Refugees rest after crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, on March 9, 2022. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

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The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is turning into a human trafficking crisis, warned Pramila Patten, the UN secretary-general's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, on Monday.

From the outset of the conflict, heightened risks of trafficking in persons, including for purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution, have been alarmingly evident, Patten said.

The lack of consistent vetting of accommodation offers and transportation arrangements is a serious concern, as well as the limited capacity of protection services to address the velocity and volume of displacement, she told a UN Security Council meeting on conflict-related sexual violence and human trafficking in the context of the Ukraine conflict.

There are also concerns regarding the multiplicity of volunteers, with limited vetting, and little or no training or experience, she added.

In her visit to a Tesco supermarket-converted receiving center for Ukrainian refugees in Przemysl, Poland, she found "grave security and protection concerns" in a facility run by volunteers, and with only a "bare-bones presence" of UN agencies.

Humanitarian staff at the site gave credible anecdotal accounts of attempted human trafficking, said Patten. With minimal security screening, a man registered as a volunteer at the Tesco center in the afternoon and entered the "French room" where refugees were waiting for transport to France. At that time, he made contact with a 19-year-old woman, whom he later woke up in the sleeping hall at 2 a.m., offering a ride to France, she said.

Another man, wearing a yellow volunteer's vest and standing with a sign at the Przemysl train station hall, was offering free transport from Poland to Germany. Other volunteers became suspicious and informed local law enforcement when they noticed that the man was selecting only young women for transportation in his minivan, she said.

Patten called for a coherent and coordinated response at the level of European institutions to strengthen the overall response.

"This is of utmost urgency as I believe that this humanitarian crisis is turning into a human trafficking crisis," she said. "This requires a concerted, integrated and holistic cross-border response by humanitarian partners, law enforcement agencies, border forces, immigration officials and political leaders. A regional compact is urgently required."

To address this challenge, it is crucial to ensure that the level of political focus, as well as the allocation of resources for a comprehensive response, is commensurate with the scale and complexity of the problem, she said.

Source: ANI / Xinhua