GREECE

Alone and penniless, Afghan boys in Greece turn to prostitution

Text by: Liselotte Mas
7 min

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Town squares and parks in Athens, Greece, are filled with migrants who idle there, trapped in limbo between Turkey and Europe. It’s almost impossible for them to find work or decent housing, so they while away their days in public spaces. Despite the continuing efforts of numerous NGOs, some young migrants — especially unaccompanied minors — find themselves caught up in illegal trades, including drugs, human trafficking and, most frequently, prostitution.

Most of the young migrants you see in these public squares are Afghan and some are very young. Their young age — some of them are barely 15 — makes them especially vulnerable in already precarious conditions. With no source of income, most end up living in tent cities with no hot water or electricity. Migrants of all ages also face widespread discrimination.

Because they have no access to the labour market, many end up having to turn to illegal trades, such as prostitution, to survive. Every night, several dozen young men congregate in Victoria park, Pedion tou Areos park and on the Omonia Square to sell themselves. Sometimes, the actual act is carried out at the client’s house but, more often than not, the boys end up just going into the bushes with their client.

"The clients don’t care about these boys”

Ali A. works with a humanitarian orgranisation based in Athens. He sees Afghan refugees on a daily basis.

When people are just trying to survive and to fulfil their most basic needs, they are capable of doing all kinds of things. These young boys are in a desperate situation. They are living in tents in refugee camps and they don’t have any other work. Some of the problem comes from the fact that Afghan refugees face a lot of discrimination. They also don’t get any governmental aid. These young people have no adequate shelter and no way of making money and, ultimately, they are just left to fend for themselves as best they can.

At best, these young people are paid €50 per client, sometimes less than €10. I don’t know the nationality of their clients but almost all of them speak Greek and most of them are much older than the boys.

I sometimes work as an interpreter at the local hospital. One day, I translated for a young Pakistani man who had just tested positive for HIV. I had to explain everything to him. He had no idea what his diagnosis meant — he had never heard of AIDS. He had also never heard of a condom. He had no idea if he had contracted the virus during a sexual relation or while using drugs. Sometimes, clients don’t use condoms simply because they don’t care about these young people. These careless practices put many lives in danger.

As a way to share the burden of having so many refugees, the European Union now has a quota system, which means that asylum seekers who enter Greece could be moved to another country. However, the only people eligible are asylum seekers from countries like Syria or Iraq where 75% of EU asylum claims submitted by its nationals receive positive responses. Because only 63% of claims from Afghans are approved on average, people from Afghanistan don’t qualify for this programme.

Moreover, several of Greece’s neighbours, including Macedonia and Serbia, have closed their borders to Afghans. This means that the only way for Afghans to reach countries like Germany or Sweden quickly is to pay high fees to hire smugglers.

This photo was posed on Khatija Sacranie’s Facebook page.

“A lost generation”

Khatija Sacranie, who is British, works for the humanitarian organisation Goodwill Caravan. Several months ago, she saw about a group of about a dozen adolescent boys congregated on Place Victoria.

Most of them were Afghan, but there were also several Syrians and a few Egyptians. Older men, who weren’t refugees, were prowling around them like pimps.

Some of these older men were in cars and would stop to talk to the boys. I didn’t see any transactions made with my own eyes, but it was clear that there was prostitution going on between the refugees and the locals in the park.

Photo posted on Khatija Sacranie’s Facebook page.

Khatija Sacranie posted this message on Facebook after seeing what was happening in Place Victoria.

With Ali, our Syrian photographer and guide. We are in Victoria Square in the centre of Athens. This is a generation lost. Stuck in no mans land. Can't go forward. Can't go back. The youth. Lost boys. Minors still, some alone, some abandoned, some having fallen through the regulatory cracks. Young boys, like my nephews, like my cousins. We witnessed pimps, men on the prowl, ready to take advantage, ready to exploit. The common statements from these boys. "If you want to help us, send us back home. Send us back to Syria".

"Help us. Let us work. Give us something that we can do, somewhere we can work."

“Two or three with the same syringe”

Soon caught up in a violent night life, these young people start to use drugs. Very soon, they are enmeshed in a vicious circle that it is hard to break free from.

Syringes and spoons, which are used to consume heroin, are scattered in Park Pedion tou Areos. This photo was posted on Facebook by a page dedicated to the park.

“The most dangerous aspect is that, sometimes, two or three of them use the same syringe. If one of them has AIDS, the others risk becoming infected. They also drink a lot of alcohol. For them, life no longer has any sense or meaning. Three weeks ago, a young refugee died after overdosing. Sadly, there are many such cases,” explains Ali A.

This explosive cocktail comes together on Filis Street, which is right next to Victoria Square. For the past few decades, it’s been one of the hubs of prostitution and drug trade in Athens. There, you can find Sami’s Bar, which is known as a place where gay hook-ups between young foreigners and older Greek men are orchestrated.

A local posted this photo on a Facebook page about old buildings in the neighbourhood.

The building is in a poor state and seems to be deserted. The local resident who posted this photo on Facebook even claimed that his image showed an abandoned bar. However, according to several locals contacted by FRANCE 24, the rooms in Sami’s bar that are decorated in a Middle Eastern style are full from Wednesday through Saturday.

The locals who spoke with FRANCE 24 also said that young migrants continue to come to the bar looking for transactions.

“Crowd: Mostly young middle eastern [sic] men looking for older men. Some times [sic] you may find go-go boys,” reports a website listing gay-friendly addresses in Athens.

Our Observer Ali has heard of this bar that serves as a meeting place for the young migrants and their clients. However, he maintains that most of these meetings occur either in parks or other bars in the city.

“What are the police doing?" he asks. "They are trying to address this issue, but they need a place to house all these young people. They need to organise some kind of reception centre for them, even if that means putting them in prison. But there is just no place for refugees.”