At present, human trafficking at the Ukraine-Poland border is a rising concern since 90% of the over 3.6 million Ukrainian refugees are women and children. Both are at a greater risk of trafficking as they are the most vulnerable amid the chaos and crisis that ensued due to the on-going war. Internally displaced children traveling alone and crossing the Ukraine-Poland border are at risk of getting exploited by traffickers.

Many organisations and charities are attempting to organise safe passage for orphaned children in Ukraine’s foster homes and orphanages, but countless children are unaccounted for. It’s giving rise to the dreaded notion that they have already fallen prey to human traffickers.

Children Suffering from Human Trafficking at Ukraine-Poland Border

Salam, a charity helping Ukrainian refugees, has surmised that the children being dropped at the Ukraine-Poland border by charities and helpful organisations are being targeted by traffickers. Since these children are looking for assistance, refuge, food, etc., they are easy prey for trafficking rings. If an adult has food or refuge on offer, the scared children will go with them.

Smugglers and traffickers wearing reflective vests and pretending that they belong to relief organisations are ensnaring children in their rings. These are advanced traffickers with well-financed networks that have been operational for a long time now. They are well-versed at what they do and are able to inflict damage during peaceful times, making them doubly threatening in the current chaotic and disorderly times.

Orphans at Risk of Human Trafficking

Even though Ukraine is not allowing most men aged 18-60 to leave the country and demanding them to fight in the war, men with three or more children can pass through its borders. That said, the country is not properly vetting such men crossing the Poland-Ukraine border, ensuring that the kids they are passing with are, in fact, their children.

Ylva Johansson, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, delivered a speech recently in which she voiced her concern that criminals are taking orphans from Ukrainian orphanages and crossing borders with them while pretending to be their relatives and then trafficking them. Moreover, the absence of precise vetting processes for volunteers helping house refugees crossing the border further compounds human trafficking risks.

What Is Happening to Protect the Children from Human Trafficking?

Currently, there is no paper trail of what is happening to the children who are crossing the border. However, the Ukrainian authorities are now creating a system with the help of NGOs to process the displaced children and set up safe havens in the east of the country.

Initially, the countless children who were lost either became war casualties, victims of human trafficking or crossed over the border. It was chaotic as there was no system. Today, many children are already being evacuated to the east in the Lviv region, where NGOs are sheltering and feeding them.

There’s still a risk of human trafficking at the Ukraine-Poland border, especially for children travelling without a legal guardian. The UNODC is working with multiple NGOs, UN entities, and law enforcement authorities to respond to this risk. It’s working on ensuring these refugee children have access to healthcare and education. But the risk of human trafficking will not be resolved easily. It will require large-scale anti-trafficking efforts, early trafficking detection, prevention strategies, etc.