A number of NGOs in Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city, are sounding the alarm that it is becoming increasingly common for unaccompanied "new arrivals" to resort to prostitution to make ends meet, national broadcaster SVT reported.
The phenomenon of "survival sex" involves young men who sell themselves in exchange for a roof over their heads. According to local humanitarian NGOs, sex serves as payment for food and shelter, and may become both a temporary solution or a long-term method.
"You see no other solution. You are extremely exposed and receive no government support. You have no place to live in, it starts to get cold, and you need somewhere to sleep", Mira Björkegren from Malmö's Unaccompanied Union told SVT. Her organisation engages in "field work" and meets young people in the streets.
"Based on what I have been told, it involves a lot of older people. You can stay at their place and thus become used over a longer period of time", Björkegren explained.
Other NGOs and authorities subscribe to this perception that the phenomenon of "survival sex" is gaining ground.
"It's about covering basic needs. A roof over your head and food for the day, that's what they are being offered and that's why they feel compelled to return the favour with sex", Johanna Saunders of the Red Cross told SVT. "We can see that it is increasing among this public. We can see it and we hear the desperation".
According to Swedish Radio, unaccompanied minors are also used by criminal gangs, who force them to sell drugs. The police in several municipalities testified to a systematic approach by criminal gangs who target and recruit unaccompanied asylum seekers from Afghanistan. The Stockholm police alone identified some 120 unaccompanied minors involved in drug peddling.
Robin Nilsson from the Gothenburg Police, which encountered similar problems, suggested that threats and coercion are frequently used. Stockholm Police coordinator Lennart Karlsson also identified homelessness as one of the underlying reasons, as minors may be offered a bed in exchange for their "services" in illegal drug sales.
The Red Cross ascribed this development to a change in the immigration law, which left several migrant groups "sitting between chairs" and outside the authorities' responsibility. Despite existing help programmes on the municipal level, many lack the right to financial support and housing.
In 2015 alone, over 35,000 asylum seekers billed as "unaccompanied children" entered Sweden. Their real age, however, remains a matter of perennial debate for lack of reliable verification schemes. Over 80 percent of "children" age-tested by the National Board of Forensic Medicine turned out to be adults.