Human rights group warns Poland about safety of Ukrainian refugees

Refugees from Ukraine wait in a crowd for transportation after fleeing their homeland and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, Monday, 7 March, 2022
Refugees from Ukraine wait in a crowd for transportation after fleeing their homeland and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, Monday, 7 March, 2022 Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
By Euronews with AFP
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Human Rights Watch says women and children are particularly at risk from trafficking.


Poland must "urgently" strengthen its prevention and surveillance measures to protect Ukrainian refugees on its soil, particularly women, victims of trafficking, violence and rape. 

That's the warning from Human Rights Watch, which released a new report on Friday about the situation. 

The organisation highlights "insufficient and inconsistent" measures to control private accommodation or transport in vehicles offered to refugees who have arrived from Ukraine in their hundreds of thousands to neighbouring Poland.

HRW says the lack of checks can "increase the risks of trafficking, exploitation and gender-based violence." 

The new report also includes testimonies from women about what happened to them since they arrived in Poland. 

One 29-year-old Ukrainian woman claimed the managers of a club where she had accepted a job as a dancer had tried to force her into prostitution. 

Four other women interviewed also said that their employers had wanted them to work without pay. The report also recalls the arrest of a Pole accused of raping a 19-year-old Ukrainian woman he was sheltering.

Petr David Josek/The Associated Press
Children sit in a refugee centre in Nadarzyn, near Warsaw on 25 March 2022.Petr David Josek/The Associated Press

Although there is praise for Poland for opening its borders to an estimated 2.9 million Ukrainians, HRW also notes that much of the assistance offered to refugees has been ad hoc and reliant on public goodwill rather than being formally and fully coordinated by officials.

“Poland’s acceptance of those fleeing the war in Ukraine is a positive shift from its response to other crises, but the lack of basic protection measures risks exposing refugees to serious abuse,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Abdicating this role to volunteers and activists puts the burden of refugees’ safety on well-meaning but mostly untrained people without the needed systems or support.”

Report notes lack of government coordination

The new Human Rights Watch report found inconsistent protection measures in place and a lack of government coordination which amplify the risks of abuse, especially for women and girls. 

Volunteers, representatives of non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, and a deputy police chief raised concerns with HRW about the lack of systematic security measures or means to identify, prevent, or respond to gender-based violence, including trafficking, sexual exploitation, and rape.

Inconsistent checks are done on people who volunteered accommodation for Ukrainian refugees, with officials in Warsaw too overwhelmed with thousands of apartments to visit. 

“The longer refugees from Ukraine remain in Poland with diminishing resources, especially women and girls, the greater the risk they will be forced into exploitative or abusive situations,” said HRW's Hillary Margolis.

“Poland’s government should embrace its responsibility for the safety and security of people fleeing war in Ukraine, and take action now to make housing, transportation, and employment as safe as possible.”

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