As the Russian war continues in Ukraine, the threat of trafficking exploits grows. There is a long history of increased trafficking risks in times of conflict. While the reasons for this increased risk are complicated and transnational, they tend to follow general trafficking patterns.
Armed conflict intensifies social, emotional, and economic pressures on the affected population, and traffickers see these vulnerabilities as an opportunity for sexual and labor trafficking. The following are factors that can increase one’s vulnerability to being trafficked in war-ridden areas.
Countries at war face extreme economic hardship. Aside from the physical destruction of lands, resources, and buildings, there is additional damage to economic sectors. They face food and fuel shortages, increased unemployment, homelessness, and more.
Traffickers prey on this economic vulnerability as they always do. Affected people are more likely to turn to desperate sources of income, labor trafficking frauds or even sex trafficking. Traffickers might promise a new job, safe housing, or food.
“The breakdown of social ties and diminishing levels of regular economic activity in conflict settings may force people to search for alternative livelihoods” (Relief Web
.). A trafficker sees the desperation for income and safety and uses it to entice the vulnerable.
Breakdown of Societal Structures
As conflict disrupts everyday life in affected areas, so is the breakdown of normal societal structures that create more protection for the vulnerable. Social services are often less immediately available, rule of law deteriorates, and state institutions may suffer or even break down due to a lack of personnel or economic stress. With these safeguards gone, ruling institutions can no longer help protect their most vulnerable against potential traffickers.
Whether due to physical threats or financial pressure, conflict will often displace individuals and families from their homes. Some of these displaced people seek to leave their country and find refuge abroad, facing extremely vulnerable circumstances in the process. Traffickers may promise safe migration routes, secure housing, employment, or education in another country and then proceed to entrap and exploit them.
Need For Work
Armed groups may at times traffic children and women into conflict to use for a variety of purposes. This includes using them as forced combatants, forced labor (cooks, aids), suicide bombing, and even sexual exploitation. Corrupt armies will incentivize new recruits with sexual promises and use those survivors as a reward for “dutiful” service. “Child trafficking is closely linked to the grave violations against children in armed conflict, including the recruitment and use of children abductions, attacks against schools and hospitals, and sexual violence” (UN).
Obstacles to Support
Amid these dangerous circumstances, war zones are also often denied humanitarian assistance. It is difficult for rescue or support groups to operate amidst conflict.
This makes early identification of survivors of trafficking and referral for assistance and protection near impossible, and even when rescues are made, aftercare services may be scarce. This means survivors remain without support and are even exposed to the additional risks of exploitation.
How O.U.R. Supports Survivors in War Zones
O.U.R. is committed to supporting those affected by war and conflict in any way we can. We seek to provide safe passage out of dangerous areas into safe homes with support staff. We also support remaining in-country support centers where possible, to ease financial and temporal stressors on the vulnerable.