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    Children in a refugee camp in Jordan . | Photo: Reuters

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“What these numbers underscore is the reluctance of many European countries to provide refugee children with a safe and permanent home." 

Child refugees in Greece are being sexually exploited on an unprecedented scale as they desperately seek to reach northern Europe, according to a new report by Harvard University.

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As Greek and other European states turn a blind eye, smugglers in Greece are forcing unaccompanied minors from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria to sell their bodies in order to meet the exorbitant fees required to reach their preferred destinations.

“This report documents a shocking and pervasive aspect of the current refugee crisis: the exposure of very young children to sexual exploitation as a survival strategy." Prof Jacqueline Bhabha, co-author of the “Emergency Within an Emergency” report, told the Guardian.

“It is imperative that national, regional and international bodies address this serious child protection emergency by rethinking their approach to one of the most vulnerable populations of migrants, and by immediately allocating adequate human and financial resources to reverse the current situation.”

While the report does not mention the number of children that have fallen victim to sexual exploitation, it claims that the largest group of children involved are of Afghan origin followed by Syrians, Iraqis, and Iranians.

Offenders tend to be 35 and over and target minors found in Athens’ Victoria Square and Pedion tou Areos, a major public park located next to departure terminals traveling toward Greece’s northern border.

Some of the tactics used to coerce the children include blackmail and threat of violence.

“[Many children] do not want to report [an incident], because they are afraid that the offender will take revenge on them. They also do not believe that the police can help them,” one psychologist told the report’s researchers.

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Nearly 50 percent of unaccompanied children in Greece are awaiting relocation to specialized, child-friendly accommodation. In 2016 over 5,000 unaccompanied refugee children were referred to child protection agencies, but only 191 — less than 4 percent  — were transferred to European countries.

“What these numbers underscore is the reluctance of many European countries to provide refugee children with a safe and permanent home,” the report’s authors told the Guardian.

“This emergency can no longer be ignored. We can no longer sit idle while migrant children are abused and forced to sell their bodies in broad daylight and plain sight in the heart of Athens simply to survive."

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