Fears of human trafficking in Ukraine intensify

With a wave of people fleeing the war in Ukraine, humanitarian organisations are warning of an increased risk of human trafficking. As reported by news agencies and the media, there is evidence of a growing number of gangs operating along the Ukrainian border, engaged in this practice. Minors are particularly vulnerable to becoming their victims.

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The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has recorded numerous cases of sexual violence against women and children trying to cross Ukrainian borders. Criminals most often exploit those vulnerable by impersonating people offering transport or accommodation.

Aid organisations, such as Caritas, support women and children queuing at the border and put increasing emphasis on measures to prevent human trafficking.

“There is a growing risk that refugees will become slaves,” said Vladyslav Shelokov, head of RM and PR Department at Caritas Ukraine.

The criminals have ‘no ethical scruples’

Sister Imelda Poole, president of RENATE, a European religious network fighting against human trafficking and exploitation, confirmed these dramatic reports. In an interview with Vatican Radio, she explained that gangs often use vans to which they lure their victims. The criminals, she stressed, have no ethical scruples and are only interested in pure profit.

“We work with the police, social workers and psychologists to prevent kidnappings and provide the best possible care for those who have managed to escape from the hands of the traffickers,” she said.

“Women and children are vulnerable, and we also know from our colleagues in Ukraine that unfortunately, even in the basements, where refugees hide from bombings, there are some risks,” she added, stressing that “there are known cases of rape of women staying there.”

As she reported, her organisation distributes leaflets among the refugees detailing exactly how to spot traffickers and protect themselves from exploitation.

“We suggest, for example, not to give your documents to the person who offers you accommodation and to register your whereabouts with the local authorities. It is also a good idea to write down the registration number of the car you get into and inform someone of this fact,” she emphasised.