Ukraine refugees still at risk of human trafficking, Christian group warns

(Photo: Pexels/Denys Olieinykov)

Christian campaigners have issued a fresh appeal for action to protect Ukrainian refugees from human trafficking. 

The call follows the release of a UN report warning that the war in Ukraine could generate an "unprecedented number" of human trafficking victims unless mitigation measures are put in place.

The report, published this month by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that Ukraine was "already a significant origin of human trafficking" prior to the Russian invasion last year.

As fighting continues, UNODC predicts a 5 per cent increase in Ukrainian trafficking victims in 2023. 

Refugees in financial need are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, the report warns.

"Conflicts have increased vulnerability to trafficking in and outside of conflict areas. Forced to flee and often in economic need, displaced populations are easily targeted by traffickers," the report reads.

"Analysis shows a relationship between the people forced toflee Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 as a result of the conflict in the eastern part of the country, and increased detection of trafficking in persons from Ukraine to Western and Central Europe in the following years.

"With the regular migration scheme offered by the EU to Ukrainian citizens in the current conflict, the vulnerability to trafficking may be reduced as compared to 2014.

"Nonetheless the risk that the current conflict in Ukraine could generate an unprecedented number of victims remains if mitigation measures are not put in place."

Responding to the UN report, Christian charity CARE said that there were "concerning loopholes" in the UK government's Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The campaign group warned that Ukrainians risk being trafficked to the UK by criminals or falling victim to exploitation after claiming asylum on arrival in the country.

CARE's trafficking expert, Rebecca Stevenson, said, "Almost a year has elapsed since Russia invaded Ukraine but the threat to Ukrainians leaving the country remains high.

"Traffickers are operating on the borders of the country to intercept and exploit vulnerable women and children.

"It is crucial that UK ministers continue to raise the alarm about this issue, and work with European agencies to confront it. Ministers must also demonstrate that they are providing ongoing care for Ukrainians who have entered the UK."

She reiterated previous calls from CARE for welfare checks to be carried out on Ukrainians being housed under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 

"Thousands of Ukrainian nationals came here under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and were placed in various contexts. What checks are local governments and agencies carrying out to ensure these people aren't falling off the radar and into modern slavery?" she continued.

"CARE constantly emphasised the need for ongoing welfare checks, but it is difficult to get a sense of what's happening on the ground.

"We have seen research suggesting refugees are struggling to find their own housing and work. Traffickers will prey on these individuals.

"We call on the UK government, local authorities, and other relevant agencies to provide reassurance about refugee welfare. It would be an awful failing if any person who has come to our shores for sanctuary should be let down."