Warning of COVID Effect as Trafficking Cases Rise in Ukraine

Posted: 
07/30/20
Themes: 
COVID-19

Kyiv – New figures released by IOM today show a sharp rise in the number of Ukrainians identified as victims of trafficking and assisted from January to June 2020. The total – 800 – represents a leap of 40 per cent compared to the first half of the previous year.

“In crisis situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, migrants are often at risk of increased vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation,” said Anh Nguyen, Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine, opening an IOM-supported exhibition  entitled Expectations vs Realityin the capital Kyiv.

“People may become victims as a result of losing their jobs due to the pandemic while vulnerabilities of persons already at risk of trafficking may be further increased by the economic slowdown,” he added.

Those assisted by IOM in the first half of 2020 were exploited in 22 different countries, including Ukraine itself. The Russian Federation remained the principal destination country, with 55 per cent of the victims assisted by IOM Ukraine having suffered there. Poland ranked second with 28.7 per cent, while internal trafficking, including the annexed Crimea and the non-government-controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, accounted for eight per cent of cases.

Following the trend of previous years, 71 per cent of victims were male, and the overwhelming majority (97%) of victims identified in the first half of 2020 were trafficked for labour exploitation.

Expectations vs Reality is a national trafficking awareness campaign, which opened in Kyiv today. It forms part of a joint IOM-Government-OSCE-NGO initiative, throwing light on the harsh reality of informal employment.

The exhibition will be on display in Kyiv until 12 August and then will visit 16 regional cities. The project also promotes the new IOM-supported website www.worksafe.org.ua, which features the stories of trafficking survivors and also provides tips on how to avoid being exploited

“To counter modern slavery in times of COVID-19, existing national mechanisms of referral and response should be scaled up to offer much-needed medical assistance and socioeconomic reintegration support to vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking, violence and abuse,” stated Anh Nguyen.

IOM has been assisting trafficking survivors in Ukraine for 22 years, and over 17,000 victims have received medical, psychosocial and legal assistance, vocational training and equipment to help them start their life again.

For more information please contact Varvara Zhluktenko at IOM Ukraine, Tel: + 38 044 568 50 15, +38 067 447 97 92, Email: vzhluktenko@iom.int

Olena (not her real name) and her husband struggled to provide for their three children, as she was a low-paid seamstress and he did not have a permanent income. She went to work in Poland together with two friends but found only exploitation.

The women had to live in a cold warehouse where wooden pallets were used as beds. The employer took their passports away, they also had to hand their mobile phones over and were only allowed to call home once a week. Their work consisted of sewing bedsets for 12–14 hours per day in a cold workshop with dim light. They were fined for a smallest defect, yelled at, and sometimes beaten.

In the middle of March 2020, the exploiter ordered everyone to pack their belongings and board buses. They were driven to the border where they received their passports back and were threatened not to tell anyone about their ordeal.

Olena was exhausted, depressed, and blamed herself for what happened to her. When she was entering Ukraine, the border guards gave her a leaflet for the IOM-supported Counter-Trafficking and Migrant Advice Hotline 527, which in turn referred her to an IOM partner NGO in her region for assistance.

She could not get back to her previous work as the factory she used to work at was closed due to COVID-19. Income opportunities for her husband became even more scarce than before. IOM immediately provided Olena with cash, so that she could buy food and other things she needed. IOM also supported Olena with housing allowance to cover the rent during the period her family did not receive any income and was at risk of becoming homeless. As IOM has purchased her a new sewing machine, Olena is now preparing to work independently and earn for her family.

  • IOM-supported exhibition opened in Kyiv on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, 30 July 2020. Photo: IOM / Varvara Zhluktenko

  • IOM-supported exhibition opened in Kyiv on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, 30 July 2020. Photo: IOM / Varvara Zhluktenko

  • IOM-supported exhibition opened in Kyiv on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, 30 July 2020. Photo: IOM / Varvara Zhluktenko
     

  • IOM-supported exhibition opened in Kyiv on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, 30 July 2020. Photo: IOM / Varvara Zhluktenko