Children are going missing, and humanitarian agencies and volunteers are reporting incidences of human trafficking along Ukraine’s borders, amid the pandemonium of the refugee crisis sparked by Russia’s incursion.
As more than 2.5 million people fled into neighboring countries to flee the rising violence, charities and rights groups working to assist migrants said they had observed examples of trafficking, missing children, extortion, and exploitation.
Homo Faber, a human rights organization located in Lublin, Poland, said it had observed incidents of children being sent alone by frantic parents to meet relatives or friends across the Ukrainian border and arriving without anyone to greet them.
Homo Faber has been working to lessen the hazards at all four border crossing locations, and has set up a 24-hour helpline staffed by Ukrainian-speaking volunteers who have been trained to assist women and children crossing the border.
Before picking up refugees, Wierzbiska said it was hard to vet everyone who offered to drive them to friends or relatives.
Polish border guards have been assisting in the distribution of the organization’s leaflets, which cover topics such as how to keep personal documents safe, how to prepare for traveling through crowded train stations with children, and what to do if someone offers you a ride but changes the destination halfway through the voyage.
Volunteers at the Slovakian border crossing in Vyné Nemecké explained that in theory, those giving migrants rides must show their ID and automobile license plates before being allowed to transport anyone across the border. In practice, this proved impossible to achieve in all cases.
Caritas Slovakia’s stop human trafficking team, led by Monika Molnárová, said the country’s national unit for combating human trafficking was working at the border and had acted to safeguard women and children in suspected situations.
“We want to send a clear message to the criminals who are trying to exploit the tragedies of the refugees,”Maciej Wsik, Poland’s deputy interior minister, stated.
While the Polish government’s decision to open the border so entirely to Ukrainian migrants should be commended, it does pose issues in terms of child protection, according to Unicef.