Human trafficking risks grow for women, children fleeing Ukraine, says new report

As the war in Ukraine drags on, women and children fleeing the country face a heightened risk of falling victim to human traffickers, a new report released Tuesday has warned.

The report, compiled by NGO La Strada International, warns that human trafficking mostly targets women and children, people traveling alone, and stateless or undocumented refugees.

According to the U.N., almost 6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia’s brutal war in February. With Ukrainian men banned from leaving the country and called up to fight, U.N. data from the end of April shows that 90 percent of the refugees are women and children.

As a consequence of this mass displacement of people, an increased number of refugees run the risk of working in the sex industry or in jobs with poor conditions, according to the report. Women in particular are vulnerable not just to sexual exploitation, but also to labor exploitation, it adds. Sexual and other services have even been requested in lieu of money for rent, in some places.

“What we also see with women, is that when they have to work in certain sectors and don’t speak the language or they don’t have the necessary papers, they are more often ending up in the irregular sector, less-controlled sector. Maybe they’ll start working as domestic worker or au pair,” said Suzanne Hoff, co-author of the report. She explained that those sectors were not regulated all over Europe and that it would lead to higher risks of labor abuse, such as working long hours for little or no pay.

The Amsterdam-based NGO called on governments to improve registration of refugees, to improve oversight on who offers assistance, vet volunteers and carry out more checks on accommodation.

Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on EU member countries to ensure women fleeing the Ukraine war get essential access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly emergency contraception and abortion care, including for victims of rape, as well as obstetric care.