Women fleeing the horror of systematic rape and sexual violence perpetrated during conflicts should be provided refuge in Europe, according to the Chair of the Migration Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).

According to a PACE press-release, forwarded to UNIAN, speaking on the eve of World Refugee Day, 20 June, Corien Jonker (Netherlands, EPP/CD) said: "It is a sad fact that systematic rape and sexual violence have become a weapon of war in today`s world, and a sickening feature of `ethnic cleansing` campaigns. Women fleeing from such horrific experiences - designed to deliberately humiliate and degrade them as a group - need our protection."

Citing UNHCR figures, Mrs Jonker recalled that between 20 000 and 50 000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and over 90 per cent of women in Sierra Leone had reported incidents of sexual assault, while mass rape had accompanied the genocide in Rwanda.

She called on Council of Europe member states to accept "gender-specific persecution" as a legitimate ground for seeking asylum, and for greater gender sensitivity by border officials and those involved in the asylum process. "The people deciding on asylum claims need clear guidelines on how to deal with these gender forms of persecution and training in handling sensitively the victims of these horrific experiences."

Mrs Jonker said it was urgent for her committee to initiate a report on this subject during PACE`s plenary session next week.