UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence Pramila Patten said Monday that she believes the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is “turning into a human trafficking crisis.”
“Women and children fleeing the conflict are being targeted for trafficking and exploitation – in some cases facing further exposure to rape and other risks while seeking refuge,” Patten told the UN Security Council in New York City on Monday.
She said addressing the issue will require “a coherent and coordinated response at the level of European institutions” and “a concerted, integrated and holistic cross-border response humanitarian partners, law enforcement agencies, border forces, immigration officials and political leaders.”
The UN special representative added that she visited reception centers at Ukrainian borders in Poland and Moldova. While there has been an outpouring of financial and moral support for Ukrainians from neighboring countries, there have also been a number of “credible anecdotal accounts from humanitarian staff” regarding suspected attempts of human trafficking, Patten said. She called the protection challenges related to the displacement of Ukrainians “unprecedented.”
“The lack of consistent vetting of accommodation offers and transportation arrangements is a serious concern, as well as the limited capacity of protection services to address the velocity and volume of displacement. There are also concerns regarding the multiplicity of volunteers, with limited vetting, and little or no training or experience,” Patten said.
Per Patten, the “credible anecdotal accounts from humanitarian staff” at a reception center for Ukrainian refugees in Przemysl, Poland, regarding suspected, attempts at human trafficking include:
- A male volunteer made contact with a 19-year-old woman, whom he later woke up in the sleeping hall at 2 am local time, offering a ride to France. Another volunteer became suspicious of the male volunteer roaming the sleeping quarters in the early morning hours, and intervened.
- Another male wearing a volunteer vest and standing with a sign at the train station hall, was seen offering free transport from Poland to Germany. Other volunteers became suspicious and informed local law enforcement when they noticed that the man was selecting only young women for transportation in his minivan.
“The prevalence of sexual violence in conflicts throughout history teaches us that reinforcing prevention, protection, and service-delivery is critical from the onset of any armed conflict,” Patten said. “To address this challenge, it is crucial to ensure that the level of political focus as well as the allocation of resources for a comprehensive response, is commensurate with the scale and complexity of the problem.”
CNN’s Richard Roth contributed reporting to this post.