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We need to reach Ukrainian refugees now - before traffickers do


We need to reach Ukrainian refugees now - before traffickers do

Update from Shawn Kohl, Director for Central and Eastern Europe, International Justice Mission.

June 2022

With the crisis in Ukraine now having passed the 100-day mark, the number of Ukrainians displaced from their homes continues to grow – and worryingly, so does the level of risk that they are facing from human traffickers.

My team has been supporting refugees since day one of the crisis, and we’ve seen many vulnerable people successfully protected from trafficking – but right now, what we’re seeing is a growing need for increased protection.

Many refugees are starting to run out of income and savings, often having left behind jobs, businesses and partners in Ukraine.

Many are unaware of their right to protected status – which entitles them to work, healthcare and financial support within Europe – meaning they have an even greater need for resources.

This creates an easy target for the traffickers who were already operating throughout Europe, who can coerce refugees with false offers of work, accommodation and money.

"Many of the refugees are unaware of their right to protected status... This creates an easy target for traffickers already operating throughout Europe."

IJM has seen many refugees suffering from extreme trauma – particularly those who have fled more recently, who often have more complex needs and have spent longer periods of time within or near active conflict zones. These factors leave refugees disoriented – which traffickers could try to take advantage of.

The bottom line is that we need to reach refugees before traffickers do – and with savings starting to run out now and women losing their income sources, we are in a critical window of opportunity to act. It’s so important that we scale our protection for refugees throughout Europe so that in the months to come, we don't see an increase in trafficking cases.

According to the UN, the unprecedented displacement of millions of Ukrainians is swiftly ‘turning into a human trafficking crisis.' IJM is determined to make sure that these risks don’t become realities – refugees must be kept safe.

That’s why we’ve been partnering with authorities, shelters and volunteer groups in Romania since the start of the crisis to raise awareness of risks, provide safeguarding training, and connect refugees with vetted shelter, accommodation and legal advice. We now need to take similar action more widely across Europe to manage the growing nature of the risk.

Thanks to your support, we’ve already been able to safeguard hundreds of vulnerable refugees - but we can't stop now.

Together, we can continue to stay one step ahead of the traffickers.

Photo credit: David Peinado.

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