11th Dec 2023

'Huge risk' children from Ukraine will be trafficked

  • ‘We should not wait until we have proof of a lot of trafficking because then it might be too late,’ said EU home affairs commissioner @YlvaJohansson (Photo: European Union, 2022)
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The European Commission has warned of a "huge risk" that children are being trafficked from Ukraine by criminal gangs.

The comments were made in Estonia on Monday (21 March) by EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson as a mass exodus of Ukrainians into neighbouring EU states continues.

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Escaping civilians have faced escalating violence from Russian advances and aerial bombardments. In Mariupol, children and infants have been killed in various attacks .

The number of refugees having fled Ukraine has topped 3.3 million in the span of just three weeks. That far outpaces the period 2015 and 2016 during the Syrian refugee crisis, when the overall number of arrivals was under two million.

It's now emerging that the exodus from Ukraine brings heightened risks of criminal gangs taking advantage of vulnerable people crossing at the borders.

The situation means orphans and babies born to surrogate parents are at greater risk of forced adoptions while, for women and children, there may be a greater risk of sexual exploitation.

Johansson said national police in EU member states are checking cars to make sure those being ferried away from the border area near Ukraine are in safe hands.

Although the reports of actual cases have so far been limited, Johannson said the police and NGOs have issued warnings of the risks.

"We should not wait until we have proof of a lot of trafficking because then it might be too late," she told reporters on her visit to Estonia.

Johansson said the commission has activated a network of national anti-trafficking coordinators to help crack down on any abuse.

She was echoing similar warnings made over the weekend by the UN children fund, Unicef.

Unicef says that some 28 percent of identified victims of trafficking globally are children but the potential for the trafficking of children from Ukraine is much higher, it said.

"Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked," said Afshan Khan, Unicef's regional director for Europe and Central Asia, in a statement.

At least 500 children without any adult supervision were identified crossing into Ukraine from Romania. The true figure is likely much higher, said Unicef.

Over two million in Poland

The vast majority of people fleeing Ukraine have so far gone to Poland, which now hosts over two million.

Half of those refugees in Poland are children, posing longer-term questions on how to find some sense of normalcy.

Poland had announced prior to the outbreak of the war that it had the capacity to accommodate some 300,000 in various reception facilities.

It has since relied on the good will of the population, a solution that some aid organisations say is a short-sighted strategy that cannot last.

Online Ukrainian classes?

Agnieszka Kosowicz, president of the board, Polish Migration Forum, earlier this month said cooperation between Polish NGOs and the government is almost non-existent given Warsaw's cold shoulder to civil society in general.

"This is a huge challenge right now, because cooperation is necessary," she said, claiming that the Polish government has not invested in refugee integration programmes.

It means challenges like educating large numbers of Ukrainian children of all ages remains.

One possible solution may be to set up classes online, linking Ukrainian teachers with children, said the European Commission.

That could create a link with "schools all over the European Union" and give children access to teachers "even if they don't have Ukrainian teachers right there," said Johansson.

Majority of trafficked children 'are EU citizens'

More than half of registered trafficking victims are EU nationals, with most sold off for sex, said the European Commission. Most are registered in Romania, followed by Germany and the Netherlands.

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