Ukrainian women and children fleeing the war in Ukraine have become a target for human trafficking criminal groups or sexual offenders taking advantage of the refugees’ vulnerable situation arriving in Poland.
Polish authorities said they have noticed the presence of criminals around train stations in Warsaw and Przemys, near the border with Ukraine.
While 99% of Polish people want to help Ukrainian refugees, human trafficking criminal organizations are seeing an opportunity for business with the influx of Ukraininan refugees, the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, told Efe.
Since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the population of Warsaw has increased by 15% with over 200,000 Ukrainian refugees settling in the Polish capital, according to official data.
“We try to distribute information to women to tell them that they should be careful. That they should not accept any help if they are alone. That they should travel in a group and that they should ask for the details of the people who offer them help if they are not from the government or NGOs that are registered with us. We have to be vigilant,” Trzaskowski warned.
Up to 12,000 Ukrainians arrive at Warsaw’s East Station each day.
“There have already been cases in which people have tried to abuse the situation,” the coordinator of the reception point at the station, Katarzyna Niwinska, told Efe, pointing to a young woman who was offered help by a man who demanded that she send him a picture of her body before he went to pick her up at the station.
Over 100 volunteers have been sent to the station to protect the women and children from being taken advantage of.
Meanwhile, in Przemysl, half a million refugees, mainly women, children and the elderly, have arrived at the train station.
“From the very first day we tried to be very careful with this type of situation when someone picks up a person at the station,” mayor of Przemysl, Wojciech Bakun, said.
To control the situation and protect refugees, local authorities have put in place a system in which drivers must be registered with a license, car registration number and have agreed on a destination before picking up a refugee.
“This way we know which driver each refugee is going with and where they are going. With this system, no one can leave the pickup point without a special armband so that the police know that they are a registered refugee and driver,” Bakun added.
The refugees will also have access to a mobile phone application in which they can confirm they have arrived safely to their destination.
“Conflict creates opportunities for organized crime to flourish and amplifies the threat that criminal groups may pose to internal security,” law enforcement agency Europol said.
The European Commission has also warned of the risk that women and children arriving from Ukraine could fall into the hands of human trafficking networks, in particular orphans, who are “extremely vulnerable” groups often abused for sexual or labor exploitation.