Approximately 1.5 million children have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began and are at risk of being trafficked, according to UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency.
“Countless others” are displaced inside the country as the war wages on, the agency said in a Saturday news release.
“The war in Ukraine is leading to massive displacement and refugee flows – conditions that could lead to a significant spike in human trafficking and an acute child protection crisis,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked,” Khan continued. “They need governments in the region to step up and put measures in place to keep them safe.”
Between Feb. 24 and March 7, UNICEF said they identified more than 500 unaccompanied children crossing from Ukraine into Romania. The overall figure of unaccompanied children spilling over neighboring borders is “likely much higher,” the statement added.
To scale up protection, the UN and civil society partners have set up information hubs in neighboring countries such as Poland, identified as “Blue Dots” to provide essential services for families.
UNICEF also urges Ukraine’s neighboring governments to scale up child protection screenings at the borders and at key areas, such as train stations, where refugees pass through.
“In addition, UNICEF is calling on governments to improve cross-border collaboration and knowledge exchange between and among border control, law enforcement and child protection authorities and to quickly identify separated children, implement family tracing and reunification procedures for children deprived of parental care,” according to the statement.