Concern grows over traffickers targeting vulnerable Ukrainian refugees

·2-min read

One man was detained in Poland suspected of raping a 19-year-old refugee he’d lured with offers of shelter after she fled war-torn Ukraine. Another was overheard promising work and a room to a 16-year-old girl before authorities intervened.

Another case inside a refugee camp at Poland’s Medyka border, raised suspicions when a man was offering help only to women and children. When questioned by police, he changed his story.

As millions of women and children flee across Ukraine’s borders in the face of Russian aggression, concerns are growing over how to protect the most vulnerable refugees from being targeted by human traffickers or becoming victims of other forms of exploitation.

“Obviously all the refugees are women and children,” said Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, the UNHCR’s head of global communications, who has visited borders in Romania, Poland and Moldova.

“You have to worry about any potential risks for trafficking — but also exploitation, and sexual exploitation and abuse. These are the kinds of situations that people like traffickers … look to take advantage of,” she said.

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 2.5 million people, including more than a million children, have already fled war-torn Ukraine in what has become an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Europe and its fastest exodus since World War II.

In countries throughout Europe, including the border nations of Romania, Poland, Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia, private citizens and volunteers have been greeting and offering help to those whose lives have been shattered by war. From free shelter to free transport to work opportunities and other forms of assistance — help isn’t far away.

But neither are the risks.

Police in Wrocław, Poland, said Thursday they detained a 49-year-old suspect on rape charges after he allegedly assaulted a 19-year-old Ukrainian refugee he lured with offers of help over the internet. The suspect could face up to 12 years in prison for the “brutal crime,” authorities said.

“He met the girl by offering his help via an internet portal,” police said in a statement. “She escaped from war-torn Ukraine, did not speak Polish. She trusted a man who promised to help and shelter her. Unfortunately, all this turned out to be deceitful manipulation.”

Police in Berlin warned women and children in a post on social media in Ukrainian and Russian against accepting offers of overnight stays, and urged them to report anything suspicious.

Tamara Barnett, director of operations at the Human Trafficking Foundation, a U.K.-based charity which grew out of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, said that such a rapid, mass displacement of people could be a “recipe for disaster.”

(AP)

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