.

Sami with volunteers

Eyes on Refugees focused on providing as many safe houses as possible in addition to psychosocial support and education. Sami said that the goal is to remove as many fragile children that are unaccompanied to safe houses with the same support system in place to support them and educate them. The non-profits largest on-going project has been to help fund the development and equipping of Communal Safe Zones for women and children in the Dunkirk camp.

‘’The situation at these camps are so dangerous that children and females are to afraid to use the restroom after dark. Those who are fortunate enough to be there with their husbands or fathers need to be accompanied and those who are alone need to find other solutions that often requires them to complete their need behind their tents, which you can only imagine what kind of health risks it brings. The risk of being assaulted, kidnapped or raped are just too high to take. I mean, children as young as seven years old have been reported abused.’’ Says Sami.

Non-human conditions at European refugee camps

As of right now, Eyes on Refugees hosts 16-20 fragile individuals in a safe home in France in addition to two families in Greece. Sami says that the long-term goal is to do this full-time, but in order to achieve that the organization is still dependent on governmental help and financial donations. ‘’All of the travel cost have been self-funded only, but we have so far raised 30,000 USD that have been spent to those of the very need. We continue to raise funds to make these safe zones a meaningful space, including communal cooking and schooling spaces, which are critical for keeping families together and children safe.’’ Jennifer said.

Controversial refugee camp, Calais, or better known as ‘jungle party’ was put down by the French government in October 2016. Calais residents have been moved to 450 reception centers around the country where they can seek a non-guaranteed asylum. Anyhow, even when considering the horrific conditions at the camp, Calais was some sort of temporary shelter. The poorly planned re-location of the refugees may force lone minors and unaccompanied females to transport their fate to the streets.

Governmental organizations have been caught off guard with this crisis and left overwhelmed and unprepared to handle the unpredicted movement of people within the borders or European Union and Schengen. UNHCR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are few among many humanitarian organizations that have been raising the concerns of the crisis, specifically about the issue of sexual violence, assault and human trafficking. However, no solution has yet to come. While the big guys continue to fight over the responsibility, refugees are for the most part left to themselves. However, their hope for freedom has not been abandoned, just postponed.

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