We need to act now to reach refugees before the traffickers do

Many of us will remember the heart-wrenching images that filled our screens in the days that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: thousands of women and children crossing the border, leaving their homes and loved ones behind.

Four months on, the number of Ukrainians scattered across Europe is still growing – and sadly, so is the risk of trafficking, as traffickers could try to take advantage of people in desperate situations. This is a critical moment for Christians to put our faith into action and help keep vulnerable people safe.

Thanks to the powerful support of churches and other partners, International Justice Mission was at the Ukraine border within twenty-four hours, helping protect thousands of refugees. We’re so grateful to God that we’ve been able to reach so many people – but risks have now moved beyond the border and are constantly evolving.

Europe is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War Two. We’re seeing that many refugees are now starting to run out of income and savings, often having left behind jobs, businesses and partners in Ukraine. Many are unaware of their right to work, access healthcare and financial support within Europe. This creates an easy target for the traffickers who were already operating throughout Europe, who can use false offers of work, accommodation and money to trick refugees into situations where they’re exploited.

IJM has seen many refugees suffering from extreme trauma – particularly those who have fled more recently, who have often spent longer periods of time within or near active conflict zones. These factors leave refugees disoriented and vulnerable to trafficking.

The bottom line is that we need to reach refugees before traffickers do. With savings starting to run out now and women losing their income sources, we’re running out of time. It’s so important that we scale our protection for refugees throughout Europe so that in the months to come, we don’t see an increase in trafficking cases.

According to the UN, this situation is swiftly ‘turning into a human trafficking crisis.’ IJM is working to make sure that these risks don’t become realities and refugees are kept safe.

That’s why we’ve been partnering with authorities, shelters and churches in Romania since the start of the crisis to raise awareness of risks, provide safeguarding training, and connect refugees with vetted shelter, accommodation and legal advice. Churches have played a vital role: for example, one church partner in Romania is running five refugee centers, where IJM has helped volunteers understand how to spot trafficking risks and keep people safe.

We recently safeguarded a mother with two young children who was offered accommodation by a man she didn’t know. He didn’t give her an address and instead told her to meet him at a certain location and he would take her to the accommodation. She accepted his offer – but IJM’s team realised it was risky and helped her look into it more deeply. She soon realised it was a potentially exploitative situation, and she chose not to accept the offer.

But we can’t stop now. We need to scale this protection throughout Europe to make sure even more people stay safe. One IJM staff member at the frontlines shared this reflection: “It’s worth every hour, every minute to know that you’re helping people to be safe.”

This World Refugee Week, we want to invite you to be part of the story. Will you join us as we put faith into action to keep people safe?

There are two key ways to do so: you can support the expansion of our European anti-trafficking programme at IJMUK.org/urgentappeal. Or you can connect with us at United this summer. This summer, IJM will be hosting the café in the Annexe at United, including a brilliant after hours programme – make sure you come and say hello and find out all the latest news from IJM around the world!

We would also love to invite you to you join Anu George from IJM, who is speaking in the Arena on Sunday 24 July. Anu is an incredible global leader in the movement to seek justice, and has led teams to help release over 10,000 people from trafficking and slavery.

For more information and to find out how you can get involved, make sure you check out @IJMUK on social media, or IJMUK.org/new-wine.

Together, we can stay one step ahead of traffickers.