REFUGEE children are being forced into “survival sex” to pay smugglers so their families can continue travelling across Europe and, in many cases, reach the UK.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling on authorities across the EU to take urgent security steps as it reveals major concerns over sexual violence and abuse against refugee and migrant women and children on the move in Europe.
The call comes as it reveals children are being made to have sex with smugglers to ensure families can continue their journey, either because money has run out or they have been robbed.
Just over a third of more than 644,000 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year are women and children.
Most are fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, which is being ripped apart by a bloody civil war being made even worse by attacks from terrorist groups such as Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s Syrian operation.
Some children are unaccompanied, putting them at even greater risk, while others are being put in detention centers in some countries with adults.
Women travelling on their own are also at heightened risk as many move through Europe during the night, along insecure routes or staying in dangerous places.
Many are attempting to reach western Europe through the Balkan states but as they gradually shut their borders to prevent a surge of migrants, many are choosing to go the “northern route” through the colder European countries.
Overcrowded reception centres across the continent often lack adequate lighting and spaces designated for single women or families with children.
Melissa Fleming, a UNCHR spokeswoman, 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 money, or because they have been robbed.”
The UN called on “all concerned national authorities” in Europe to step up security to ensure women and girls are protected and provide adequate and safe reception facilities.
It is also urging them to urgently find alternatives to detaining children and to prevent families being separated, as women and girls on their own face enhanced risks.
Leaders from ten EU and three non-EU countries are meeting this evening in an attempt to find a solution to the migrant crisis in the Balkans.
A leaked draft statement calls on countries to stop letting migrants through with the agreement of their neighbours.
The absence of Turkey at the talks has been questioned after German chancellor Angela Merkel said the crisis could not be solved without the help of Turkey.
Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, added: “Today the discussion will be among the countries along the corridor of the refugee flows.
“But everybody knows at the end of the corridor there is an entrance.”