File picture: Reuters

London - Vulnerable refugee boys in Greece are having to sell sex to survive and some are using the proceeds to buy sex from women, a charity said on Friday, revealing a "shocking" cycle of abuse.

Faros supports unaccompanied refugee boys in Athens, capital of Greece, where thousands of unaccompanied children are living as refugees, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

"We do encounter minors at risk, who are vulnerable to being exploited and selling sexual services for money. They're left to fend for themselves," said Dan Biswas, who set up Faros in 2014 - a year before a major refugee crisis hit Europe.

"The other end of the spectrum that was shocking for us to see was that the same boys who were selling sex, some of them were also buying sex," he said on the sidelines of the Women Leaders in Global Health conference in London.

There are currently about 3 640 unaccompanied children living in Greece, mostly boys from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to government figures released in October.

Biswas said some of the refugee boys in Athens were not only being exploited but were abusing women. His team is working to address the issue through education, he said.

"On the one hand, we work with protection issues with safeguarding these children. At the same time, we work with the attitudes that these youths have towards women," Biswas said.

"Many of these boys come from cultures where women, in some instances, are perceived as less valuable," he said at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conference, which attracted about 900 people from 70 countries.

"So we've been talking to them about gender equality and respect for women."

U.N. children agency UNICEF said many lone migrant children moved undetected through Europe without applying for asylum and were not included in official data, making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from smugglers and locals.

In 2017 alone, nearly 33 000 children arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. Of that number, almost 20 000 children and teens travelled alone or were separated during the journey.

Children rely on human smugglers, making them prone to exploitation including rape, forced labour, beatings and death, says UNICEF.

Thomson Reuters Foundation