The war in Ukraine fuels human trafficking. Child theft, rape… The NGOs warn of the situation in the country, but also where the refugees are being taken in.
In Ukraine, a country devastated by war since late February, as in any conflict, the most vulnerable people are women and children. NGOs have issued a strong warning about the human trafficking, increase in rape and child theft that is taking place in the country and other countries hosting refugees. “The issue of risk of exploitation and human trafficking inside and outside of Ukraine is important,” explains to The shipping Geneviève Colas, who coordinates the “Together Against Human Trafficking” collective for Secours Catholique – Caritas France. In fact, the association has regular echoes about what is happening in Ukraine, but also in the countries bordering Ukraine and as far as France.
“Children left on the streets, alone and disorganized”
“The new victims are very young women who were sexually exploited during the Russian occupation in the Kyiv region,” says Geneviève Colas. “Two or three days ago, Caritas Ukraine told us the story of about twenty women and girls who were victims of rape in Kyiv. Eight of them committed suicide. The others are now being followed by the association, which is actively looking for qualified psychotherapists to help them”.
Ukraine also has the peculiarity of having many orphanages. “There live 100,000 children across Ukraine”. Since the beginning of the war, these institutions have been relocated inside or outside the country. “In other cases, the children have taken to the streets alone and unorganized.” Another problem in this conflict situation: the country approves surrogacy. “Many foreign parents could not pick up their born children for a month and a half, what happens to them?”
Women sexually exploited at borders
At the beginning of the conflict, the risks of human trafficking at the borders were greatly increased. Most of the refugees are women, children and the elderly, and men between the ages of 18 and 60 are no longer allowed to leave the country because they have to take up arms. “When we see large population displacements from wars, we know that women and children – because the migration routes are quite numerous and because there is general disorganization – can both be at risk of human trafficking, exploitation and violence,” lamented a few weeks ago in our columns, Jeanne Berger, head of the emergency program within the NGO CARE France.
“Since the first days of the conflict, Caritas Ukraine has reported to us that some women who left Lviv for Poland were being sexually exploited,” confirms Geneviève Colas. “We soon found out what was happening at the border with Romania, where unaccompanied children easily followed the first arrival who offered to take them in.”
“Refugees are not necessarily safe in other countries either”
Many people who fled the war now find themselves in neighboring countries, even in Western European countries like France. “But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily safe,” warns Geneviève Colas.
“Ukrainians enjoy refugee status. However, many other people of different nationalities lived irregularly in Ukraine, including minors. And therefore continue to live in different countries. There are also Russians who fled their country because they are against the war. In France, they find themselves with a tourist visa that is only valid for three months. What is their status afterward?” The association fears that these ineligible people will be exploited. “It will be the only way to support their families or survive.”
NGOs are now doing awareness-raising work at the borders and in countries hosting refugees. “We try to train the people and institutions that come into contact with war refugees,” explains Geneviève Colas.
“People fleeing Ukraine need to be made aware of the risks they are taking. Make them understand that they should not give their passport to anyone, follow anyone in their car, or even accept accommodation without knowing if it is safe.”