by Emma Elshaw
The news stories covering the war in Ukraine depict the crisis and devastation that is being felt throughout the country and its inhabitants. However, there is another crisis that emerges as millions of refugees flee Ukraine into neighbouring countries, looking for a safe place for themselves and their families: “An avalanche of conflict-scarred women and children bursting out of Ukraine means that exploitation and abuse cases escalate.”
With millions leaving the country at once, border stations can become quickly overwhelmed. For many, this adds to the crisis, but for some with hidden agendas, it becomes an opportunity to take advantage of others. There are hundreds of volunteers who are looking to help refugees find a place to stay, as best they can. The “massive upswelling of volunteerism has received international acclaim, but [several] weeks into the war, there are increasing fears that traffickers and criminal networks are taking advantage.” With the attention on refugees, it can be easy for ill-intentioned people to sneak in, acting like any other volunteer holding a sign offering a place to stay. As of March 2022, there is “no system for registering volunteers or monitoring the different groups and people accessing the border area” or to know where the volunteers are even coming from. With so many people floating around, it can become a place of great confusion, and even greater confusion for those who do not speak a common language.
The Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, are coming into neighbouring countries looking for somewhere to stay, somewhere to send their children to school, and a job to support themselves. All of these things create great vulnerabilities, and traffickers prey on those who are vulnerable. Margherita Husmanov, a Ukrainian refugee who opted to stay and help amidst the chaos, reported that on her first day volunteering, she “saw three men from Italy. They were looking for beautiful women to sell into the sex trade. I called the police and it turned out I was right. It wasn't paranoia. It's horrible.”
These ill-intentioned people even went so far as to show up wearing high-vis attire, in the hopes of coming off as volunteers looking to help the refugees. The crisis that is happening isn’t just the war and the violence or the millions of refugees displaced without a home, it’s also the trafficking that is lurking in plain sight, taking advantage of all the vulnerabilities these refugees are experiencing.
Elżbieta Jarmulska, founder of the Women Take The Wheel Initiative, says that these “women have been through so much already, walking or driving their way through a war zone and then they are exposed to fear and exploitation here? I have no words for what that must be like.”
But it’s not just women who are vulnerable to trafficking - the children are, as well. We will further explore the effects of the war in Ukraine and war in general in the next part of this blog. Stay tuned for part 2 next week!
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