Children fleeing war in Ukraine at risk of trafficking: UNICEF

UNICEF is sounding the alarm about the risk of children fleeing war in Ukraine being trafficked and exploited. More than 1.5 million minors have fled the country since the start of the conflict.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, more than 1.5 million children have been forced to leave their country, according to the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF. In many cases, they are only accompanied by their mother or, in some cases, an aunt or grandmother. But there are also children who cross the border without an adult by their side.

On June 28, UNICEF sounded the alarm on the risk of trafficking or exploitation of unaccompanied minors. The organization said that at the start of the war, between February 24 and March 17, it identified more than 500 unaccompanied children traveling from Ukraine to Romania. “The number of children separated” from family members who “fleed Ukraine to neighboring countries is likely much higher.”

Governments must implement measures to protect children

“The war in Ukraine is driving massive movements and flows of refugees, conditions that could lead to a significant increase in human trafficking and an acute child protection crisis,” explained Afshan Khan, Regional Director of UNICEF for Europe and Central Asia. He went on to say that displaced children who have been separated from their families are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

“They need governments in the region to step up and implement measures to keep them safe,” Khan said.

The vulnerability of children fleeing conflict in Ukraine must be assessed once they have entered a neighboring country, the official continued. “Every effort should be made to strengthen refugee screening processes at border crossings.”

In order to protect minors, UNICEF – which has produced a guide on how to prevent trafficking and exploitation – organized, in collaboration with UNHCR, governments and other organizations, the “blue dots”, safe spaces for women and children.

The “blue dots” provide “basic information to traveling families, help them identify unaccompanied and separated children and ensure their protection, and provide a hub for essential services,” UNICEF wrote.

The ‘blue dots’ have already been created in the countries hosting Ukrainian women and children and will multiply in the coming days, including 34 in Poland, specifies UNICEF.

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