Risks of trafficking in human beings related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis
The Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine which started on 24 February 2022 provoked the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War. Within days, millions of people fled the armed conflict in Ukraine to neighbouring countries and onwards across Europe. An estimated 90% of them were women and children, including thousands of unaccompanied children.
Risks of trafficking in human beings
GRETA issued a statement on 17 March 2022, underlining that even in very challenging times caused by the massive influx of refugees, States’ obligations under the Convention are not suspended but become of greater importance as the risk of trafficking is higher, which is why all relevant national authorities must take specific preventive measures and protect refugees from the risk of trafficking, in a non-discriminatory manner, regardless of the nationality of the victim.
At its 43rd meeting (28 March - 1 April 2022), GRETA held an online exchange of views on the risks of trafficking in human beings related to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine with Ms Kataryna Levchenko, Equality Commissioner of Ukraine, and representatives of anti-trafficking NGOs from the Republic of Moldova, Poland and Ukraine as well as La Strada International.
As a result of these discussions, GRETA decided to prepare a Guidance Note on addressing the risks of trafficking in human beings related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis. It follows on previous work developed by GRETA, notably the Guidance Note on the entitlement of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked, to international protection, and complements recommendations issued by other international actors, such as the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings.
Guidance Note and examples of measures
The aim of the Guidance Note on addressing the risks of trafficking in human beings related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, issued by GRETA on 4 May 2022, is to provide practical advice to help States Parties ensure that public agencies, NGOs, the private sector and the general public are aware of the risks of trafficking in human beings for different forms of exploitation in their dealings with people fleeing the war in Ukraine, and on how to provide support in order to minimise these risks. The Guidance Note focuses on actions that can be implemented quickly, without the need of legislative reforms or structural changes.
GRETA’s 12th General Report, covering the year 2022, includes a chapter with examples of measures taken by State Parties in respect of the recommended actions included in the Guidance Note.
Registration and safe migration routes
- Ensure registration of all people, including those who lack papers to prove their identity or last place of residence in Ukraine, in the first-entry country, and guarantee continuity of the registration system in transit and destination countries.
- Assess the vulnerabilities of people fleeing Ukraine at the earliest stage possible in the registration process through the use of indicators adapted to the current situation, taking into account that Ukraine remains a country of origin of victims of trafficking for different forms of exploitation.
- Establish official and safe travel routes for people seeking refuge, both when crossing borders and within the territory of the host countries, through proactive measures such as humanitarian corridors allowing safe and legal entry and transit, free-of-charge public transportation or state-funded transportation set up by trusted organisations.
Examples of measures
- In Poland, which has been the main country of arrival for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, systematic registration of all individuals and organisations providing assistance to persons fleeing the war was put in place. The authorities have taken security measures at border crossing points, reception centres and other locations with high presence of persons fleeing the war in Ukraine, including reinforced border controls, presence or patrols of law enforcement officers in high-risk locations, as well as undercover police operations. Many volunteers received training, in particular from UNHCR and IOM, on risks of human trafficking targeting persons in need or seeking international protection.
- In Austria, welcome and registration centres were set up in Vienna, including at the main train station. The authorities, together with NGOs, provided information leaflets in Ukrainian with contact details to support provision.
Immediate assistance and integration
- Provide immediate cover of urgent and basic needs, such as food, water, housing, clothing and medical assistance, to all people fleeing the war in Ukraine, irrespective of their nationality.
- Ensure sufficient public human, material, and financial resources so that the provision of immediate and long-term assistance does not rely mostly on private or non-governmental initiatives.
- Guarantee the right to work and ensure work opportunities for people entitled to international protection. Set up job placement schemes, counselling and vocational training through labour and employment services, and encourage employers to recruit qualified workers among refugee population, enabling validation of their skills, educational and professional backgrounds.
Examples of measures
- In Estonia, the Government and the local authorities, in cooperation with civil society, developed measures to promote state-organised digital marketplace for matching refugees with employers and the organisation of job fairs at larger refugee accommodation sites. Ukrainian refugees were offered to participate in the national adaptation programme. The Estonian Unemployment Fund organised information days for employers in order to offer workplaces for Ukrainian refugees.
- In Bulgaria, the authorities reported that they had successfully integrated 1,400 Ukrainian students into the national education system and had provided employment opportunities for approximately 3,400 individuals who had fled Ukraine after Russia’s invasion. A solidarity fund subsidises jobs for them.
Information and awareness-raising
- Inform people fleeing the war in Ukraine about the risks of being trafficked for different forms of exploitation (sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forced begging, forced criminality, organ removal, illegal adoption, abuse of surrogate motherhood…).
- Provide information on the national requirements for legal presence in the country to persons fleeing the war in Ukraine, including people who lost their ID while fleeing the war.
- Reinforce existing hotlines and/or set up as a matter of urgency new contact points and helplines, available 24/7, where relevant information is provided and potential cases of trafficking and exploitation can be reported, including in Ukrainian and Russian.
Examples of measures
- In Poland, measures were taken to alert persons fleeing the war in Ukraine, as well as the general public, on how to avoid human trafficking through posters and leaflets at border crossing points, reception centres, train stations and city halls, as well as through online information. Awareness-raising leaflets on human trafficking, with information on suspicious conducts and contact details of hotlines and email address, were produced and distributed. Information alerts via SMS were also send to all people crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland on potential threat of human trafficking and where to seek assistance.
- In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of the Interior set up a hotline for Ukrainian citizens, while police intensified criminal intelligence operations, both offline and online. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs created leaflets for safe working conditions and employment, and issued information on ensuring the protection of children, including unaccompanied ones.
Detection of potential victims and traffickers
- Raise awareness among all front-line responders and professionals involved in the registration, assistance and integration of people fleeing the war in Ukraine – in particular volunteers, hotel personnel, social workers, health-care staff, local officials, teachers – about the risks of trafficking in human beings and exploitation. Provide them with easy guidance, tools and indicators on how to detect potential victims of trafficking in human beings, notably among children, and how to react in such cases.
- Increase targeted action by labour inspectors to monitor high-risk sectors (such as hospitality, agriculture, couriers, food delivery, cleaning, domestic care, car washes, massage studios), and locations where trafficking in human beings was previously detected. Proactively identify new potentially high-risk locations where exploitation of people fleeing the war in Ukraine might appear and boost inspections there.
Examples of measures
- In Spain, legislation adopted in March 2022 on urgent measures for dealing with the economic and social consequences of the war in Ukraine enabled the local authorities and specialised NGOs to grant the status of victim of trafficking to detected victims of sexual exploitation.
- In Austria, the specialised unit of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation decided to employ female Ukrainian colleagues to assist with the identification of potential victims.
- With a view to preventing the disappearance and abuse of children, ensure as a matter of urgency that all unaccompanied and separated children are registered and benefit immediately from effective protective care arrangements, including safe and specialised accommodation, with trained staff alerted to the risks of human trafficking. Ensure prompt and fluid exchange of information on missing children and develop joint protocols on children who go missing.
- Ensure that registration, housing, assistance and protection are provided to all people fleeing the war in Ukraine without discrimination, irrespective of their nationality or of being stateless. States Parties should increase the monitoring of possible acts of discrimination and racism against non-Ukrainian nationals and members of ethnic minorities fleeing Ukraine.
Examples of measures
- In Poland, a helpline for children and young persons from Ukraine, operated by psychologists, was opened in June 2022 in co-operation with the NGO Empowering Children Foundation. Amendments to the Law on Assistance to Citizens of Ukraine in Connection with the Armed Conflict on the Territory of Ukraine have allowed for the creation of a register of unaccompanied or separated children from Ukraine.
- In the Slovak Republic, a team of 20 persons from the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the Roma Community was present at the border with Ukraine in order to meet the Roma refugees and provide assistance to them.
Co-operation and co-ordination
- Set up a multi-disciplinary taskforce (working group) to plan and implement co-ordinated measures to facilitate the provision of assistance to people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine and prevent their exploitation. It should include representatives of relevant ministries, regional authorities, law enforcement agencies, labour inspectorates, employers’ organisations, trade unions, civil society organisations and relevant international organisations.
- Set up partnerships with existing Ukrainian diaspora (communities) in the country and involve them in communication with persons fleeing the war in Ukraine, the provision of assistance and integration.
- Collect disaggregated data on people who entered the country as a consequence of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, and people who were granted international protection.
Examples of measures
- In the Netherlands, the Government set up a specific Directorate General Ukraine within the Ministry of Justice and Security to deal with policy coordination, support and planning of the reception of displaced persons from Ukraine.
- In Latvia, a Permanent Ukrainian Crisis Management Working Group was set up to deal with the reception, accommodation and support of Ukrainian refugees arriving across the border with the Russian Federation.
- Guidance Note on addressing the risks of trafficking in human beings related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis (2022) [EN - FR]
- 12th General Report (2022) - Thematic chapter [EN - FR]
- Guidance Note on the entitlement of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked, to international protection [EN - FR - BOS - SRP - TUR]