Ukraine: “Continuous Vigilance Required to Protect Children from Risks of Human Trafficking”

PMore than 4 million Ukrainians have fled their war-torn country, half of them children, according to Unicef. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many non-governmental organizations and associations warn of the risks that the journey into exile poses for these minors. Family separation, enforced disappearances, abusive encounters or even human trafficking… While 7,000 Ukrainian children were being educated in French schools, Secretary of State for Children and Families Adrien Taquet, who has returned from his trip to Poland, reiterates the government’s desire to protect these minors .

Since the majority of refugees are women and children, networks can use the chaos to organize different types of human trafficking. “We know there are also individuals who are pushing the boundaries and claiming to ‘bring help’ to isolated children. Forced labour, especially sex work, and child crime have not disappeared from our continent,” recalls Adrien Taquet, who is working with his European colleagues to provide an appropriate response. The solutions include: the systematic registration of minors at the borders, raising awareness of international associations on the risks of human trafficking and a call for vigilance from actors in French local authorities. Maintenance.

Point : International institutions and NGOs warn of the dangers of exile for Ukrainian children, particularly the risk of enforced disappearance and human trafficking. Are they proven?

Adrian Taquet: As is so often the case, children are among the first victims of the conflict from the very beginning. For this reason, I took the opportunity of the presence in Paris on March 4th of many European ministers responsible for children to warn of the consequences of their confrontation with the conflict and of the need to do everything possible to protect them. That is why we have signed a declaration on the situation in Ukraine with my European counterparts, aimed at helping children and their families quickly and concretely. This declaration also served as a basis for further discussions, particularly on the risks of human trafficking. Because yes, when the vast majority of refugees are women and children, unfortunately that attracts many networks who go to Ukraine to take advantage of the chaos, exposing those fleeing the fighting to a whole type of human trafficking. We know there are also individuals who will push the envelope on their own and claim to be “bringing help” to isolated children. Forced labour, especially sex work, and pedophile crime have not disappeared from our continent.

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How to prevent this traffic from happening? The collective “Together against human trafficking” founded by Secours Catholique calls in particular for the systematic registration of minors at the borders.

Constant vigilance is required to protect children from the risks of human trafficking, from the point of departure to the point of destination. This is an approach in which we engage with the Ukrainian authorities, but also with the Polish ones who are at the forefront of hosting refugees. In Poland, the children are registered, but the challenge is to follow them throughout the Schengen area. The solutions are first of all increased awareness of the risks of human trafficking by all actors – and we are working on this with international associations and organizations – and then the mobilization of national child protection systems. In addition to the educational and information flyers distributed by the Interministerial Mission for the Protection of Women from Violence and in the reception centers Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (Miprof), the government has just issued a directive to local authorities, particularly the Departments in charge of Children’s Welfare Assistance (ASE), insisting on and vigilance on these risks of human trafficking.

We see both children arriving alone and entire orphanages being evicted.

Almost 100,000 children live in institutions (orphans, but also disabled and foster children) in Ukraine, what is their current fate? Maybe you met some in Poland?

Some children living in institutions were actually able to leave Ukraine. We see both children arriving alone and entire orphanages being evicted. I went to Stalowa Wola in south-west Poland, where a reception center for children was set up: 86 are accommodated there, including 38 with disabilities (mental retardation, spectrum disorder, autism…). Their situation is the object of particular attention, linked to their vulnerability, to the weaknesses that they sometimes exhibit, which are multiple. Others are still on Ukrainian territory, not all are exposed to the fighting, but concern for a certain number of them remains high.

Adoptions are generally suspended, but associations are reporting suspected cases: Christian organizations that have allegedly “picked up” children at the border to bring them to European countries, a member of the American and evangelical far right who participated in the evacuation of an orphanage Mariupol, and would prepare adoptions with the United States…

We condemn these individual steps aimed at the adoption of children, which are against the will of the Ukrainian authorities. They pay a lot of attention to respect for pedigree. We are working closely with the Ukrainian embassy in Paris on this issue. We must avoid any uncoordinated actions likely to compete with or destabilize the aid and protection organized by states and organizations.

What feedback from NGOs did you get on site?

From day one, the role of NGOs and international organizations (particularly Unicef​​and Caritas) in this area has been central. They often ensure the initial reception, accompaniment and care of refugees and usually pay special attention to children. That is why we work closely with them, be it their French branches or those in Ukraine or in neighboring countries. They pay particular attention to the risks of human trafficking or the psychological impact of the conflict on children.

According to your company, around forty minors between the ages of 15 and 17 have arrived on French territory. In theory, the NGO Care International tells us, they have to carry a notarized letter from their parents to cross the border. Some got through on their own, others with “trustworthy” people. What checks are carried out on their arrival in France? Are they treated like any other unaccompanied minor (MNA), cared for by Childhood Social Assistance (ASE) and then placed in a home or hotel?

We have worked on solutions adapted to each profile. For example, if a minor arrives alone and unaccompanied, his situation is assessed by the departmental council and France can then guarantee him safety and protection. If it is a minor who is accompanied by a Ukrainian institution or structure or a responsible adult, we carefully check whether the adults responsible for the child have a legal title that guarantees respect for their rights. Joint care is set up between the accompanying person and the child at the time of the checks. If there is a risk, the child can then benefit from court placement to protect them.

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