An estimated 10 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began a month ago. As in all armed conflicts, the risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse has increased for Ukrainian refugees – mostly women and children – who are fleeing the war.
Different aid groups have alerted that children are going missing and reporting multiple cases of human trafficking.
In his latest remarks to the press on the war in Ukraine, Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres said:
“For predators and human traffickers, war is not a tragedy. It is an opportunity. And women and children are the targets. They need safety and support every step of the way”.
For instance, it is estimated that one million children are living in conflict zones within Ukraine, and around 200,000 children are living in orphanages and foster homes under the care of the State.
As reported by BBC News, children from all over Ukraine are being sent to cross borders alone without their parents or their legal guardians, and 5,000 are unaccounted for, leaving authorities to fear that some children may have been trafficked.
Lack of controls for the Homes for Ukraine scheme
Recently launched in the U.K., the Homes for Ukraine scheme will allow people in the U.K. to offer their homes to Ukrainian refugees fleeing from war.
The Independent already points out that the lack of a robust vetting process to determine who should be able to sponsor refugees is a serious flaw in the scheme. Many experts and charities have cautioned that though the scheme is well-intentioned it may present an “opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of vulnerable individuals”.
Traffickers on Facebook groups
The situation has been escalating and has reached social media, where trolls and traffickers find ways to reach vulnerable Ukrainian refugees. In an update on this subject, the Guardian spoke with Diana Shore, the founder of one of the largest Facebook groups matching Ukrainian refugees with U.K. host families, who warned of the dangers of infiltration by Russian trolls and traffickers.
Room for Ukrainians was set up over two weeks ago and already has 12,500 members. The most common posts are from Ukrainians in need of sponsors and British people who want to open their homes to the new arrivals.
Though there have been generous offers of help and the group has been successful – at least 50 Ukrainian families have been matched with a UK sponsor – Shore is also having to tackle Russian trolls trying to infiltrate the group and has raised concerns about traffickers taking advantage of the lack of government regulation and oversight of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Shore has therefore asked Facebook and the government to do more to ensure the safety of the site, urged those using the group to register with the government scheme, and posted safeguarding notices in Russian and Ukraine on the site.
The founder of this Facebook group said:
“Only the government has the capacity to provide a safe matching service. At the moment , it is being left to charities and social media. Modern slavery and trafficking are disasters waiting to happen. The matching process needs to be regulated as a matter of urgency with oversight from an independent Ofsted-style regulator”.
In turn, a spokesperson from the department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declared to The Guardian that all adults in a sponsor’s home where Ukrainians will be housed will be subject to Home Office checks before any visa is issued.