Children fleeing conflict in Ukraine are at increased risk of human trafficking and exploitation

GENEVA / NEW YORK, March 19, 2022 – Children fleeing conflict are at increased risk of trafficking and exploitation, UNICEF warns today. Traffickers often try to profit from the chaos created by mass movements of people – a real and growing threat to the 1.5 million refugee children who have fled Ukraine since February 24, and the countless others who have been displaced as a result of the violence were internally driven out.

According to a recent analysis by UNICEF and the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, 28% of trafficking victims worldwide are children. For child protection specialists, children will certainly represent an even higher proportion of potential trafficking victims in the context of Ukraine, since almost all refugees who have fled the country so far are women and children.

“The conflict in Ukraine is causing massive displacement and refugee flows — all conditions that could lead to a sharp rise in human trafficking and a serious child protection crisis,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia. “Displaced children are at greater risk of being separated from their families, exploited and trafficked. They need governments in the region to step in and take action to ensure their security. »

More than 500 unaccompanied children were registered at the Ukrainian-Romanian border between February 24 and March 17. The actual number of unaccompanied Ukrainian children who have fled to neighboring countries is likely much higher. These children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation.

“It is important to screen children fleeing the conflict in Ukraine to assess their vulnerability when crossing the border into a neighboring country,” says Afshan Khan. “Every effort should be made to strengthen control procedures at border crossing points for refugees. »

To protect and support children and families who have fled Ukraine, UNICEF and UNHCR, in partnership with governments and civil society organizations, are setting up Blue Dot Centers – safe places where children and women can access a range of services. These centers provide valuable information to displaced families, help identify and protect unaccompanied and separated children, and provide essential services.
Blue dot centers have already been set up in countries accepting Ukrainian women and children and will be rolled out on a larger scale in the coming days, including in Poland, where 34 centers will be set up.

UNICEF is calling on the governments of neighboring countries and other destination countries to increase child protection checks at border crossings, especially those with Ukraine, to better identify children at risk. UNICEF also calls on governments to strengthen border cooperation and information-sharing between border control agencies, law enforcement agencies and child protection services, as well as to quickly identify children who have been separated from their families and establish tracing and reunification procedures.

Additional controls should be put in place at shelters, major train stations and other places where refugees congregate or transit to address protection risks. Within the framework of the application of national and international laws, it is also essential to monitor the movements of children and women and to take all necessary measures to mitigate the risks to which vulnerable groups are exposed.

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