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Protecting Ukrainian Refugees from Human Trafficking

Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 562 Washington, DC 20024 United States

Members

Senator Ben Cardin

Chairman

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Representative Steve Cohen

Co-Chairman

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Senator Roger Wicker

Ranking Member

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Representative Joe Wilson

Ranking Member

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Senator Richard Blumenthal

Commissioner

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Senator Tim Scott

Commissioner

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Senator Jeanne Shaheen

Commissioner

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Representative Ruben Gallego

Commissioner

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Member

U.S. Senate

Representative Chris Smith

Member

U.S. House of Representatives

Witnesses

Dr. Kari Johnstone

Senior Official

U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Tatiana Kotlyarenko

Anti-Trafficking Advisor

OSCE Office for Democratic Institution and Human Rights

Mykola Kuleba

Director of Save Ukraine

Former Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights

Nic McKinley

Founder and CEO

DeliverFund

More than 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s massive invasion on February 24, in the largest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War. Given Ukraine’s exit restrictions on males from 18-60, the vast majority of those are women and children. Most cross the Ukrainian border without resources or a place to go, making them extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. Reports indicate that traffickers already are trolling border areas trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment.

Ukrainian orphans and unaccompanied minors are particularly susceptible to such predators, and they need not only to be safely evacuated from Ukraine, but also securely tracked and transferred into national child protection systems so they do not fall prey to human traffickers or otherwise disappear.

To address these concerns, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on April 7, 2022 featuring experts on human trafficking and practitioners working directly with Ukrainian refugees. Witnesses testified on efforts by frontline states, the international community, NGOs, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to prevent refugees from becoming victims of human traffickers by raising awareness, vetting those working with refugees and those providing housing and employment, and countering online solicitation. They also discussed the need to safely transport vulnerable populations, particularly children, out of warzones and properly register them to ensure that they do not go missing or become trafficking victims.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) commended the recent efforts of European countries to support refugees fleeing Ukraine, particularly Poland, which has taken in the majority of refugees. He stressed the need for governments and NGOs to coordinate in ensuring the care and safety of refugees.

He said, “There are credible reports from border areas where refugees are crossing that traffickers are trolling trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment. Some are masquerading as volunteers or others providing assistance.”

He added, “I am also very concerned about reports that civilians – including children – are being forcibly moved by Russian forces from Ukraine to Russia, where they may also be at risk of human trafficking.

Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) expressed his alarm over the humanitarian crisis occurring in Ukraine and condemned Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s disregard for human life and spirit.

“This flow of refugees caused by Putin’s war will cause us and require us to oversee as closely as possible the welfare of the women and children [to protect them from] people who have about the same consciousness and concern for others and human spirit as Vladimir Putin,” he said.

Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) advocated for further military support for Ukraine so that Ukraine can reclaim its territory and refugees can return home safely.

“Evicting the murderous Putin from Ukraine is the only way to help Ukrainian civilians and allow refugees to return to Ukraine,” he said.

Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), OSCE Parliamentary Special Representative on Human Trafficking issues, thanked the witnesses for their leadership in the fight against human trafficking and called for increased international cooperation in protecting women and children from traffickers.

Senior Official and Principal Deputy Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. State Department Dr. Kari Johnstone described the dire situation refugees face as they flee. She added that many are made even more vulnerable by extenuating circumstances, such as being unable to access information in their language or belonging to an already marginalized group such as Roma.

Dr. Johnstone emphasized the need for trauma-informed, age-appropriate, gender-sensitive approaches to identifying and assisting refugees. She stressed that making sure refugees have access to appropriate work, housing, and schooling would help keep them out of vulnerable situations and prevent them from becoming victims of human trafficking.

“While there’s no simple solution, working together…we are hopeful that we will be able to at least reduce the impact of this war,” Dr. Johnstone said.

Tatiana Kotlyarenko, advisor on anti-trafficking issues at ODIHR, called for unity united action on all fronts to combat human trafficking and asked for continued support from Congress for ODIHR’s work on anti-human trafficking in Ukraine. She also stressed the importance of countries adopting and implementing strong National Referral Mechanisms to better identify and assist victims of human trafficking.

“If you want to prevent trafficking of Ukrainian women and children, we need to unite to address demand on policy, legislative, and practical levels,” she said.

Mykola Kuleba, director of the NGO Save Ukraine, shared a firsthand account of the horrific conditions on the ground in Ukraine that he has witnessed while evacuating children from the war zone. He emphasized that the first step to protect Ukrainian refugees is to help Ukraine defend itself so its people don’t become refugees. He also highlighted the need for more humanitarian assistance, including food, water, and medicine.

“Millions of Ukrainian children are now refugees wandering around the world.  The world must help this great democratic country that has faced unprecedented evil.  Each of you has the ability to aid in the rescue.  Each of you can resist this evil,” Kuleba said.

Nic McKinley, founder and CEO of DeliverFund, described the importance of disrupting the supply side of human trafficking by complicating traffickers’ business models and attacking their ability to profit from the exploitation of vulnerable populations. He also discussed how traffickers use social media to lure victims through advertisements of housing and employment for refugees.

“You cannot have a human trafficking victim without a human trafficker,” he said.

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