The United Nations refugee agency is warning that migrant women and children travelling to Europe are particularly subject to sex abuse, calling on countries to do more for their protection.
Speaking to reporters Friday in Geneva, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that extortion of children appears to be happening “in every single country” along the route.
The UNHCR estimates that more than 600,000 migrant and refugees from Middle East, Africa and Asia have arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean this year and about one-third of them are women and children.
Fleming said it is likely that smugglers, criminal gangs and other refugees are behind the abuse and unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable.
She told VOA countries throughout Europe, including Greece are putting children in detention facilities, sometimes with other adults. She says children packed into these prison-like settings are at great risk of abuse and exploitation.
“What we are talking about are groups of traumatized children who fled in many cases war or who have just embarked on journeys that are nightmarish. And, to subject children to detention is inhumane.”
Some children appeared to be engaging in "survivor sex" to pay smugglers to continue their journey, Fleming said, either because they have run out of money, or because they have been robbed en route.
"We are raising the alarm bell," Fleming said, citing numerous testimonies about sexual violence at overcrowded reception centers such as those on the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of people have been arriving every day.
"Scenes of absolute misery. This crisis needs to be managed, starting with reception and registration centers in Greece. Otherwise, the chaos and suffering will continue," Fleming also commented in a Facebook video posting, showing migrants coming ashore through freezing water at night.
The migrant crisis this year already has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach prosperous Western European countries that are more sympathetic to asylum seekers.
Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva