By Dr. George Belitsos
Four and a half million desperate refugees have poured over the Ukrainian border to escape the ravages of war. These people are primarily children, mothers, and grandparents. Human traffickers have seen this refugee crisis as a business opportunity.
Before February 24th when Russia invaded Ukraine, their lives looked very much like our own, work, school, and family. Today, shock and exhaustion are etched onto their faces. Their world has been turned upside down. A common desire unites the hearts of these desperate Ukrainians, safety. Safety from the bomb blasts and killing of civilians.
It is important to note that not all fleeing people are guaranteed safety upon reaching another country.
On the borders of host nations- amongst the officials, non-profit organizations, and genuinely concerned citizens trying to help- criminals are poised to prey upon the vulnerability of displaced people. Human traffickers recognize an opportunity to lure refugees with false promises of safety and security.
Innocent victims will be charged exorbitant fees for unsafe transport to an unknown place. Upon reaching supposed safety, they could fall into the hands of others who would exploit them further.
The International Justice Mission (IJM), that works to identify and free victims of modern slavery- said it was preparing for “increased vulnerability and risk of trafficking persons” as a result of the war. A social media post by IJM’s Romania field office recently stated: “Hundreds of people are coming in every hour- and while many local people are offering genuine help, not everyone is necessarily there to be kind. There are risks of exploiters taking advantage of tired and vulnerable women and children.
The nations of Europe are struggling to meet the needs of Ukrainians refugees. The EU estimates that the total number of displaced Ukranians could reach seven million. The EU is very aware of the human trafficking threat but the huge number of refugees has overwhelmed the truly safe resources, thereby giving traffickers exploitation business opportunities.
Women and children from Ukraine sleep in a makeshift shelter in the train station in Przemysl, Poland.