How human traffickers are using the Ukrainian exodus to find their next victims

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‘We also think monitoring of labour is very important,’ Hoff says, encouraging governments to proactively set up anti-trafficking structures to protect refugees. ‘We really want governments to make sure people have access to decent work. They shouldn’t be used as cheap labour.’

Without swift action, exploitative people will step in to take advantage of the vulnerabilities of Ukrainian refugees.

‘If this war continues and not much is done, then we will see a large group of people not protected, and the risk of human trafficking and exploitation will only grow,’ says Hoff. ‘We need coordination. We need monitoring. If it’s left, exploitative practices will definitely increase.’

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Kateryna Cherepakha and her team run a telephone and online hotline in Ukraine for people impacted by domestic violence, human trafficking and gender-based discrimination. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the hotline has had five times as many calls for assistance.

Run by La Strada International, a European anti-trafficking NGO platform, Cherepakha, who is the Director of the Ukrainian branch, says they receive calls from desperate voices, some hiding in basements away from the bombing above, others temporarily safe in shelters.

‘One woman got in touch who had been raped by Russian occupants,’ she tells ‘We get messages from people who have lost everything. They are in such difficult conditions. They can be crying, but some struggle to even find the words to say.’

In the midst of their trauma, Ukrainians are trying their best to survive with the little they have left after fleeing,’ she explains. If in a ‘good’ position to flee, Cherepakha says a person will have all of their documents, some money, and a few pieces of clothing. Often however, they have had to flee with what they have on them, making them increasingly vulnerable for exploitation and trafficking to survive.  

The risk of trafficking and exploitation is just another worry millions of Ukrainians have on top of the trauma of fleeing their beloved home country. ‘People are just trying to save their lives,’ adds Cherepakha, who hears from thousands of Ukrainians looking for advice and direction. ‘Everybody is traumatised.’

More than 12 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since the conflict began on the 24 February, with nearly 6 million having crossed borders into neighbouring countries and 6.5 million displaced internally.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, La Strada Ukraine’s hotline has had five times as many calls for assistance (Picture: Kateryna Cherepakha)

A new report commissioned by the Freedom Fund, an organisation which identifies and invests in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate modern slavery, has raised immediate concerns about the risk of human trafficking and severe exploitation resulting from the biggest movement of people since the Second World War.

‘Conflict and disasters worldwide have long been connected with human trafficking,’ says Dan Vexler, managing director of programs at the Freedom Fund. ‘Profiteers – including organised criminal groups and individuals – take advantage of the turmoil and despair that follows as people become increasingly vulnerable. 

‘We have seen this following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, in Syria and amongst the Rohingya people from Myanmar. Inevitably we are now seeing this happening in Europe as a result of war in Ukraine.’

As soon as the conflict began, Ukrainians quickly fled to find safety amidst the bombings of their homes by Russian troops and plans were not in place to receive them. ‘It was complete chaos,’ remembers Suzanne Hoff, co-author of the report and coordinator at La Strada International. ‘People didn’t expect people to move so quickly. It was a huge mass exodus and governments …read more

Source:: Metro


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