The Ukrainian refugee turned human trafficking crisis - realities & response
Updated: May 12
UPDATE: (May 12th) Arise's relief efforts for Ukrainian refugee protection are now well underway. We are working with four trusted frontline partners across Poland, Hungary, and Romania to deliver support services and humanitarian relief to Ukrainian refugees who have crossed the border. Our programmes aim to prevent refugees from being exploited by traffickers, currently operating in border countries to Ukraine.
With frontline groups in Romania, we are assisting approximately 2000 refugees with support services and the development of individual safety plans, giving refugees safe spaces and contacts to prevent exploitation. In one region, we are focusing on the protection of disabled refugees - by providing medical assistance, overseeing safe transport, and advocating for a National Plan to cater for refugee disabilities more generally. Finally, we are supporting programmes to train frontline responders to combat trafficking, as well as to coordinate protection services with local authorities.
In Poland, we are working with embedded local groups to protect refugee families across a number of cities, providing psychological support, mentoring, education, and employment. We're also providing safe shelters, meeting spaces, and trafficking awareness workshops for refugees (many of whom are young women). We are further engaged with reception and integration assistance, childcare, schooling access, language courses, and legal assistance.
All of these measures have been designed to relieve deprivation, and to build up the physical and economic security of refugee families. This to protect them from becoming victims of human trafficking. We will continue to provide updates on our protective efforts as they expand and evolve.
As of today (March 30th), almost four million Ukrainians have left their war-torn country. Poland has taken in 2.3 million of these refugees, and Romania, with the second highest intake, has accepted almost 600k.
Across a number of border regions, trafficking activity has been detected and observed. There have been reports of missing children and vans filled with refugees on their way to various European nations. The BBC has already reported that ‘thousands of vulnerable children (are) unaccounted for’.
The vulnerability of these children and families is intensified in many cases by the absence of one or both parents. A great number of fathers are not travelling with their families (having been called to defend Ukraine) - and plenty of children are travelling alone, or with non-parental relations. Sometimes, this occurs when mothers are forced to stay in Ukraine to look after elderly relatives. War is an ideal time for human traffickers - who are aided by inconsistent and uneven visa registration processing in neighbouring regions.
At the border, the incredible generosity from concerned Polish citizens has been praised, but reports of racial prejudice have also emerged, at the hands of both Polish and Ukrainian guards. The sheer number of fleeing citizens, and the intensity of their trauma, has contributed to a complex atmosphere at border reception centres. Ukrainians are understandably traumatised, and whilst some are thankful to have escaped shelling, others are already trying to return, willing to face risks of power outage and food shortages for what little certainty home can still provide.
Vulnerability to trafficking increases with resource poverty, and other exacerbating factors include;
Lack of local knowledge
Distance from family
Limited immigration papers and visa confusion
Weak rule of law and the usurpation of normal safeguards
The prevalence of all of these factors is high, both in the border regions and refugee-receiving areas throughout Europe - hence the ever-present trafficking risk for thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
With some similarity to our Covid-19 response, we are responding to both immediate and medium-term needs. Our programmes will focus on relief, and then resilience.
Our immediate focus is relief, to mitigate the surge in vulnerability. Examples of relief include:
Shuttle services, information points and medical points at the border;
Shelters and safe housing, including housing placement monitoring services;
Food banks and provision services;
Bedding, clothing and medical supplies;
Safe spaces for refugees to meet and support each other;
Psychological support and well-being services.
Our relief work is being executed by a trusted group of local partners.
In response to reports from frontline groups that funding will dry up quickly and that there is no provision for the future, our other focus is longer-term resilience work. This is essential to the longer term wellbeing, integration and security of refugees. Currently, internal regions of neighbouring countries, home to many communities absorbing large numbers of Ukrainian refugees, are being largely neglected.
Interventions will include language support, mentoring and training, access to schooling, child care, employment, and ongoing psychological support, all adding to refugees’ resilience to the lures of traffickers. We will begin this work before the end of July.
Arise has already identified a set of trusted local partners to carry out the resilience phase of our response in Poland. We plan to develop and refine this list over the next weeks, through continued referrals, proposals and interviews.
Thank you to all of those who have supported our Ukraine response thus far. You can continue to do so through our donation portal.