Syria refugees journey through Europe
Children who had crossed from Serbia into Hungary wait for buses to take them to a refugee camp Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Refugee children travelling across Europe are having to resort to 'survival sex' to pay people smugglers, according to the UN. Children are being forced to prostitute themselves in order to continue their journeys, either because they have run out of money or they have been robbed, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.

At a news conference in Geneva, UN Refugee Agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming said that women and children are at "heightened risk of violence and abuse". She called on governments to take steps to ensure their safety, saying they have been concerned by testimony and reports they have received about children forced into "survival sex". Fleming said children were particularly vulnerable to sexual attacks in overcrowded reception sites, which are often dimly lit and lack separate spaces for single woman and children, and families with children.

Children are also at risk in other locations including parks, bus and train stations, and roadsides. Fleming added that unaccompanied children can be especially vulnerable because they lack adult protection and care. Children may also be placed in detention in some countries, sometimes alongside adults, which poses great risks. Finding alternatives to detention should be a matter of urgency for all countries, she said. UNHCR has appealed to all authorities in Europe to take measures to ensure the protection of women and girls, including the provision adequate and safe reception facilities.

Meanwhile, on 23 October The International Organisation for Migration said a record 48,000 migrants and refugees had landed on Greek shores over the previous five days. Since the start of the year, more than 644,00 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea. Approximately a third of them are women and children, many of them unaccompanied.

And concern is mounting about hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving in Europe and camping in western Balkan countries in colder conditions with the onset of winter. The situation for migrants has worsened after Hungary sealed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, leaving many stranded in other states which are now overwhelmed.