Refugee camp worker convicted of sexually harassing Syrian children

Refugee camp worker convicted of sexually harassing Syrian children
A Turkish man has been given a 108-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting eight Syrian children in a Turkish refugee camp.
2 min read
05 June, 2016
Syrian refugee children living in any host country are hugely vulnerable to sexual predators [Anadolu]
A Turkish cleaner at a flagship refugee camp has been convicted of sexually assaulting at least eight Syrian children, reports said Saturday. 

The 29-year-old, who was identified as Erdal E, was found guilty by a Turkish court of abusing eight children in the toilets of the refugee camp in Nizip, southern Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.

He had formerly confessed to luring children into blind spots, undetected by surveilliance cameras, and sexually abusing them in return for payments of between 1.5 and five Turkish Lira [$0.50 - $1.70].

"Erdal E" received a jail sentence of 108 years - although prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 289 years. 

The accused claimed he had been made a "scapegoat" to cover up the crimes of others and prevent a wider scandal, he said during trial.

"I know very well the names of many managers and camp workers guilty of abuse… but I will not say them so as not to hurt my own family," Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted him as saying.

Last month, Turkish left-wing newspaper Birgun reported that the accused was suspected of assaulting 30 children, but only went on trial over the abuse of eight.

Families of the other children were afraid of being sent back to Syria if they filed complaints, the Turkish daily said.

[Click to enlarge]

All the victims were boys aged between 8-12, the newspaper added.

Aid groups have warned that Syrian refugee children living in any host country are hugely vulnerable to sexual predators, with discussion of the issue largely taboo.

In the wake of the scandal, a team from the Gaziantep chamber of doctors visited the Nizip camp and compiled a report alerting to sexual abuse as well as the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

There were problems with abuse of women and children, early marriage and polygamy, chairman Hamza Agca said.

"We are worried about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases due to the high rate of polygamy and early marriage at the camp, as well as the abuse of children," he said last month.

Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority [AFAD], which is responsible for the camp and has won international plaudits for its hosting of refugees, has said it has taken measures to ensure such an incident never happens again.

The camp in Nizip homes arounds 10,800 Syrian refugees and has been visited by international dignitaries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April. 

Turkey currently hosts more than 2.7 million refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Only a quarter of a million live in refugee camps, with the rest living in Turkish towns and cities.