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The EU’s migration commissioner has issued an urgent warning about the enormous risk of Ukrainian women and children potentially falling victim to traffickers.
Crime agency Europol said it had received reports of people who aroused suspicion by loitering at reception areas, detention hubs and transit points.
It has issued an Early Warning Notification to nations on the continent.
“There is a huge risk of vulnerable children being trafficked,” EU migration commissioner Ylva Johansson said.
She said almost half of the 3.5 million people who had fled Ukraine since the invasion were children, and “many more millions” were expected to come.
Ukraine has many orphans and children born to surrogate mothers who have not been collected by their parents.
Ms Johansson says this has increased the risk that they could be abducted or become victims of forced adoptions.
She noted that so far there had been very few unaccompanied children reported at EU borders, and only few reports of trafficking.
But police forces, activists and Ukrainian organisations for women had signalled some “alarming” cases, she said.
In past instances of mass migration, such abuse was common, she said.
“We should not wait until we have proof of a lot of trafficking because then it may be too late,” she said.
Ms Johansson called for a large awareness campaign of the risks to be launched immediately.
She said that risks could surface at borders where criminals disguised as helpers could take advantage of vulnerable people by offering shelter to arriving migrants.
Europol has issued a warning to all states.
“All involved authorities need to remain alert in order to promptly identify criminal attempts to exploit the crisis and the vulnerable situation of people arriving from Ukraine,” it said
“Criminal networks may also exploit this crisis and recruit victims among refugees from Ukraine, for sexual, labour or other types of exploitation.
“EU, agencies and several non-governmental organisations have highlighted the potential victimisation of women and children arriving from Ukraine in the past weeks, referring to suspicious individuals spotted in reception areas, in transit or destination hubs in the EU.”
About 3.5 million of those people have left Ukraine for neighbouring countries, according to the UN.
Poland has taken in the most, followed by Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia.