Border guards and Moldovan specialists trained to prevent and combat human trafficking
The training is a part of UNICEF's response to the refugee crisis in Ukraine which is considered to be one of the fastest large-scale displacements since World War II.
The war in Ukraine has forced about six million people to seek safety in neighboring countries and further afield – the majority are women and children. Moldova has received over 400,000 refugees, including 160,000 children.
As unaccompanied or separated children are at great risk of trafficking and abuse during humanitarian crises, UNICEF organized and conducted a training program for border guards, anti-trafficking specialists, and representatives of the organizations involved in preventing and eradicating human trafficking.
The last training took place on May 23-27 in the Republic of Moldova. The training is a part of UNICEF's response to the refugee crisis in Ukraine which is considered to be one of the fastest large-scale displacements since World War II.
UNICEF country representative in the Republic of Moldova, Maha Damaj, reiterated the importance of conducting the training in Moldova given the many refugees crossing into the country.
"This training program is crucial because children and women, who represent the majority of refugees from Ukraine traveling to the Republic of Moldova and other countries, face a high risk of trafficking and exploitation. Therefore, what we aim to do now — is to prevent, inform, and fight human trafficking directly at these critical crossing points. This is essential," said UNICEF country representative in Moldova, Maha Damaj.
"The information was valuable and will help us to manage this crisis along with other challenges we face in our daily work. I would suggest trainings like this to take place regularly."
Dorin Covaș is one of the 130 border guards who participated in this training. He is currently responsible for managing the activity at the Palanca border crossing, one of the busiest crossing points for refugees. Dorin recognized that he needed support to better understand and apply techniques to conduct rapid screening identification of those ‘at-risk’ of trafficking as well as child-sensitive communication skills to communicate with people at risk and prevent trafficking cases.
"I needed training and additional information during this crisis, and I am pleased to have achieved this. It was an efficient training. We refreshed the knowledge that we had already accumulated and learned new practices to combat future instances of human trafficking,” said Dorin Covaș, Deputy Chief, Police Sector Tudora Border.
Vitalie Rotaru, a border policeman, actively involved in managing refugees on the border with Ukraine, said that there have been numerous challenges since the onset of war; large numbers of people have been in need and there have been many unaccompanied children. Every day, we face unique challenges to resolve and he says the training was very timely.
"Some people arrived without identity documents or their documents had expired. We also identified many unaccompanied children and initially it was challenging to handle these cases. With the support of the authorities and development partners, Provisional Centers for the Management of Refugee Flows in the Republic of Moldova were established, and "Blue Dot" centers were set up by UNICEF Moldova in partnership with UNHCR, providing assistance, information and support for refugees, especially children.
This training is helping us to manage this crisis, providing techniques for identifying people at risk and supporting us in how to swiftly identify potential traffickers. This will enable us to raise the level of border security, and streamline professional capabilities of Border police in preventing and combatting human trafficking.", said Vitalie Rotaru, Deputy Chief, Border Police Sector from Cahul municipality.
An essential part of the training has been the participation of prosecuting and investigating officers from the Center for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. Specialists have learned new techniques for identifying traffickers, communicating with victims, and protecting their rights. Ana Jizdan is a criminal investigation officer with almost nine years of experience eradicating trafficking and abuse.
"Victims need a lot of help and empathy. We are used to acting strictly according to the law and the written rules, but the victims need assistance, enough time to understand that we are here to give them a helping hand", said Ana. Furthermore, she notes that there have been no reported cases of trafficking in Ukrainian refugees so far, although they could be identified in future.
Other first responders in the fight against trafficking are child protection specialists working at the seven "Blue Dot" centers set up by UNICEF Moldova and UNHCR. More than 11,000 people, including about 5,000 children, have already benefited from services at the "Blue Dot" centers.
"The Blue Dot specialists are among the first people to meet refugees, and one of the services offered here is identification of possible trafficking risks. Training will strengthen our knowledge and our practical skills in the workforce, as well as improve communication with potential victims. As a result, we will become more efficient in detecting future trafficking cases", said the coordinator of the Blue Dot at the Otaci border crossing, Natalia Faureanu.
The training was given by Geeta Sekhon, one of the world's foremost experts in human trafficking, abuse, and sexual exploitation.
"The fight again human trafficking is always challenging. There are different challenges for criminal justice and service providers to support people at risk, especially children at risk of trafficking. We have seen numerous media reports advising that human trafficking risks have increased. As the UN Secretary-General noted, the COVID-19 and Ukraine crises are not tragedies in the eyes of traffickers, on the contrary, they are opportunities for them to find more vulnerable people for trafficking. In response to calls by the UN Secretary-General to support those in need , especially children, UNICEF Moldova provides access to services for children and parents who are accompanying them”, said, Geeta Sekhon, expert on human trafficking.
This training is part of a series of capacity-building trainings in the region to support the refugee crisis. In Slovakia, UNICEF in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, trained 270 border police officers, 30 frontline practitioners working in the border areas, social workers in identification and first response for victims of human trafficking, with a particular focus on child victims and child-sensitive communication together with representatives of NGOs and civil society organizations.