The war in Ukraine and associated risks of human trafficking and exploitation Insights from an evidencegathering roundtable

The war in Ukraine and associated risks of human trafficking and exploitation Insights from an evidencegathering roundtable

The war in Ukraine and associated risks of human trafficking and exploitation Insights from an evidencegathering roundtable

Foreword from the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

‘As the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I am gravely concerned about the risk of trafficking and exploitation facing those affected by the war in Ukraine. Millions of people have been displaced, many of whom have fled Ukraine. Those seeking refuge abroad, overwhelmingly women and children, face unimaginable risks. To quote UN Secretary General, António Guterres, ‘for predators and human traffickers, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity – and women and children are the targets.

These risks are not just at the border or along their journey. Earlier conflicts and migration crises have shown the risk of exploitation in destination countries, which for thousands of Ukrainians will be the UK. The Homes for Ukraine scheme in particular has demonstrated the public’s willingness to assist those who have been forcibly displaced. Thousands of individuals, organisations and businesses have offered shelter, support and job opportunities. What we must do now is put in place systematic prevention and protection measures to ensure the risks of trafficking and exploitation do not become a reality.

This comprehensive report outlines the themes from a roundtable organised by UCL and supported by my office. There were many recommendations made in the discussions and many require serious consideration. It is clear that the war in Ukraine presents real and significant risks of human trafficking and exploitation, and there is a need for the UK’s response to be targeted, trauma informed and adequately resourced to provide the support needed to Ukrainian refugees. I have been pleased to support this important work, which I hope will inform both the immediate and long term response. It is also vitally important that the learning extends to future humanitarian crises’

Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Executive summary

On 24 February 2022 the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It marked a major escalation in the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region that has been ongoing since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. Many millions of people have been displaced both within Ukraine and beyond its borders. Faced with one of the fastest growing refugee situations in recent history, countries across Europe and beyond have taken decisive action to support people fleeing this conflict. In addition to foreign policy responses, such as coordinated international sanctions on Russia, military support and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, both state and non-state actors are increasingly turning their minds to how to prevent this clear humanitarian crisis from turning into a human trafficking crisis.

In response to these concerns and the need for evidence to inform policy and practice, UCL and the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC) convened an international, multi-agency online roundtable on 7 April 2022. The roundtable focused on risks of human trafficking and exploitation arising from the war in Ukraine. The emphasis was on the UK context, situated within lessons and concerns from the broader international landscape. Over one hundred specialists participated in the roundtable, including representatives from civil society, national and transnational governmental organisations, law enforcement, labour market enforcement, healthcare, academia and industry.

The situation with the war in Ukraine, mass displacement and risks of human trafficking and exploitation is rapidly evolving, meaning that a faster pace of evidence-gathering than normal was needed to inform policy and avert harms. A core strength of our approach is that we were able to convene a large number of international and UK-based experts from different backgrounds, gather credible information on what they are seeing in real-time, listen to their key concerns and recommendations based on years of relevant professional experience, and analyse and synthesise this evidence to present timely policy recommendations on this urgent topic. Despite doing all that at speed, we have maintained a rigorous and transparent approach throughout. Drawing on our research experience and specialist domain knowledge, we were also able to tie this new evidence back to the broader academic and policy evidence-base. We are deeply grateful to all those who shared their knowledge, networks and time to make this endeavour possible, and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council who both immediately recognised the value in this approach.

This report presents key insights from this evidence-gathering roundtable. In it, we identify five major themes from the discussions, situate them within the existing evidence base and identify key policy recommendations for effective responses to human trafficking and exploitation related to the war in Ukraine. Except for invited talks, all discussions at the roundtable were under the Chatham House Rule: to encourage frank discussions on sensitive topics. The event was recorded and transcribed in full. In this report, we try to represent the discussions at the roundtable faithfully and with nuance, highlighting where opinions diverged as well as converged. While we cannot claim to represent the views of all participants nor the organisations they represent, we have made every effort to give a faithful and nuanced account of what was said at the roundtable. The war in Ukraine and associated risks of human trafficking and

Read full report here.