OSCE Bolsters Fight Against Ukraine Refugee Trafficking


Amid the unprecedented number of Ukrainians who fled the war and emerging cases of human trafficking and exploitation involving refugees, a strong criminal justice response in the host countries has become more crucial than ever. To foster prompt detection and effective investigation and prosecution of these cases, a high-level conference organized by the OSCE and INTERPOL this week in Vienna gathered over 100 criminal justice stakeholders from 33 countries across the OSCE region that host large numbers of refugees from Ukraine.

"Proactive criminal justice actions against human trafficking like monitoring high-risk locations, including online, are key to promptly identifying victims in exploitative situations and provide them immediate protection and assistance, while swiftly gathering evidence and prosecuting traffickers," said Dr. Kari Johnstone, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.

The conference put a focus on emerging trends in human trafficking involving refugees and how criminal justice stakeholders, including national police forces, specialized anti-trafficking police units, cybercrime police and prosecution authorities can effectively detect and prosecute traffickers while paying due attention to identification and protection of victims and prevention of the crime.

Participants drew on their experiences when facing operational challenges and implementing promising practices, and discussed interventions undertaken since February 2022 to respond to human trafficking threats both on- and offline.

Thematic sessions were dedicated to instances of exploitation observed across different host countries, as well as in Ukraine itself. Examples included trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation, and various emerging forms of exploitation.

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of forced criminality, such as the smuggling of migrants or money laundering, was another topic covered during the discussions as a part of a session on emerging forms of trafficking involving refugees. Such victims face the risk of being misidentified as criminals, which is just one example of the complexity of human trafficking cases and why a strong criminal justice system is needed for effective identification and response to prevent punishment of victims instead of traffickers.

Over 6.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the majority of whom are women and children, into host countries where a myriad of local challenges exacerbate existing vulnerabilities to exploitation and trafficking, such as the lack of long-term accommodation options, language barriers and limited access to the local job market.

Through this conference and other efforts, the OSCE Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings actively supports vulnerable groups against traffickers, including refugees and displaced persons, and enhances co-operation between participating States and relevant agencies to foster prevention strategies and concerted responses against trafficking in human beings.

The event is conducted in the framework of an extra-budgetary project "Preventing and responding to trafficking in human beings amid the humanitarian crisis related to the war in Ukraine" implemented with financial support from the Governments of Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Liechtenstein, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and US.

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