“The child refugee influx is greater than anyone imagined”
War creates opportunities for human traffickers willing to exploit women and children for sex and labour.
This is a humanitarian crisis. It should not be a human trafficking crisis. But in reality, it is a human trafficking crisis, because child refugees are vulnerable, very vulnerable.
There is currently no universally accepted definition of ‘child refugee’
The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.
There is currently no universally accepted definition of ‘child refugee’, so this expression is universally understood to include refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons, up to the age of 18 unless under applicable national law, the age of majority is less. International humanitarian and human rights law has guaranteed security of their rights, most notably through the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
There could be up to 5 million refugees fleeing Ukraine
The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has spawned a massive refugee crisis that United Nations agencies have warned, could cause 5 million refugees to a leave the country. To date, since the start of the invasion on Feb 24, many Ukrainians have either rushed to hide in underground shelters or fled to escape an escalating war, among the terrified and those seeking refuge are hundreds of thousands of children.
In the scramble to safety, many have been separated from their parents or family members and are travelling unaccompanied, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. Sadly, they are left open to the risks of exploitation by human traffickers. The refugees, mostly women and children, face risks of human trafficking, including sexual and labour exploitation, during their journey or upon arrival in a destination country. Governments in destination countries are urged to find solutions to the influx and are asked to ensure the ‘immediate identification and registration of all children’.
OECD’s Valient Richley is urging states to ‘enhance their efforts to prevent trafficking right now”. Key destination countries for Ukrainians are Poland, Romania and Moldova, U.K., but as the crisis escalates, refugees are looking further westwards, families in countries like France, U.K. and Germany are opening their homes to receive refugees.
Every 8th child in Moldova is now a refugee
Moldova’s Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita has confirmed that 230,000 people have crossed the Moldovan border from Ukraine. She explained that “every eighth child in Moldova is now a refugee … at least three fourths of the refugees are staying with families“.
United Nations Officials are repeatedly calling for “reliable and predictable ‘windows of silence’ and ‘safe passage’. Peace negotiations between the two countries continue. In times of war, it is the ensuing healthcare crises that causes high mortality rates. Indiscriminate attacks and bombardment leads to the lack of access to hospitals and treatment. Outbreaks of disease, malnutrition, covid-19 are widespread. These are often the culprits that kill far more children than the war bombs and bullets.
Children are always the innocent victims of any war.
Many refugee children are traumatized
In the UK, Labour has called for an emergency visa which would be available to all Ukrainians who need protection in the UK. The European Union has granted Ukrainian refugees temporary residence rights – which includes access to medical care. It is also working to help other member states like Poland. Many refugees are also reaching western EU member states such as Germany and France. Germany has already registered 50,000 refugee arrivals.
Humanitarian partners involved in the relief efforts advise that it is the longer-term or chronic needs that deserve attention. Many refugees, especially children arrive traumatized. Many arrive without documentation, medication or the ability to speak the local language. This is often biggest challenge for the destination countries.
Polish hospitals have pointed out that almost every child refugee child has tested positive for COVID-19, certainly due to the uncomfortable travelling conditions in which they fled Ukraine, where new coronavirus cases were stated to be averaging around 27,000 per day before the war, with only 35% of the population vaccinated.
The influx is greater than anyone imagined
This is not a war confined to two countries. Every European country is responsible for helping the refugees, especially the children. The influx is greater than anyone imagined. Children need to be protected.
LATEST RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE OECD
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) States need to strengthen anti-trafficking prevention measures amid humanitarian crisis in Ukraine
On the 10th March, The Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings issued a set of recommendations to countries to prevent trafficking:
- Providing housing and immediate assistance like food and clothing;
- Establishing information centres and hotlines that can give clear official information on registration, residence, and rights in a language refugees understand;
- Introducing immediate measures to inform people seeking refuge of the risks of human trafficking, including “too good to be true” transportation, housing and job offers along migration routes and in vicinity of reception facilities and online.
- Disseminating official information broadly and monitoring for misleading information on housing and employment opportunities to prevent trafficking and fraud;
- States should establish clear procedures for exchanging information on people seeking refuge to prevent people, especially children, from going missing.