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29th May 2022

War in Ukraine raises fears over crime threat in Europe

  • It is estimated that four million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began (Photo: European Union, 2022)
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised fears over a possible rise in crime and criminal activity in the EU, prompting its agencies to step up efforts.

An internal EU document, seen by EUobserver, recently warned of the increased risk of human trafficking and sexual abuse, cyberattacks, infiltration of criminals, and circulation of weapons, drugs and illegal cigarettes.

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Last month, the International Organization for Migration raised concerns over the risks of trafficking in persons fleeing Ukraine.

The UN body warned, in particular, over a potential increase in sexual abuse since most of the people leaving the country are women and children.

The joint EU police agency, Europol, has deployed officers to Slovakia, Poland and Moldova to monitor potential threats regarding migrant smuggling and arms trafficking.

While Ukrainian refugees can be targeted at different stages of their journey, Europol said the highest risks concern the targeting of victims under the pretence of promising transportation, free accommodation, employment or other sorts of support.

It is estimated that four million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

EU member states have been invited to increase national controls to prevent any risk of criminal infiltration, including terrorists who may use falsified identity documents to enter the 27-nation bloc.

"The [EU] services already note that the heads of criminal organisations could take advantage of the situation to enter the Schengen area," reads the internal document dated 31 March.

It adds that the war in Ukraine is "conducive" to the circulation of weapons, some of which could be used for criminal purposes in the EU — warning that the risk of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons must also be taken into consideration.

Likewise, the illegal trade of abandoned or stolen private vehicles and their spare parts belonging to Ukrainian refugees could flourish in border countries.

The EU has also identified a rise in cyberattacks and fake news among the main criminal threats linked to the war in Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia have recently all reported attacks on digital infrastructure, according to the document.

But it is still unclear whether these have a direct link to the war in Ukraine.

Drugs and tobacco

Additionally, the EU says there is a risk that the flow of drugs to the EU will increase via Ukraine in the long term.

Ukraine is seen as a transiting country for heroin and other drugs like opium and methamphetamine from Afghanistan — but also as an important source of smuggled and clandestinely produced tobacco products, together with Belarus and the Russian-speaking region of Transnistria in Moldova.

The disruptions in Transnistria's border controls and search for income by Belarusian officials in response to European and international sanctions may pose "a risk of intensifying heavily organised smuggling," reads the document.

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