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Ukraine and Russia War is a Human Trafficking Crisis

How refugees become vulnerable to human trafficking

Transcript below video.

** Updates since publishing video / blog **

Humanitarian Impact (up to date data here)

Refugee arrivals from Ukraine (total)

Last updated 21 Mar 2022

Internally Displaced People (estimated)

Mar 11, 2022 | Protection Cluster Ukraine | DATA

Civilian Casualties – Killed

Mar 17, 2022 | OHCHR | DATA

Civilian Casualties – Injured

Mar 17, 2022 | OHCHR | DATA

The below chart comes from here, if you want it completely up to date.

Total Refugee influx from Ukraine in neighboring countries**JSON 

**The accumulated data in this table is higher than the total number of refugees fleeing Ukraine presented above since it also takes into account people crossing the border between Romania and Moldova.

Human Trafficking Hater Episode – Mar 17, 2022, with permission

(The following is a transcript from the above video)

This episode is the first in a three-part series that looks at the Ukraine and Russia conflict that is leading to millions being increasingly vulnerable to human trafficking.

This video examines the specific vulnerabilities that place refugees and the path of traffickers looking to take advantage of their misery.

Future episodes will cover how big the crisis is compared to other refugee situations around the world and what are the conditions of countries receiving Ukrainian refugees.

Now on with the episode!

Instantly, many Ukrainians joined the ranks of the millions of refugees worldwide

On February 24th of 2022, Russia began the largest military attack on the European continent since World War II, when it sent its military into Ukraine. As Russian troops went in, Ukrainian civilians were heading out of the country to avoid the violence.

This instantly made them refugees.

Refugees are at an increased risk of many forms of violence and crime and that includes human trafficking.

While this is horrible, Ukrainians are not the first group of people to be forced into refugee status, so we are aware of the perilous journey they have before them and the pitfalls they can fall into. Recently millions have found themselves forced to face the increasingly vulnerable status of being a refugee.

Refugee statistics are already out of date

Groups previously and currently affected include Syrians, Afghanis, Somalis, and now the crisis is in Ukraine.

Ukraine's crisis is growing so fast that depending on when you watch this video the numbers I'm providing will be obsolete. The United Nations warned that up to 5 million of Ukraine's 44 million people could become refugees if Russia's attacks continue.

It's mainly women children and elderly fleeing, as males ages 18 to 60 are barred from leaving Ukraine after president Zielinski called on Ukrainians to take up arms and defend the country.

As of March 14th there are nearly 3 million refugees. Most have gone to Poland while many others have gone to Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Hungary.

(NOTE: Updated numbers are at top of this page as of March 17th.)

Desperation creates a fertile environment for human traffickers 

There are even some refugees that are so desperate to get out that they have fled into Belarus and Russia, which is incredible because these are the very countries that are attacking their country, or at least facilitating the attacks.

In the case of Belarus, the desperation to get out is what helps to set up all of the vulnerabilities that can lead to trafficking.

Ukraine + Russia War is a Human Trafficking Crisis: Refugee silhouette

Deception leads people into bad situations

One big vulnerability is security.

War zones are lawless areas where security is diminished, and beyond being at risk from enemy combatants, there is an increased risk from non-combatants as well. With no way for the law to be enforced, crime ultimately rises.

This lack of security makes people desperate to leave and get out, while also placing them in positions where they can be deceived. Fraud and coercion are used significantly more than force by traffickers around the world, and the plight of impending death from a global superpower makes people more susceptible.

Lack of funds creates another vulnerability to trafficking

Beyond security issues, Ukrainian refugees will have to deal with being economically vulnerable, as they will likely not have a job set up in a destination country or enough savings to sustain them and their families.

And while support for Ukrainian refugees is very high, and many countries are pouring in billions in economic support right now, that can and usually does change over time.

Non-profits experience something known as donor fatigue, where funds diminish to the point where human survival is barely maintained. The idea of people surviving with dignity or even thriving is out the window, as refugees struggle to survive.

Ukraine + Russia War is a Human Trafficking Crisis: Refugees on foot

Economic stress means survival requires taking risks

You might be thinking why don't they just go get a job? The answer is that refugees often face opposition from locals who are competing for jobs as well.

Some of the countries where Ukrainian refugees are going are already economically unstable and will likely not be safe havens for long because the economic plate will have them taking increasingly riskier chances to earn money for survival.

With security not guaranteed and economic access restricted, anyone would be at an increased risk of trafficking. But remember Ukrainian refugees, like many of the refugee groups before them, are mostly women and children.

Gender discrimination exists throughout the world to varying degrees, but with refugee status, these women are at an increased risk of physical and sexual attacks.

In some cases women and children resort to exchanging sex for survival, which includes food, protection, and other basic needs. While it may seem that these individuals are choosing to engage in prostitution, the lack of other reasonable options beyond returning to a war zone to die or dying of starvation hardly seems like a reasonable set of options to suggest they had a choice in the matter.

Ukraine + Russia War is a Human Trafficking Crisis: Refugee Girls

How would you feed your children without a job?

Traffickers are aware that women and children are desperate and have already, just a few weeks into the conflict, started approaching refugees with offers to help. They are appearing in the streets at train stations and anywhere else they know refugees will be.

Especially at risk to these traffickers are separated children. Separated kids may survive with other groups of children in childhood households or go to live with other families.

In these new environments, the children may not be treated as full family members and are subject to physical and sexual abuse that can have them turn to the streets or run away, which places them at an increased risk of being identified by a trafficker looking to take advantage of their misery.

A lack of basic needs creates easy targets

The key to understanding why Ukrainian refugees are at risk of being trafficked is the same as it is for all refugees.

They are at an increased level of vulnerability, as they no longer have access to the same network of friends and family, financial support, or security.

As they look to find normalcy in a foreign land they are sadly easier targets for traffickers.

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