The first time Abdullah had sex for money was just two weeks after he arrived in Athens.
He was living at a disused airport along with thousands of other Afghan migrants. A week after he moved in, some friends took him along with them to the Pedion tou Areos, Athens’ main public park.
Abdullah didn’t like it. “It was a dirty place,” he said. “There were people there using drugs. A lot of strange people.”
Some of those people were older men who would come up and start talking to him. It was then that his friends told him why they came to the park. “They told me, ‘We have sex with these guys, and they pay us.’”
In his birth country Iran, he had slept with both girls and boys, he said, but never with “old men.”
“I got angry,” he said. “I had just arrived, and I had to do this just to get some money.”
But he stayed in the park for several hours, and after being approached by various men, he had sex with one of them in a wooded area off the main pavilion, for 20 euros (a little over $20).
“I didn’t have any money,” Abdullah said. “At the airport, there is no healthy work. You can sell drugs, sell sex or work for smugglers to find customers. There was no other way for me. I didn’t even have 20 cents.”
Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers live in Athens, hardly any of whom actually want to stay there. The continent’s new border rules have left them trapped on their way to northern Europe, and when their money runs out there’s almost no legal way to earn more. This is especially true for people from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, whose citizenship classifies them in Europe as “economic migrants,” and who for that reason have been stuck in the city longer than most Syrians, who are considered “refugees.”
With no money left, some young men sell sex to survive — in Pedion tou Areos, Victoria Square, and various bars and clubs around the city.
In Greece, sex work is legal only in registered brothels. But it’s common on the streets, too. Years of economic hard times have lured more women into prostitution. That’s well known. The male sex trade, on the other hand, is little reported, but it appears to be rising as Greece struggles with its economic and refugee crises.