Safeguarding worries deepen after Russian invasion of Ukraine

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, the humanitarian crisis deepens as each day passes and safeguarding worries are deepening.

The United Nations has estimated that currently the number of refugees who have fled the fighting in Ukraine stands at 2 million. This figure mainly encompasses women and children, due to the fact that the Ukrainian government has asked all men, aged between 18-60 years old, to stay and fight for their country. The newspapers and news channels are filled with desperately upsetting images of women and children holding as much as they can carry, crossing the borders into neighbouring countries that are offering them safe haven.

This widespread show of solidarity and support from neighbouring countries has been nothing short of awe inspiring, showcasing humanity at its best, selflessly helping those in need. However, as mentioned in previous articles, the scale of the humanitarian support needed is unlike anything Europe has seen since World War II. As with all armed conflicts the situation escalates rapidly, there is understandable fear and uncertainty amongst all concerned and as such a desperate situation occurs. Due to the speed of the escalation all governments and aid agencies are playing catch up to a large extent and whilst governments sort out their respective entry requirements, a vast amount of these displaced people are in flux, stuck in transit accommodation with very little sleep and becoming increasingly desperate as days pass.

This level of desperation has led too people resorting to extreme measures in order to get to where they want to be or at least with people they feel safe with. There have been reports of people utilising social media, publishing posts asking for help in getting to other countries across Europe. This has resulted in women and children getting into cars with people they don’t know.

Unfortunately, but sadly unsurprisingly, there have been reports of sex-trafficking gangs, capitalising on this desperation, offering transport and accommodation to women and children, who taking the act of generosity at face value are becoming victims of this despicable trade.

There have been reported arrests of suspected sex traffickers, however the prevalence of this threat is a known concern of the authorities and Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) alike and rudimentary provisions are starting to emerge to try and protect unsuspecting victims. However, the more this conflict continues and the more refugees that continue to flee, the greater risk there will be of opportunistic gangs exploiting these vulnerable and desperate people, transporting them across Europe without trace.

Due to the dire nature of conflict and the difficulty associated with effectively recording those who are displaced, if this issue isn’t addressed swiftly and robustly the scale of those that become victims of sex-trafficking gangs may not ever be known, or at the very least will take years to appreciate and fully understand.

To that end, safer processes and procedures must be put in place as a matter of urgency. Avenues of safe passage must be exactly that, safe. Safe for those that need it, safe for men, women and children of all ages to use. Whilst there is an understandable reluctance in a time of crisis to introduce the fabled, ‘red-tape’ there must be ways to verify that those who are pertaining to help are there for the right reasons and conversely those who are in need must be adequately documented so that they can be effectively reunited with their loved ones and primary caregivers when the situation becomes more stable.

There must be effective communication, informing those who are displaced of these aforementioned perils as well as letting them know of the verified support that is there to help them.  Failure to do this properly, will potentially condemn those who have already been through far too much, to an increasingly tragic future.

We all have a responsibility to make sure that those in need are effectively safeguarded, to ensure that in their time of absolute need they aren’t left to the mercy of individuals or gangs who will capitalise on the situation they find themselves in, in the most despicable of ways.

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