Ukraine war creates human trafficking challenge

WARSAW, 4 Aug 2022:

Poland is tackling a human trafficking problem that emerged in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – with migrants accepting extreme conditions due to the constant stress they are under, Polish expert Irena Dawid-Olczyk said in an interview.

“We don’t know what people are willing to accept. Only the migration stress makes them accept many things and we also have the war. But we hope to see these consequences in the fall.

“We are in contact with other organisations, we try to inform people, but there will be problems with human trafficking,” adds the chief of the La Strada International NGO dedicated to fighting the issue.

“The issue of forced labour is in any country of the European Union and these people are susceptible because they need a livelihood.

“We don’t know how long they will help them in the (host) countries and we don’t know what will happen in the fall.

“It is said that the wave of migration from Ukraine will be big.”

On July 19, Dawid-Olczyk received the TIP (trafficking in persons) Hero Award from US secretary of state Antony Blinken. The yearly award honours human rights activists in various countries for their work in the fight against human trafficking.

So far, there has been no significant increase in the issue in Poland due to the war in Ukraine, Dawid-Olczyk stresses.

“At least not at the moment. What we hope will happen and materialise is a problem of forced labour. So far we have not had specific cases, but there is more employment without a contract, labour exploitation, non-payment of wages.

“Now there are going to be more people who don’t have a place to go back to and obviously they will accept more things when it comes to working conditions.”

According to data from the Border Guard, Poland currently houses 1.89 million refugees from Ukraine.

Dawid-Olczyk highlights that, contrary to popular belief, human trafficking in Poland is more related to forced labour than to sexual exploitation.

“It is often believed that large organised crime groups manage human trafficking, but the reality is more pedestrian. For example, it can be a bus driver who brings people from across the border to work knowing that they will be mistreated and will not receive a salary,” she explains.

Dawid-Olczyk points out that there are also agents who recruit migrants in a town.

“It doesn’t seem like much, but they are part of a criminal group,” the expert continues.

She says these people often do not realise that their actions can take them to jail.

Since March, human trafficking amid the war in Ukraine has become punishable by between 10 and 25 years in prison.

“Often it starts with an employer who does not pay a job salary and is not punished for it. They keep the passport of the worker, who cannot leave, and if they get away with it they end up in human trafficking, almost without realising that they are committing a crime.

“The victims do not realise that they fall into the network of human trafficking; in most cases, they think they are being deceived and are not paid. In many countries, the definition of the issue is very complex and people do not call it that,” Dawid-Olczyk adds.

– EFE