Kyiv – Over 800 Ukrainians have been identified as victims of trafficking and assisted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), from January to June 2020. This is a striking 40 percentage points increase compared to the first half of the previous year.

“In crisis situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, migrants are often at risk of increased vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation,” said Anh Nguyen, Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine, opening an IOM-supported exhibition entitled Expectations vs Reality on 30 July, the World Counter-Trafficking Day, in the capital Kyiv. “People may become victims as a result of losing their jobs due to the pandemic while vulnerabilities of persons already at risk of trafficking may be further increased by the economic slowdown,” he explained.

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Trafficking survivors assisted by IOM in the first half of 2020 were exploited in 22 different countries, including Ukraine itself. The Russian Federation remained the top destination country for human trafficking from Ukraine, with 55 per cent of the victims assisted by IOM Ukraine from January to June 2020 having suffered there. Poland ranks second with 28.7 per cent, while internal trafficking, including the annexed Crimea and the non-government-controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, accounted for eight per cent of cases.

Following the trend of the previous years, 71 per cent of victims were male, and the overwhelming majority (97%) of victims identified in the first half of 2020 were trafficked for labour exploitation.

To strongly remind Ukrainians about the risks of irregular employment, IOM supported the request of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, the National Counter-Trafficking Coordinator, and partnered with A21 NGO and the OSCE Project Co-ordinator to launch a national trafficking awareness campaign. The exhibition Expectations vs Reality, opened in Kyiv on Thursday, is a part of this joint initiative, enlightening about a harsh reality that a luring but informal employment offer may turn into. The exhibition will be displayed in Kyiv until 12 August and then will visit 16 regional cities of Ukraine. The project also promotes the new IOM-supported website www.worksafe.org.ua which features the stories of trafficking survivors and also provides tips on how to avoid being exploited, referring visitors to useful government resources as well as to the IOM-supported National Counter-Trafficking and Migrant Advice Hotline 527.

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“To counter modern slavery in times of COVID-19, existing national mechanisms of referral and response should be scaled up to offer much-needed medical assistance and socioeconomic reintegration support to vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking, violence and abuse,” stated Anh Nguyen.

IOM has been assisting trafficking survivors in Ukraine for 22 years, and over 17,000 victims have received medical, psychosocial and legal assistance, vocational training and equipment to help them start their life again.