Refugees Fleeing Ukraine Leave Millions Vulnerable to Human Trafficking

 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused more than three million refugees, including 1.5 million children, to flee the country. Unfortunately, while millions of people around the globe have provided support and assistance to help, the situation has also created a prime opportunity for nefarious human traffickers to take advantage of frightened, desperate people.

Most of the refugees are women and children. In addition to the millions fleeing the country, at least 1.85 million are now displaced internally. UNICEF said that officials identified more than 500 unaccompanied children crossing from Ukraine into Romania from February 24 to March 17. The organization says that unaccompanied and displaced children are at a higher risk of traffickers seeking to exploit the chaos.

 

Conflict Often Breeds Human Trafficking

Historically, Human trafficking during mass migration or refugee movements is not uncommon. For example, a 2016 United Nations survey found that 70 percent of migrants arriving in Europe by boat were trafficked or exploited. In addition, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, conflict-driven displacement can increase the risk of trafficking, and more than 70 percent of detected trafficking victims are female.  

 

Refugee Circumstances Make People Vulnerable

It’s difficult for most of us to grasp the reality of the life of a refugee. Being forced to 

leave almost everything behind, including people you love, to find safety. Having to face each day not knowing where you will find food or other essential supplies. Bringing the education of your children to an abrupt stop. Finding yourself plunged into poverty. Living in constant fear in a country where your language isn’t spoken.

Dire consequences can leave people in total despair. Without food, shelter, medical help, or other options, they have no choice but to rely on the kindness of strangers. People in neighboring countries have opened private homes to the refugees and provided other supplies. But unfortunately, not all strangers are well-meaning. 

Manipulative traffickers ply refugees with empty promises of a place to stay, financial assistance, or employment. In reality, the trafficker’s promises never materialize. Instead, desperate refugees are forced into prostitution or hard labor.

 

Criminal Elements Are Poised To Exploit

The danger and destruction caused by the war in Ukraine have caused people to leave their homes seeking safety, protection, and assistance. Many are desperate and without family or friends who can offer shelter. 

Displacement, suddenly falling into extreme poverty, being widowed, losing, or being separated from family members, and many other characteristics of conflict create countless more vulnerable women every hour.

While many European countries welcome the refugees and do all they can to provide shelter and support, the risks of exploitation are significant. For example, many European cities have posted warning signs cautioning people not to accept offers of money or accommodation when they arrive at the train station due to concerns that human traffickers might be attempting to lure them. 

Experts warn that in addition to sex trafficking, refugees are also at risk for labor exploitation. For example, an offer to exchange safe lodging for labor—often cleaning or babysitting—could lead to labor trafficking, forcing people to remain in a position or work long-term for free.

There are already reports of people tempting refugees with suspicious offers in just a few short weeks. For example, officials detained a man in Poland suspected of raping a 19-year-old refugee he’d lured with offers of shelter after she fled war-torn Ukraine. 

Another man was overheard promising work and a room to a 16-year-old girl before authorities intervened. Suspicions were also raised at a refugee camp at Poland’s Medyka border when a man offered help to only women and children.

 

Keep Ukraine Refugees From the Hands of Traffickers

While we can’t all be on the front lines to protect Ukraine refugees from the dangers of human traffickers, we can support organizations working on the ground like The Ophan’s Hands. Your contribution can ensure that we can provide food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities. Your donations can help keep people safe.