NGOs call on Brussels to do more to clamp down on trafficking as millions flee Ukraine

Ukrainian refugees await transport in Beregsurany, a village on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian refugees await transport in Beregsurany, a village on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Méabh Mc Mahon
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Women leaving Ukraine on their own are being targeted with sinister messages on social media, some promising "a free place for you in my bed."


Calls are growing for Brussels to do more to clamp down on human trafficking as concerns mount over criminal networks taking advantage of Ukrainian people fleeing the war.

More than 4.3 million people have fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries since the beginning of the Russian invasion on 24 February and millions more are internally displaced by the fighting.

Most of the refugees that have reached other European countries are women and children as Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been called to fight.

But as they try to escape the fighting, there is a risk that refugees fall prey to trafficking.

"Amidst the volunteers waiting for refugees around train stations in many European countries, there are some ill-minded people who want to exploit and sexually abuse women and children. This is why it is so important that public authorities do their bit," Iratxe Garcia Perez, a Spanish socialist MEP, told Euronews.

Olga, 29, hitch-hiked her way from Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, to Beregsurany, a village near the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. She travelled alone, her cat as her only companion.

She is among thousands of women who fled the war alone, making them particularly vulnerable. They are being targeted with sinister messages on social media, some promising "a free place for you in my bed".

NGOs, such as the Order of Malta in Hungary, track their journeys to ensure they do not fall victim to traffickers.

"Providing secure transport for the refugees is one of our main concerns. We are in very good cooperation with the police forces and also with the military. They are doing patrols at our sites and we have 24/7police presence as well," Imre Szabján, head of rescue operations for the charity, told Euronews.

Klaus Vanhoutte, the director of the Flemish human trafficking organisation Payoke, explained that they've had reports from Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania that people are approaching women, including those with children, and offering them transport to various countries and cities, as well as a place to stay and employment.

"It's very troublesome to hear that they're actually offering an entire package. And when you get that, then then you know, there's more going on here," he told Euronews.

So far, he went on, there are been few cases of trafficking reported to authorities.

"We had two in Belgium about two or three weeks ago, both. One of them was an attempt at sexual exploitation, and the other one was actually economic exploitation. We had another case last Friday of two women and a child who were detected in some sort of meat factory in very, very appalling circumstances," he added.

"We have to be realistic, it's going to happen because the numbers are simply too large. And there is no police force in Europe on a national level that is able to now monitor all those people and make sure they end up in safe circumstances," he warned.

The European Parliament passed a resolution this week calling for EU Member states to set measures to prevent and sanction people smuggling and trafficking, in particular children and young people.

It called for the creation of a "robust" registration system at the border to track and monitor children, particularly unaccompanied children, to ensure they don't go missing or fall prey to traffickers.

"The EU has to eradicate men buying sex, men buying women and children. How ridiculous is that, how sick is that? Who is kidnapping children? Who has sex with children? Who buys women who are fleeing, who have lost everything? It is those men who have a special place in hell, Alice Bah Kuhnke, a Greens MEP, told Euronews.

Olga and her cat Zen survived the 13-hour bus ride to Berlin. They sent Euronews a photo to say they were now safe in the German capital.

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