A court in Turkey has sentenced a Turkish man to 108 years in jail for sexually assaulting at least eight Syrian children at a flagship refugee camp, reports said today. The 29-year-old man, identified only as Erdal E, worked as a cleaner at the tented refugee camp in Nizip in the southern Gaziantep province near the Syrian border.
He was found guilty of sexually abusing eight children in the camp’s toilets in exchange for payments of between 1.5 and five Turkish lira (USD 0.50-USD 1.70/0.45-1.50 euros), the Dogan news agency said.
His defence had asked for his acquittal, saying an earlier confession to police had been made under duress. But the judges at the court in the southern city of Nizip rejected the arguments, sentencing him late yesterday to 108 years in jail. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 289 years.
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The camp, which is home to some 10,800 refugees, has been visited by international dignitaries and is adjacent to the Nizip container camp for Syrian refugees which was visited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April.
During the trial, the accused claimed he had been made a “scapegoat” to cover up the crimes of others and prevent a
“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,” the Hurriyet daily quoted him as saying.
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. A team from the Gaziantep chamber of doctors visited the Nizip camp in the wake of the scandal, drawing up a report which sounded the alarm over sexual abuse and the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases at the camp.
Chairman Hamza Agca said there were problems with abuse of women and children, as well as early marriage and polygamy.
“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 abuse of children,” he said last month, according to the chamber’s website.
Following the report, local opposition politician Mahmut Togrul of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) filed a series of parliamentary questions for Health Minister Recep Akdag, the MP said in a statement. He requested information about the prevalence of sexually-transmitted diseases at the camp and what action was being taken to stop child abuse and child marriage.
“Do you think that marrying at between 7 and 15 years has a negative effect on a child’s health?” he asked.