EU warns of trafficking risk as 3.8m people arrive from Ukraine

Co-ordination needed to protect women and children, with refugee numbers set to double

Organisations working with refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine have noticed an increase in suspicious cars picking up women and children, the European Commission has said, warning of the need to guard against trafficking as 3.8 million people arrive in the EU from Ukraine.

The European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, made the remarks after the EU's justice and home affairs ministers met to co-ordinate refugee registrations and discuss funding to support neighbouring states where most of the refugees are staying.

Ukrainians were among the top five nationalities trafficked into the European Union prior to the invasion, she said.

“Already before the war there were criminal networks that were specialised in trafficking Ukrainian citizens, and unfortunately, they are probably still active,” Ms Johansson told journalists.


“We have increasing reports from the organisations on the ground, especially in the EU member states. That they say that there are more suspicious cars coming to pick up women and children. And that’s why we have activated the anti-trafficking co-ordination network,” she added.

To date some 3.8 million people have arrived in the EU from Ukraine as they seek shelter from an invasion by Russian forces, which have killed hundreds of civilians as they bombard cities and storm through villages.


Daily arrivals to the EU have slowed from 200,000 at their peak to 40,000 now, but officials have warned this may increase again if the fighting intensifies, and that 8-10 million refugees from Ukraine may ultimately arrive in the EU.

“We don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Ms Johansson said. “We have to be prepared for many more millions that might need to flee.”

So far only 800,000 Ukrainian refugees have registered for temporary protection, a special status granted by the EU giving them the right to residency, housing, education and healthcare for at least a year. Officials have stressed the importance that refugees register on time because they can lose out on getting the status if they do not do so within three months.

As of Saturday, 13,500 Ukrainians had arrived in Ireland, according to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who said the EU would work to link up national databases to "make it easier to protect refugees, and in particular unaccompanied minors, and their travel within the EU".

“I think what’s really important now as well is that we acknowledge the risks with such a mass movement of people – risks around human trafficking, child exploitation, but also criminality,” she said.

Security concerns

The ministers discussed security concerns including that people “who are participating on the Russian side in the war” could “arrive in Europe”, said French interior minister Gérald Darmanin.

"The humanity that Europe is showing doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask who is arriving in Europe and, in the medium and long term, how can we ensure that these people do correspond to the security criteria that we wish," he said.

EU countries are considering potential financial support to help EU countries that neighbour Ukraine that are hosting the vast majority of refugees, with more than two million in Poland alone, according to the UN refugee agency.

Most had a preference to remain there “because they want to go home as soon as the war’s over”, Mr Darmanin said.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times