Sexual exploitation, the shadow that hangs over Ukrainian women in exile

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Paris (AFP) – At the moment these are “alerts” and “suspicion” that worry authorities and humanitarian organizations, who fear that Ukrainian refugee women are “easy prey” for prostitution networks and malicious men who offer them accommodation.

Early March. Outside the reception center just opened by the association “France terre d’asile” (France land of asylum) in Paris, two displaced Ukrainian women warn the volunteers that a stranger is proposing to “work” for him.

“I was trying to recruit women in the waiting line! Since then, we have had a strong surveillance of the police,” explains Delphine Rouilleault, general director of the association, to AFP.

Another man wanted to host women on behalf of an unknown association. There is also the case of several women who went to an NGO “uneasy” after a first night at the home of a “solidarity” person.

In France, most of the asylum falls to these good Samaritans, who make their own houses or accommodation available.

For weeks, both the authorities and humanitarian workers have warned of the risk faced by Ukrainian women, who, together with their children, represent 90% of the refugees in this conflict.

Women can “attract both individual and opportunistic aggressors who pose as volunteers and criminal networks specializing in human trafficking,” the European police cooperation office Europol warned in March.

“A blonde with blue eyes”

The risk is high in Poland and Romania, countries bordering Ukraine, but also during his exile in France, although per hour “no case of trafficking was confirmed,” according to Elisabeth Moiron-Braud, head of Miprof, a public body that fights against this practice.

An activist from the feminist group Femen protests in front of the European Parliament against the alleged inaction of the EU in the face of the alleged sexual exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, on March 26, 2022 in Brussels. the sign says "Buy now at 50%"
An activist from the feminist group Femen protests in front of the European Parliament against the alleged inaction of the EU in the face of the alleged sexual exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, on March 26, 2022 in Brussels. The sign says “Buy now at 50% off” Aris Oikonomou AFP/Files

“However, there are suspicions, alerts from social workers. (…) These are risks that we are aware of, because we have the experience of the 2015 migration crisis, when a significant flow of Nigerian minors ended up in the networks” of prostitution, points out.

Ukrainian women are “easy prey”, especially when trafficking networks from Eastern Europe are already active, adds the magistrate.

However, the French authorities are particularly concerned about the “risk of trafficking linked to individuals who host them and want to take advantage of their vulnerability”, adds Moiron-Braud, for whom “this is the great danger of this crisis”.

There are offers that outrage the associations. Some “assert that they only want a young Ukrainian woman, without children. Others specify: ‘a blonde with blue eyes,'” explains the employee of an organization, who prefers not to reveal her identity.

controls

“France terre d’asile” began “control work”: it requires a document on the existence of a criminal record, visits the places of reception and guarantees “social monitoring”.

“We explain that it is a reception without compensation. Because the trafficking is not only sexual. It can also be women who must be in charge of cleaning and taking care of the children all day,” Rouilleault points out.

Ukrainian women and children cross the Polish border at the Medyka post, on March 24, 2022 in southeastern Poland, as a result of the Russian invasion
Ukrainian women and children cross the Polish border at the Medyka post, on March 24, 2022 in southeastern Poland, as a result of the Russian invasion Angelos Tzortzinis AFP/Files

Refugees “should never give out their identity documents” and “beware of offers that are too good to be true,” adds Céline Schmitt, spokesperson in France for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

To help these often exhausted women and limit the risk, the diaspora organizes itself.

“We accompany them to see the apartment, talk to those who host them,” explains Nadia Myhal, president of the association of Ukrainian women in France. “We prioritize families or women. If he’s just a man, we drop the idea,” she explains.

Above all, because “the process to detect a victim is long”, Moiron-Braud abounds. “Perhaps they are exploiting a woman right now, but we will only know in several months.”

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Sexual exploitation, the shadow that hangs over Ukrainian women in exile