~ Elisabeth Auvillain for Global Sisters Report (GSR)
Sr. Imelda Poole has been fighting human trafficking for years and now is increasingly worried about the situation in Ukraine.
“There has been an explosion of child trafficking in the world in recent years because of increasing poverty,” she told GSR. “And now, the risks are enormous in Ukraine because war situations make it easier for international and local gangs to find prey.”
Poole is a member of the Loreto Sisters and President of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE), a non-governmental organization that combats human trafficking in 31 European countries.
Millions of Ukrainians have left their homes, fleeing bombings and destruction. After a month of fighting, about 3 million of them have crossed the borders, mostly into Poland. About as many have been displaced within their country, going west where the fighting has been less intense. Thousands are waiting in underground shelters, hoping for a ride to safety as soon as possible.
“The situation is dire in shelters. Food is scarce. Hygiene is very bad. Such chaos is welcomed by gangs of traffickers, who prey on the most vulnerable: isolated children or young people,” said Poole.
It did not take long for gangs, local as well as international, to mingle in the crowd and offer false promises of help. Traffickers know refugees are desperate to go to a safer place. They are quick to offer a ride over the border to people who are desperate to leave. This is where the danger lies.
Soon after the war broke out, humanitarian aid agencies started to distribute leaflets to refugees gathered in shelters to warn them of human trafficking. The paper tells refugees what to do before agreeing to a ride to the border with Poland or Romania, the two main countries where Ukrainians seek refuge, along with Hungary and
“Never hand out your passport to someone who promises you a ride. Take a picture of the license plate of the van you get on and tell someone that you are going in it and where you are going” are some of the tips printed on the leaflets. If offered accommodations, make sure to tell someone you know, where you are. Aid workers also watch out for people acting in a suspicious manner and report them to the police.
“Drug trafficking doesn’t bring as much money as it used to. Arms trafficking is also not so lucrative anymore, so traffickers are now focusing on human trafficking,” said Sr. Poole.
“Children are bought online,” she added, “they become sex slaves or are forced to work for free.”
“The world is demanding cheap labor, cheap sex. Traffickers know that wars give them opportunities. Their only aim is greed; they have absolutely no ethics. And criminals often get away with it,” she said.
Caritas Internationalis and other humanitarian groups present in Ukraine have joined forces to help refugees. The situation in Ukraine is chaotic, and UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund, is also warning about people eager to help, saying that rules have to be followed to protect children.
“There is real chaos in humanitarian refugee centers with volunteers who are not under the auspices of any qualified agency. They just wear a badge and a yellow vest and they are seen as volunteers. This is irresponsible,” said Alice Barbe, a spokeswoman for Corridor Citoyen, to ensure safe passage to France. To read the complete account please click here To access the MSC Corporate Stance and information on Trafficking please click here and here