The scene took place in early March, when the first displaced from the war in Ukraine began to land in France. In front of the reception center recently opened by the association France Terre d’Asile (France Land of Asylum, in free translation), in the north of Paris, a man aroused distrust in the women waiting in line. Two Ukrainians ended up alerting the volunteers that “a stranger” proposed that they “work” for him.
“He was harassing the women in the queue. Since then, we have had strong police surveillance,” says Delphine Rouilleault, director general of the association. Some refugees also testified that they participated in an “uneasy” first night at the home of a man who offered accommodation, like many others who volunteer to help the new arrivals.
The risks are greatest for women, who together with children represent 90% of Ukrainian refugees from the conflict. They are in the crosshairs of malicious people accompanying this exodus, and “will attract opportunistic aggressors who present themselves as volunteers, as well as criminal networks specializing in human trafficking”, warned Europol, the European police, at the end of March.
The risks for refugees are greatest at the first borders, such as in Poland and Romania, but the threats continue until they arrive in France, where, so far, “no case of trafficking has been proven”, says Elisabeth Moiron-Braud, secretary -general of Miprof, the inter-ministerial mission responsible for the fight against trafficking in human beings.
“On the other hand, there are suspicions and alerts from social workers who are the target of complaints and we are doing prevention”, he says. Nigerian women who have been targeted by prostitution rings,” he notes. “Ukrainian women are ‘easy prey’, especially since Eastern European trafficking networks are already active,” he adds.
But what particularly worries the French authorities, according to Elisabeth Moiron-Braud, are the “risks of trafficking involving individuals who receive them and who will take advantage of women’s vulnerability”, she said. “This is the great danger of this crisis”, she concludes.
Some hosting proposals are suspect. “They say they just want a young Ukrainian girl, no children. Others openly specify wanting a blonde with blue eyes,” says an indignantly, on condition of anonymity, the official of an association that receives refugees in charge of selecting the volunteers.
To combat the abuses, the association France Terre d’Asile began the “work of control” of the proposals of lodging. Measures include criminal background checks on those who offer to receive refugees and home visits. “We explain that there is no exchange for service. Trafficking is not just sexual. Women can also be forced to do household chores”, underlines Delphine Rouilleault.
Refugees should “never hand over their identity documents” and “beware of offers that are too good to be true,” stresses Céline Schmitt, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in France. She called for control mechanisms to be strengthened to “examine” all good intentions.
To support these often exhausted women, Ukrainians already in France are also organizing. “Accompanying them to see the apartment, talking to those who host them, we try to limit the risks”, says Nadia Myhal, president of the Association of Ukrainian Women in France. “We give preference to families or women. If it’s just a man, we refuse the offer”, she says. Despite efforts, the risks persist, recognizes Delphine Rouilleault. According to her, it is more difficult to detect problematic situations when women are already staying. .