by Emma Elshaw
Last week, we looked at how the war in Ukraine has caused an increase of trafficking among the refugees who are fleeing their war-torn country into neighbouring countries. Today, we will delve further into the effects of the war in Ukraine as it relates to human trafficking.
We know that women are vulnerable to trafficking as they are in the midst of fleeing Ukraine for safe, neighbouring countries. But it’s not just women who are vulnerable to trafficking - the children are as well. In many cases, children have been separated from their families amidst the chaos at the border of Ukraine. “More than 500 unaccompanied children were identified crossing from Ukraine into Romania from 24 February to 17 March. The true number of separated children who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries is likely much higher. Separated children are especially vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.”
UNICEF has a long history of working with and advocating for children and their needs. Children separated from their families are particularly vulnerable, especially in the current crisis with the war in Ukraine and the great exodus that is currently happening. In an effort to protect children and in an attempt to reunite children with their families, UNICEF is “calling on governments to improve cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange between and among border control, law enforcement and child protection authorities and to quickly identify separated children, implement family tracing and reunification procedures for children deprived of parental care.” If children are reunited with their families, their vulnerability can decrease, creating a safer environment for refugees and children, and potentially decreasing the risk of trafficking to children.
In an effort to help protect these vulnerable women and children, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, “distribut[ed] printed materials to refugees on both sides of the border, with information on how they can protect themselves and report incidents of sexual misconduct or criminal activity.” With the strong possibility of a language barrier among many of the refugees, the hope is that this material is available in several languages, including English, Polish and Ukrainian.
It’s not just the Ukraine war that has created an opportunity for traffickers. Any time there is a crisis that creates a mass exodus with vulnerable refugees, there is a risk of trafficking occurring: “UNODC research has demonstrated how people fleeing conflict are vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking.”
“A few years after the war in Syria started, UNODC data noted a rapid increase in the number of identified victims of trafficking from Syria in the Middle East, Turkey and in European countries. In 2018, the Global Report highlighted how Afghans and Rohingya people from Myanmar, fleeing conflict and persecution, were targeted by traffickers.” It is a dangerous situation for those escaping conflict, says Ilias Chatzis, Chief of the UNODC Section on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling.
UNODC is helping NGOs, border control, as well as law enforcement, in their effort to control and strengthen the early detection and prevention of trafficking and other criminal activity taking place during this refugee crisis. With millions of people fleeing Ukraine into nearby countries, the chaos and confusion at the borders can be plentiful, which traffickers are aware of and will take advantage of. However, with all these efforts being made at UNICEF, UNODC, UNHCR and other organizations, the hope is that those vulnerable of exploitation through trafficking will be better protected, and trafficking won’t increase through the crisis, but rather decrease.
Conflict in Ukraine: Key Evidence on Risks of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants