A Christian public policy group has urged the UK Government to prioritise tackling human trafficking after a new United Nations reports warns of an increase in trafficking of Ukrainian refugees.
The study, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the Covid-19 pandemic led to the first drop in the known number of human-trafficking victims in 20 years as trafficking opportunities and policing were reduced, but the Ukraine war has probably now caused a new surge.
It predicted a five per cent spike in Ukrainian trafficking victims this year and expects 5.6 million applying for asylum.
The report said that conflicts tend to increase trafficking and the war in Ukraine would probably not be an exception.
"The refugee emergency in Ukraine is elevating risks of trafficking for the Ukrainian displaced population. The 2014 conflict in Ukraine quadrupled the number of Ukrainian victims detected in Western Europe in 2016," it said, referring to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
It added that it expects an even larger number of trafficking victims following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year.
CARE, which campaigns on modern day slavery and trafficking, is concerned about the predicted rise of people that will fall into exploitation.
It has highlighted “several concerning loopholes” in the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme leaving refugees vulnerable.
Rebecca Stevenson, a trafficking policy expert at CARE, said: “Almost a year has elapsed since Russia invaded Ukraine but the threat to Ukrainians leaving the country remains high. Traffickers are operating on the borders of the country to intercept and exploit vulnerable women and children.
“It is crucial that UK Ministers continue to raise the alarm about this issue, and work with European agencies to confront it. Ministers must also demonstrate that they are providing ongoing care for Ukrainians who have entered the UK.
“Thousands of Ukrainian nationals came here under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and were placed in various contexts. What checks are local governments and agencies carrying out to ensure these people aren’t falling off the radar and into modern slavery?
“CARE constantly emphasised the need for ongoing welfare checks, but it is difficult to get a sense of what’s happening on the ground. We have seen research suggesting refugees are struggling to find their own housing and work. Traffickers will prey on these individuals”.
CARE has called on the UK Government, local authorities and agencies to give reassurance of a high standard of welfare for refugees.
Last October, Neil Bush, UK ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, welcomed the scrutiny on the issue.
He said in a speech: “Ensuring victims get the support they need and are empowered requires us to better understand drivers and vulnerabilities. This is done by listening to survivors, and having their voices shape the support and protection we can offer, which is why the UK has commissioned independent research through the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre to inform our approach. We look forward to sharing the findings of this research with you all at a later date.”