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UK urged to stop matching Ukraine women with single men

Human Trafficking
13 April 2022
Refugee woman and child

The United Nations has urged the UK Government to ensure that Ukrainian women refugees are not matched with single men, citing fears of sexual exploitation.

In a criticism of the government, the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told The Guardian the UK needed a "more appropriate matching process" that ensures women are always placed in safe contexts.

The UNHCR, an an agency that exists to aid and protect refugees, added that adequate safeguards and vetting measures are absolutely essential to guarantee women's safety.

“[The] UNHCR believes that a more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men", the group said.

“Matching done without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced,” it added.

CARE raising alarm

CARE has led calls to ensure the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which allows Brits to host refugees, is made safe in the last few weeks and warned of the risk posed by traffickers.

Last month, Lauren Agnew, trafficking policy expert at CARE, told The Independent:

“The government should be aware that criminals wishing to exploit refugees are not going to advertise their intent. They may use individuals with ‘clean’ records to act as a sponsor, including those who are themselves victims of exploitation.

“We would also note that getting Ukrainian refugees to safety shouldn’t be the end of the story. Can it really be left to local authorities alone to ensure the safety and wellbeing of refugees six months, a year, or three years down the line?”

She added that ministers should consult with experts in human trafficking and modern slavery to develop a series of “appropriate safeguards” for this scheme, including ongoing welfare checks by those who know the subtle signs of modern slavery.

Social media concerns

Ms Agnew has also raised the alarm over unregistered social media pages where Ukrainian refugees "advertise themselves" to potential UK hosts. In a separate interview with The Independent, she said:

“The government may not be endorsing hosts seeking out refugees to sponsor on social media, but the current system will nevertheless create an environment for this to happen. A system allowing the public to identify refugees to host presents an opportunity to bad actors seeking to take advantage of them".

“Already, we are seeing unregulated groups and accounts springing up on social media. Human traffickers can masquerade on these sites as genuine individuals wanting to help when, in reality, they are online to ‘shop’ for their next victims to exploit. How can Ukrainians know groups or individuals presenting on social media are genuine and safe?”

“It is incredibly important that the government uses its channels to urge refugees not to interact with groups and private individuals on social media. Instead, they should seek help through official websites affiliated to the government or reputable NGOs,” she added.

Learn more about CARE's work to curb human trafficking on our cause page: Human Trafficking | CARE

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