The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is worried about the risk of trafficking in persons as well as sexual exploitation and abuse in Ukraine and the region as the number of vulnerable people fleeing the war continues to rise.
Over 3 million people have fled Ukraine, including 162,000 third-country nationals (TCNs). The deteriorating humanitarian situation and resulting large-scale and complex movements correlate with an increase in threat to personal safety, putting people on the move at heightened risk of exploitation. While cases of human trafficking are less likely to be identified in the immediate aftermath of mass displacement, initial reports from within and outside of Ukraine indicate the potential for traffickers to exploit the vulnerabilities of those fleeing the war.
Instances of sexual violence have already been reported and among the individuals promising onward transportation or services, there have been indications of potential exploitation. Individuals and community members providing transportation and accommodation assistance should do so in coordination with local protection agencies and should facilitate registration and share contact details, transportation routes, and accommodation locations to enable appropriate oversight and safeguarding.
“IOM reports show that people fleeing Ukraine are predominately from single-headed households including women, children and older persons – some of whom are unaccompanied and separated – and third-country nationals,” says IOM Director General António Vitorino.
“These groups can be especially vulnerable to the risk of trafficking as they leave their homes unexpectedly and might have their usual family networks and financial security seriously disrupted.”
In 2021, IOM in Ukraine identified and assisted over 1,000 victims of trafficking. In response to the war in Ukraine, the Organization has scaled up its efforts to establish resources and interventions to prevent trafficking in persons both in Ukraine and among those on the move throughout the region.
IOM is collaborating with border agencies and government partners to implement trafficking prevention mechanisms such as dissemination and inclusion of protection messaging, providing verified and safe information and raising awareness to empower refugees and third-country nationals to make informed decisions and be aware of risks.
The Organization has also reinforced regional hotlines to equip people on the move with important safety and resource information. IOM in Ukraine, Romania and the Republic of Moldova have developed online materials related to safe migration and counter-trafficking, which connect people fleeing Ukraine with vital accommodation, transportation, and trafficking reporting resources.
IOM encourages States to receive arrivals from Ukraine in a non-discriminatory, gender-sensitive, and culturally sensitive manner, without bias based on nationality, ethnicity, or status of documentation.
International humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld.
We stress the need for a collective response in terms of capacity building, appropriately collecting evidence, providing technical guidance, and above all, direct assistance to all victims and those vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse.
IOM also strongly recommends that third-country nationals are granted protection and have access facilitated to their respective consular authorities. The Organization is ready to support efforts to ensure the protection and safety of all those fleeing the war.