The country “must do more” to reduce the risk of exploitation for Ukrainian child refugees fleeing war, Biddulph’s MP has said.
Writing on the Politics Home website, Karen Bradley and Baroness Butler-Sloss said that according to Unicef, an estimated 4.5m children – 60% of all Ukrainian children – had been forced to leave their homes in Ukraine over the last four weeks.
Many of them have been separated from their families, left orphanages or foster care unaccompanied by a guardian. Often, these separated children are without identification so are unaccounted for and “highly vulnerable” to exploiters, attempting to profit from the deepening humanitarian crisis, said Mrs Bradley.
Frontline organisations and journalists have observed “disturbing instances” of children going missing or being targeted by opportunist traffickers at the borders, the article said.
The EU commissioner for home affairs has reported on exploiters posing as family members of orphaned children or as volunteers to escort them across the border for trafficking purposes.
Said the article from Mrs Bradley: “Unlike smuggling, which is a voluntary transaction relating to the crossing of international borders, human trafficking can occur within a country and sees individuals deceived or coerced into exploitation, including sexual exploitation or forced labour.
“Vulnerability to trafficking increases in desperate situations, where individuals lack choice and are forced to accept unsafe offers of accommodation or transport as they undertake perilous journeys to escape conflict.”
She added “It is a matter of regret that the Government did not use the opportunity of the Nationality and Borders Bill to support these children.
“The Ukrainian diaspora arriving in border countries must be given access to essential services and financial support to alleviate this potential for exploitation.”
The MP said the opening of borders without “robust processes” of registration for asylum seekers had meant that identifying children who became separated from their families or were unaccompanied had become “challenging”.
She said: “Accurately recording and monitoring unaccompanied children at reception centres and borders must be made a priority, with information sharing across destination countries and law enforcement to ensure separated children do not fall prey to traffickers capitalising on the disorder.
“These separated children arriving in destination countries from Ukraine should then be brought to the attention of national child protection services immediately to establish reunification and family tracing processes.”
Mrs Bradley and Baroness Butler-Sloss said the “urgency of this issue cannot be understated”, and said the UK had to take steps to alleviate the risks of trafficking.
Former PM Theresa May has called on Border Force and the National Crime Agency to play roles in mitigating risks by identifying both the criminal gangs responsible and the trafficked children entering the UK from the Ukraine.
Said Mrs Bradley: “While the Homes for Ukraine refugee scheme has demonstrated the overwhelming generosity of the British public, there are concerns that criminals may well capitalise on the situation and exploit those they are hosting.
“It is critical that the ‘minimising of bureaucracy’ around the scheme does not come at the expense of adequate safeguarding for vulnerable children arriving in the UK and staying with a host family.
“Children must be protected from potential abuse through rigorous DBS checks and training for hosts and asylum seekers entering the UK under the scheme.
“They must be informed of their rights and entitlements, empowered with information on how to receive help if exploitation does arise and receive concurrent holistic support.”
Mrs Bradley and Baroness Butler-Sloss are co-chairs of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery.