Kate Garraway criticises Priti Patel’s absence amid refugee crisis
The reports come amid fears thousands may have already fallen prey to criminal gangs, with up to 10,000 children who were in Ukrainian orphanages unaccounted for. As millions of women and children flee across the country’s borders, charities, MPs and humanitarian agencies are increasingly worried about refugees becoming victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse.
“Children are being trafficked,” confirmed Deb Barry, Save the Children’s humanitarian response team leader in Poland.
“This is a continued risk. There are people coming to the borders in their cars offering free assistance, a free ride to Europe, free food and free lodging, and people targeting children at stations.
“We urgently need to make sure these children are protected so no child or group of women and children get into the vehicle of someone they don’t know.”
She added: “Thousands of women and children are coming into the train stations and the borders. I have seen increasing numbers of 15 to 18-year-old girls and boys as well as exhausted parents.
“They are going through stages of grief – the loss of loved ones, homes, families. They are hungry, exhausted, cold and vulnerable. Who will keep an eye on them?
“We are working with closely local agencies to stop them from going from one horrific situation to another and getting trafficked to another place.”
Ukrainian refugees at Poland’s Przemysl train station
Aerial Recovery, a team of former US military veterans assisting vulnerable people, is working with authorities to establish a system to make it easier to keep tabs on orphaned children.
Jeremy Locke, the team’s chief of operations, said: “The Ukraine government is trying but it doesn’t really have the capacity to deal with the problem.
“We have had many reports of children going through the borders to unknown people without being tracked. The refugees are fighting for their lives, they are tired, scared and trusting.
“I have asked for paperwork to verify people who want to take in refugee children but on some occasions they cannot produce it – possibly because they don’t have it. This is a huge worry. “
Last night the charity Hope and Homes for Children said it was “deeply concerned” for the 100,000 children warehoused in Ukraine’s orphanage system.
It said orphanages were being targeted by shells, missiles and illegal cluster bombs, and staff have fled, leaving large numbers of children to face the dangers of war and exploitation alone.
People rest inside a sports hall of a primary school
It called on governments across the world to “act now” to avert a “child protection emergency” across Eastern Europe, echoing former prime minister Theresa May, who on Tuesday urged the Government here to put in place a system that means “there can be no unidentified children left to the mercy of the traffickers “.
Charity spokesman Ben Knowles said: “We urgently need a centralized, cross-country and border system to keep track of the nearly 100,000 children from Ukrainian institutions. This lack of information is life-threatening.
“Ukraine’s child protection system is in tatters and alarming reports are emerging about potentially dangerous and uncoordinated evacuations of children from orphanages, to equally dangerous institutions in neighboring countries.
“Some orphanage evacuees have even been allowed to travel over multiple borders, and to board flights to new orphanages, far away from their homeland.
“Ninety-two per cent of the 100,000 children in orphanages aren’t actually orphans.
“They have living families but have been institutionalised because of poverty or disabilities. Whenever these children get evacuated out of Ukraine, it’s vital they’re not put up for inter-country adoption and scattered all over the world, or they’ll stand little chance of ever being reunited with family.
“We must not lock them up indefinitely in new orphanages, in foreign lands. Over 80 years of research shows how children in institutions suffer neglect, abuse and violence.
“Every attempt must be made to find orphanage evacuees safe, emergency foster care in neighboring countries, while keeping siblings together.
“At the moment, with communications between regions affected by the fighting, some evacuees are at risk of disappearing from sight.
“This follows alarming reports from police forces in neighboring countries about sex traffickers targeting women and children.”