Child migrants and refugees moving through Europe are forced into “survival sex” to pay human traffickers, says the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). As a result of “credible testimonies” of sexual violence and abuse, authorities are being urged to take action.
The exploitation of the European migrant crisis by human trafficking gangs preying on the vulnerable has reached a new low point, with children resorting to prostitution in order to be able to continue their journeys across the continent.
Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said: “Refugee and migrant children moving in Europe are at heightened risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, especially in overcrowded reception sites, or in many locations where refugees and migrants gather, such as parks, train stations, bus stations and roadsides.
“From testimony and reports we have received there have been instances of children engaging in survival sex to pay smugglers to continue their journey, either because they have run out of money, or because they have been robbed.”
Unaccompanied children lacking the protection and care of a responsible adult can be particularly vulnerable, said Ms. Fleming. Furthermore, in some countries they may be placed in detention shared with adults, posing further risks to their safety.
However, children are not the only migrants put at risk travelling through Europe.
Ms. Fleming also drew attention to the heightened risks faced by refugee and migrant women travelling on their own, sometimes at night, along insecure routes. At times they may be forced to stay in places lacking basic security. Even dedicated reception centres can be unsafe, she said, with overcrowding and a lack of adequate lighting or even separated spaces for single women or families with children.
Ms. Fleming said the UNHCR and others are working to prevent family separations, as women and girls on their own face enhanced risks. She concluded with a call to national authorities in Europe to protect the young by finding alternatives to the detention of children.