Are Ukrainians becoming sex workers? Refugee crisis raises trafficking concerns

The war in Ukraine quickly turned into the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. In just over a week, around 1.5 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine to other European countries, while humanitarian aid pours in from around the world. However, it seems that even amid the suffering and bloodshed, there are groups seeking to profit from the crisis, namely the sex traffickers.

Led by Airbnb, many businesses are now sponsoring relief efforts as families flee the horror and bloodshed of war. Viral photos and videos have made their way out of the country, showing how far Russian forces are going in their conquest. During the first week of March, we received reports of Russians killing Ukrainian volunteers and families, which is likely to be considered a war crime. There are also claims of Russian soldiers raping Ukrainian women, but it seems that is not the end.


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Tragically, it now appears that sex traffickers are jumping at the opportunity created by the war. Police and aid workers in Poland have now issued a sex trafficker warning, saying the ordeal for those forced to flee their homes is far from over.

Ukrainian refugees arrive at a temporary shelter on February 28, 2022, near Korczowa, Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Are Ukrainians becoming sex workers?

On March 6, reports emerged that sex traffickers were posing as Good Samaritans and targeting single women and women with young children along the Ukrainian border. Since many refugees are forced to walk for miles, with little food and shelter, they appear to be easy targets for smugglers as they cross the border. The Daily Mail reports that traffickers keep vulnerable women and children away from official checkpoints because “they are desperate and in such a state, some are ready to accept the first offer of help they receive without perhaps thinking about it. “

“‘A lot of desperate Ukrainians get picked up in a car by someone they’ve never met and don’t know’, British volunteer told the Telegraph, adding that police “want us to check people’s IDs to see who they are if they pick up younger women and children.” A Ukrainian refugee told the Mail: “I overheard a friend who passed through Poland and told me she went with a guy who said he would take her to Warsaw… He became aggressive with her but he didn’t get physical just saying he owed her money and should pay her by working for him.”

The Polish authorities have confirmed that they are aware of the problem and have taken action. “We know of a few examples of people who have tried it, and some people have already been arrested,” a law enforcement source told The Telegraph. One aid worker said: “There is no doubt that people are taking advantage of the situation, that’s why we are compiling a list of trusted people who can transport women and children, because we want to avoid the situation of people doing object of trafficking and exploitation.

Ukrainian refugees arrive at a temporary shelter on February 28, 2022, near Korczowa, Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

War and sex trafficking

The warnings come as 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia in just 11 days. On March 5, European officials expressed concern that those numbers could reach seven million. The United Nations noted that it was the “fastest growing refugee crisis since the Second World War”. The conditions made him ripe for sex trafficking, some experts noted.

“These gangs prey on the plight of refugees and war is a business opportunity for them to make a profit,” noted human trafficking policy expert Lauren Agnew. She added: “The war in Ukraine will create a worsening of the situation in terms of human trafficking. It will have a vulnerable domino effect across Europe. A key factor for this is that the majority of the refugees crossing are women and children, while the men remain to fight the Russian invasion.

So far, no nation appears to have created policies to specifically address this challenge. As more Ukrainians cross the border every day, the number of people offering help is also growing. It is a challenge that no nation was prepared to take on and therefore allows traffickers to exploit the loopholes.

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