Open letter from the anti-human trafficking community to condemn and end the Russian invasion of Ukraine

We, a community of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and anti-trafficking leaders who work to end human trafficking and modern slavery, declare in solidarity that we condemn the invasion of Ukraine launched by Russia on February 24, 2022.

In addition to being an act of aggression, a crime under international law and a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter,1 the invasion will exacerbate the human trafficking of civilians in Ukraine and those fleeing from the country. We stand in solidarity to call on the Russian authorities to end the invasion.

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine and Significant Increased Risks of Human Trafficking

  • As of 10 March, 2022, over 2 million people have fled Ukraine2. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that the forced displacement in Ukraine “looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.”3 The majority of these refugees are women and children. Many more have been internally displaced, placing them at significantly increased vulnerability to human trafficking.
  • As long as the military invasion of Ukraine continues, the vulnerability of displaced people in the country to human trafficking will increase due to deteriorating rule of law and impunity; further forced displacement; humanitarian need and socio-economic stress and social fragmentation.
  • Human trafficking will also escalate in the countries to where people from Ukraine are fleeing. There have also been deeply concerning reports of attempts to traffic women and girls fleeing Ukraine in neighboring countries, including Poland and Romania.

Our Call to End the Invasion and Protect Civilians from Human Trafficking

  1. We condemn the military invasion of Ukraine by Russia and call the Russian authorities to withdraw their troops immediately from Ukraine;
  2. We call on the International Criminal Court and relevant judicial instances to investigate all potential war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations associated with human trafficking in the context of the invasion, be investigated and brought to court;
  3. We call on neighboring states and countries of asylum to prevent trafficking and protect refugees by ensuring that all responses to this crisis include a Counter Trafficking Strategy. This should include but not be limited to: (a) the training of all frontline agencies and citizens in spotting the signs of human trafficking to help prevent human trafficking and support victims and survivors; (b) wider prevention measures including safe and legal routes for those fleeing the conflict; (c) identification and restorative measures to enable the active identification of potential victims and ensure that survivors receive holistic trauma informed care; (d) measures to enable perpetrator accountability including through criminal and civil proceedings.
  4. We call on the international community to assist receiving asylum countries in their financial, coordination and technical support of refugees and their protection from human trafficking, including the safe repatriation and return of citizens to their communities when safe to do so.

Signatories

  1. Tim Nelson, CEO, Hope for Justice and Slave-Free Alliance
  2. Nick Grono, CEO, The Freedom Fund
  3. Red Godfrey-Sagoo, CEO, Sophie Hayes Foundation
  4. Joy M Gillespie, CEO, Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland (SOHTIS)
  5. Linda Smith, Founder and President, Shared Hope International
  6. Andrew Wallis, CEO and Founder, Unseen
  7. Dawn Hawkins, CEO, National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE)
  8. Christian Guy, CEO, Justice and Care
  9. Helen Sworn, Executive Director and Founder, Chab Dai
  10. Deb Sigmund, Founder, Innocents at Risk
  11. Elizabeth Fisher Good, Founder & CEO, The Foundation United
  12. Leanne Rhodes, Executive Director, European Freedom Network
  13. Harriett Baldwin MP, Chair, British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
  14. Karen Bradley MP, UK Former Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime
  15. Patricia Durr, CEO, ECPAT UK
  16. Ann-Kristin Vervik, Generalsekretær/Executive Director, ECPAT Norway
  17. Lori L Cohen, CEO, ECPAT USA
  18. Richard Beard, CEO, Jericho Foundation
  19. Mick Clarke, CEO, The Passage
  20. Kim Westfall, Founder, Uncaged
  21. David Gadd, Professor of Criminology
  22. Bronagh Andrew, Operations Manager, The TARA Service
  23. Kirsty Thomson, Managing Director, JustRight Scotland
  24. Martin Hancock, CEO, BCHA
  25. Emily Chalke, Co Director, Ella’s House
  26. Lara Bundock, CEO and Founder, Snowdrop Project
  27. Kush Chottera, CEO, Europia
  28. Fred Sherling, General Manager, Fair Play Bygg Rogland Norway
  29. Yvonne Hall, Founder and Co-Chief Executive, Palm Cove Society
  30. Ragnhild Lindahl Torstensen, CEO, Lightup Norway
  31. Victoria Marks, Director and Solicitor, Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit
  32. Liz Griffith, Head of Policy and Research, Migration Justice Project at Law Centre Northern Ireland
  33. Jon Lord, CEO, Bolton at Home
  34. Dr Carole Murphy, Director, Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse.
  35. Dr Ruth Van Dyke, Acting Director, Training Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse
  36. Rev Ian Howarth (Adavu Chair) and Liisa Wiseman (Adavu Project Manager) Adavu Project
  37. Leanne Rhodes, CEO and Founder, Abolishion
  38. Erhard Hermansen, General Secretary, Christian Council of Norway
  39. Rita Gava, Director, Kalayaan
  40. Karen Anstiss, Service Manager, Caritas Bakhita House
  41. Wanjiku Ngotho-Mbugua, Acting Chief Executive, Bawso
  42. Ed Newton, CEO, City Hearts
  43. 43. Gayle Bunting, Director, Invisible Traffick
  44. Amber Cagney, Development Manager, West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network
  45. Ross Hendry, CEO, Christian Care Research and Education (CARE)
  46. Matthew Evans, Director, The AIRE Centre
  47. Jillian McBride, Children’s Policy Officer, Scottish Refugee Council
  48. Moya Woolven, CEO, Basis Yorkshire
  49. Modupe Debbie Ariyo OBE, CEO, AFRUCA
  50. Ashleigh Chapman, President, AFJR (Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice)
  51. Rushan Abbas, Executive Director, Campaign for Uyghurs
  52. Coreen Lategan, Executive Director, Kainos e.V. Germany
  53. Bettina Kneisler, First Chairperson, Projekt Schattentöchter e.V.
  54. Rachel Witkin, Head of Counter-Trafficking and Publications, Helen Bamber Foundation
  55. Anja Slabbekoorn, President, Spring2Freedom
  56. Andrew Hoskins, Vice President of International Programs, The Exodus Road
  57. Courtney Skiera-Vaughn, Director of International Programs, Free The Girls

BACKGROUND INFORMATION


Human Trafficking and Other Forms of Modern Slavery
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  • An estimated 40.3 million people are currently trapped in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor.
  • Human trafficking is also the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, generating the equivalent of US $150 billion annually.
  • Human trafficking is a transnational crime and a human rights violation codified in international human rights and refugee law, and international criminal law.

Human Trafficking during Military Invasions and Armed Conflict

  • In 2020, a record 80 million people were forcibly displaced in their own countries or abroad due to war, military invasion or armed conflict.
  • Human trafficking and conflict feed each other. Traffickers are typically aware of the lack of options displaced individuals have and can offer to fill this void. By promising stability, security and employment, traffickers often appear to offer a greater prospect of hope for individuals who might have left everything behind.
  • Survivors of trafficking who are displaced, often fear returning to their locations or countries of origin due to threats by traffickers and criminal gangs made against them and their families.
  • Large numbers of people may be displaced either within their country or across borders, living with considerable physical insecurity and limited access to protection and assistance. In these contexts, the risks of human trafficking are exacerbated, especially for women and unaccompanied or separated children living in desperate circumstances.
  • Enslavement, committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, is considered a crime against humanity and a war crime in times of war.
  • In the context of a military invasion, human trafficking should be viewed as not only as a human rights violation and a potential war crime, but also an international security concern. The illicit funding behind human trafficking is fueling global instability and insecurity.