“There is rape here,” says Rishal, describing the encampment in which she lives.
Rishal is an Eritrean woman living with about 20 other lone female refugees and about 500 young men in the port city of Calais, France. Many of the girls living in her camp are just 16 years old, exposed to violence and rape.
This isn’t the first time they’ve been in a situation like this, either. Rishal found her way to the camp after a seven-month long trip which almost killed her several times. Along the journey, she encountered a trafficker in Libya who raped and abused her. “He slashed me with something sharp,” she said, explaining the scars on her hand. “He raped me too, many times. He locked me in his house for five months.”
Asked by Independent about her current situation, she says “things could be worse.”
Rish keeps her three-person tent bag by her at all times. “Sometimes the police take it down and break it,” she said. “On those nights, we sleep in the cold. Then we have to try and get a new one.”
There are charities in the area that help to provide basic living necessities to women, such as tents, and also things for their emotional well-being, like makeup and hair curlers.
Mariam Guerey, one of the women who helps run the women’s days at the French Christian charity, Secours Catholique, says most of the women will remove their makeup before they leave to avoid unwanted attention.
“Here, they feel like women for one or two hours. They will style their hair; they will brush it, do their make-up, paint their nails. They come here, they get made up, they’re beautiful. But before they leave they put their headscarves or hoods back on.”
Ms. Guerey says it’s the nighttime that brings the girls’ fears alive. “During the day, these girls fear nothing. But it’s different in the night. They sleep in the same place as the men. It’s very dangerous.”
Some have stated that street harassment has also been a growing concern in the region, with disputes over whether growing refugee numbers are to blame causing tension among locals.
“Everyone knows these refugees are there, but no one wants to know they are there. They don’t get a moment of respite. There’s nowhere for them to sleep. As soon as they lie down to sleep, it’s demolished. As soon as they find a shelter, it’s demolished,” says Ms. Guerey, though she’s remarked on how little the girls speak of the dangers they face.
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