Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The United Nations refugee agency warned on Wednesday that traffickers in countries neighbouring Ukraine seek to exploit vulnerable women and children leaving the country in droves.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported on Wednesday that more than 40,000 Ukrainians fled the country in the past 24 hours, joining the swelling ranks of more than 4.6 million Ukrainian refugees that have crossed into other countries since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February.
A vast majority of Ukrainian refugees – some 90 percent – are women and children, as the Ukrainian government has ordered all men aged 18 to 60 and fit for military service to remain in the country. The UNHCR estimates that nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have been forced to leave their homes, though many remain within Ukraine.
UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs stressed that the Ukrainian refugee crisis is primarily a protection crisis for women and children. “It is impossible to gauge how many Ukrainian refugee women and children might have been preyed upon by traffickers,” Triggs told reporters, expressing gratitude that known cases remain few for now.
“But we are on high alert and warning refugees on the risks of predators and criminal networks who may attempt to exploit their vulnerability or lure them with promises of free transport, accommodation, employment or other forms of assistance,” said Triggs. “While the generosity and solidarity towards Ukrainian refugees has been inspiring, states must prevent predatory individuals and criminal networks from exploiting the situation.”
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration estimates up to 7.1 million Ukrainians remain internally displaced, while more than 210,000 non-Ukrainians who were living, studying or working in Ukraine when the invasion began have also left the country by now.
More than half of all Ukrainian refugees have fled for Poland, around 2.67 million, with further 709,000 seeking shelter in Romania and 434,000 entering Hungary.