Chaos | 

Trafficking gangs targeting Ukrainian women and children desperate to escape war

Traffickers are offering vulnerable refugees lifts to the borders

Refugees at a centre in Warsaw

Eamon Dillon

International criminal gangs are actively exploiting the chaos in Ukraine to supply Europe's illegal sex-trade and slave-labour markets.

Using vans inside the country, traffickers are offering lifts to the borders to women and children desperate to escape the war.

This week Sr Imelda Poole, of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, spoke to the Sunday World about the efforts to thwart the criminal outfits preying on vulnerable refugees.

"Everything is wild at the moment. There's so many millions of Ukrainians on the move, it is a hotbed for traffickers.

"The traffickers are coming in vans, not trucks or big vehicles, according to our evidence. Our people are reporting it to the police and the police said they know about it."

Based in Albania, the anti-trafficking campaigner is president of the Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (Renate) and Mary Ward Loreto in the country.

They are in 31 countries and include three members in Ukraine, but she warned workers are already worn out by the sheer scale of the human tide moving westwards for the last month.

"It is complex and very traumatic for Renate workers as it is for anyone working in this field."

The organisation is producing leaflets in Ukranian and English offering advice on how to avoid traffickers.

It includes basic advice such letting someone know you are taking a lift, giving the licence plate of the vehicle and never handing over your passport.

"It is happening right across all the routes which the refugees are taking because of the highly intelligent and active transnational criminal gangs working in human-trafficking. It's very challenging."

As a member of the Mary Ward Loreto Sisters Sr Imelda arrived in Albania 15 years ago and set about her anti-trafficking work.

One of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Europe, it has been plagued by criminal gangs and dire governance.

The work of Mary Ward Loreto includes training survivors to become leaders in the fight against trafficking, as well as educating and talking to imprisoned traffickers.

"It's a highly intelligent transnational crime. The means of human trafficking are changing every year. During Covid there was an extraordinary explosion of human trafficking online."

Traffickers work at different level but combine effectively to find ways to successfully exploit their victims.

"You've got your familiar people on the group who might know or be a member of a family where there are people being trafficked or personally known as neighbours, this is our experience at the coal face."

"There's also groups of people that work together in a country or cross border.

"There are varying ways of being trafficked and also for the end game of the trafficker either the sex trade or into the market in the factories and fields."

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