The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is turning into a human trafficking crisis, a top UN official has warned.
From the outset of the war on February 24, heightened risks of trafficking in persons, including for purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution, have been alarmingly evident, Xinhua news agency quoted Pramila Patten, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, as saying at a Security Council meeting.
“The lack of consistent vetting of accommodation offers and transportation arrangements is a serious concern, as well as the limited capacity of protection services to address the velocity and volume of displacement,” she told the meeting.
According to Patten, there were also concerns regarding the multiplicity of volunteers, with limited vetting, and little or no training or experience.
During her visit to a supermarket-turned-converted receiving center for Ukrainian refugees in Przemysl, Poland, the official said she found “grave security and protection concerns” in a facility run by volunteers, and with only a “bare-bones presence” of UN agencies.
Humanitarian staff at the site gave credible anecdotal accounts of attempted human trafficking, said Patten.
With minimal security screening, a man registered as a volunteer at the center in the afternoon and entered the “French room” where refugees were waiting for transport to France. At that time, he made contact with a 19-year-old woman, whom he later woke up in the sleeping hall at 2 a.m., offering a ride to France, she said.
Another man, wearing a yellow volunteer’s vest and standing with a sign at the Przemysl train station hall, was offering free transport from Poland to Germany. Other volunteers became suspicious and informed local law enforcement when they noticed that the man was selecting only young women for transportation in his minivan, she said.
Patten called for a coherent and coordinated response at the level of European institutions to strengthen the overall response.
“This is of utmost urgency as I believe that this humanitarian crisis is turning into a human trafficking crisis,” she said.
“This requires a concerted, integrated, and holistic cross-border response by humanitarian partners, law enforcement agencies, border forces, immigration officials, and political leaders. A regional compact is urgently required.”