Human Trafficking and War
Has the recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia caused an increase of human trafficking within Ukrainian residents fleeing war? This post aims to provide a discussion on how local organisations and volunteers are protecting vulnerable citizens.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that occurs in most countries around the world, with a staggering 40.3 million individuals estimated to be in situations of forced labour and marriage (Zimmerman, 2021). Today it is commonly referred to as “modern slavery”.
There is no ‘specific’ profile for potential victims of human trafficking. Victims can be of any age, any gender or from any cultural background. Certain populations are more vulnerable, including runaway and homeless individuals, those fleeing violence or natural disasters, and those who have suffered from other types of abuse or exploitation in their lifetime (Engage Together, ND). Traffickers specifically exploit vulnerabilities that many people already face by using compelling stories of a better life, such as false economic opportunities or emotional support.
Has the Conflict in Ukraine Caused an Increase in Human Trafficking?
According to the United Nations, more than 12 million people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine since the war commenced. Within that staggering statistic, over 5.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries, mostly women and children (BBC News, 2022).
Undoubtedly, those women and children fleeing from the current war in Ukraine are at tremendous risk of human trafficking due to the sudden increase of vulnerability these citizens are facing. IOM Ukraine’s Chief of Missions stated, “We know how quickly the criminal world adjusts to changing realities and finds new victims. We call on Ukrainians and other nationals leaving Ukraine to stay alert and be cautious when on the move, at a new place or at home” (The Cube, 2022).
Assuredly, there has been reports of increased human trafficking due to the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Vulnerable Ukrainian citizens are approached by criminals posing as labour recruiters frequently targeting those in need of work promising them safety, money, and hope (Gardner, 2022). This false assurance of security is leading to various forms of human trafficking through forced labour, debt bondage, and forced prostitution.
Unaccompanied minors fleeing the war are also at a heightened risk of kidnapping and forced into forms of human trafficking such as labour, begging, marriage, or commercial sexual exploitation. Generally, traffickers seek to exploit the chaos of large-scale population movements, and with millions of children fleeing Ukraine since February, the threat of human trafficking is increasing substantially.
How are Organisations Protecting Survivors Fleeing the Ukrainian War?
Protection is vital to ensure the safety of refugees fleeing Ukraine, therefore, UNICEF is working alongside UNHCR, local authorities, and partners to bring safety, stability, and advice to families feeling the war in Ukraine. Blue Dots have been established to provide safe spaces through border crossings in neighbouring counties of Ukraine, which are providing children and families with information and services (UNICEF, 2022).
At a time where children’s lives have been drastically altered by fear and panic and they face immense trauma from leaving behind family, friends, and their familiarities, Blue Dot hubs are providing a safe, welcoming space to rest, play, and simply be a child.
Not only has Blue Dot hubs become safe spaces to provide comfort to children, they are also providing key information to travelling families, help to identify unaccompanied and separated children and ensure their protection, and provide a hub for essential services. Creators of the Blue Dot hubs encourage refugee border crossings to implement every method of strengthening screening processes.
UNICEF is urging for screenings to be implemented in shelters, large urban train stations, and other high traffic locations through which refugees may be gathering or passing. This additional screening should further provide protection for children and families migrating their way through unfamiliar places and experiences whilst finding their footing in a new life (UNICEF, 2022).
A great number of volunteers have mobilised to help Ukrainian refugees, which have become vital. Volunteers are providing free transport, accommodation, employment, and other forms of assistance.
“Part of it is an awareness of the power dynamics at play, the immense power volunteers hold when they step out here and they’re dealing with people who are incredibly vulnerable”, says Abu-Amr (UNHCR, 2022).
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are commending volunteers for their help over the last couple of months. With a focus on awareness and training, volunteers can facilitate forms of assistance and prevent human trafficking (Prio, 2022).
Zimmerman, C, 2021. Human Trafficking: Results of a 5-year Theory-Based evaluation of interventions to prevent trafficking of women from South Asia. Frontier: Public health. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.645059/full
Engage Together, ND. Human Trafficking 101: Who are the Victims?. Engage together. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://engagetogether.com/2018/02/22/human-trafficking-101-victims/
The Cube, 2022. Traffickers and online trolls target Facebook Ukrainian refugee group. EuroNews. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/03/24/traffickers-and-online-trolls-target-facebook-ukrainian-refugee-group
BBC News, 2022. How many Ukrainians have fled their homes and where have they gone?. BBC News. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-60555472
Prio, 2022. Helping refugees from Ukraine and Preventing Exploitation. PRIO. Retrieved 11 May 2022, from https://www.prio.org/events/8941
UNICEF, 2022. Children fleeing war in Ukraine at heightened risk of trafficking and exploitation. UNICEF. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/children-fleeing-war-ukraine-heightened-risk-trafficking-and-exploitation
Gardner, 2022. Ukraine War Increases Risks of Human Trafficking. United Way Blog. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.unitedway.org/blog/ukraine-war-increases-risks-of-human-trafficking#
UNICEF, 2022. Children feeling war in Ukraine at heightened risk of trafficking and exploitation. UNICEF. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/children-fleeing-war-ukraine-heightened-risk-trafficking-and-exploitation
UNHCR, 2022. Ukrainian crisis creates new trafficking risks. UNHCR. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from
Inews, 2022. Esyea, 6, cries as she waves at her mother Irina, while members of the Jewish community of Odsea board a buss to flee Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Inews. Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://inews.co.uk/news/world/ukraine-war-child-refugees-photos-fleeing-alone-un-abuse-risk-1503803