Church seeks to protect Ukrainian refugees from human traffickers

Ukrainian refugees, especially women and children, need to be protected from human traffickers say Catholic Church leaders.

“Let us think of these women and children who in time, without work, separated from their husbands, will be sought out by the ‘vultures’ of society. Please, let us protect them,” tweeted Pope Francis.

Catholic aid workers’ concerns are being broadcast by police.

In Germany, they have been warning for weeks that aid workers, volunteers and refugees should be vigilant at areas where refugees arrive.

They are also tweeting warnings to women and unaccompanied young people in German, Russian and Ukrainian saying they must beware of “suspicious offers of accommodation — contact official agencies only.”

Their warnings are timely.

As hundreds of Ukrainian refugees arrive at Munich’s main station each day, they run the gauntlet of human traffickers who mingle with aid workers, volunteers and ordinary citizens.

According to several reports, an increasing number of men who want to force women into prostitution are offering “assistance” at the stations.

“Here at the main station, a lot is being done — there is a specialised counselling centre 24 hours a day,” the head of the Catholic Railway Station Mission in Munich says.

She and her Protestant counterpart are responsible for the ecumenical refugee reception centre at the station.

“We are on site 24 hours a day; Caritas is here 24 hours a day. It is publicly pointed out in multilingual flyers that the women should be careful. The police are on site. It is not a mass phenomenon, but we have already experienced isolated cases of attempted human trafficking and could be of help to prevent it. I am confident that we have this problem under control here, but it does exist.”

Another Caritas spokesperson, said, “There is definitely an attempt to approach these women with their children.”

At Berlin’s main railway station, mostly older men have been seen holding up signs with offers of accommodation and overnight stays for women, just like real helpers. Suspicions are roused, though, when they show their signs only to certain women. Sometimes they also offer money.

The police have banned certain men from the station premises – but as they haven’t committed any crimes, the police could not act further.

On March 15, Valiant Richey (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s special representative and coordinator for combating human trafficking) gathered representatives of 17 European countries affected by the humanitarian crisis.

The governments of Austria, France, Germany, Romania and Slovakia report monitoring online searches after a spike was noted in people seeking Ukrainian women for sex and marriage. They also distributed leaflets translated into Ukrainian to inform people on the move of their rights and options.

Unfortunately, the warnings sometimes cause the refugees to distrust innocent parties and genuine offers of help.


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