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IJM’s Distinctive Response to the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis (European Anti-Trafficking Program-EATP)

IJM’s Ukrainian Crisis Response provides essential and unique support to refugees in need through direct accompaniment activities and through various governmental and private entities. IJM collects and combines experiences from working with Ukrainian refugees and with victims of trafficking in cross-border cases from Romania. Based on this diagnostic collaborative casework approach, IJM shares best practices with partners on trauma-informed responses specifically for refugees and trafficking victims. Additionally, IJM is applying data analytics (Fusion Center), information gathering, and innovative digital marketing strategies to help protect the refugee population from trafficking risks. IJM has hired multiple refugees and others with experience supporting refugees since the first week of the war. IJM has hired Protection Officers who speak Ukrainian, Russian and Romanian with lived experiences to lead our response to the crisis. In sum, IJM has developed a comprehensive and unique response to the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis that consists of the following critical pillars of support: prevention, protection and prosecution. IJM’s Ukraine Refugee Response will therefore meet key crisis needs while at the same time further the objectives and goals of the 2030 European Anti-Trafficking Program Roadmap.

1. Prevention: Targeted and Strategic Reach

    IJM’s response includes the development of targeted educational and informative materials with partner government agencies. IJM also shares and delivers specialized trainings to/with government, church and NGO partners that include interactive simulations and practical exercises of real-life scenarios including victim interviews.

    IJM has unparalleled experience over the last three years working with police and prosecutors on cases of cross-border trafficking from Romania. IJM knows and has helped to thwart several organized crime groups through a multi-disciplinary approach (lawyers, social workers, law enforcement liaison officers). IJM teams were already working on trafficking cases on the border of Ukraine near the largest border crossing point with Romania at the time the war broke out. On the day of the invasion, IJM teams were simultaneously working two cases of trafficking with law enforcement partners that included dozens of victims. This experience provides distinct insight into cases of trafficking, organized crime groups and their methodologies in the regions of Romania where many refugees were crossing.

    IJM identifies particularly vulnerable refugee sub-sets to inform them of the signs and indications of trafficking in persons (TIP) and share best practices for how to prevent exploitation using trainings and targeted social media campaigns. IJM has trained churches, NGOs, government officials and other partner organizations on signs of trafficking and how to assess trauma in the refugee/trafficking population. These are organizations that previously did not work in anti-trafficking areas but who are housing and supporting refugees out of necessity.

    IJM’s recent awareness campaign on TikTok reached 2.5+ million unique viewers with over 18 million impressions. IJM has partnered with social media platforms to develop survivor-informed (sex trafficking victims from Eastern Europe) messaging campaigns guided by the Global Fusion Center. These campaigns are designed with a unique blend and cross-over of expertise from a trafficking survivor, IJM Ukrainian Protection Officer, social media consultant, European Advancement teams and an investigative specialist. The laser-focused reach of social media conglomerates will allow IJM to reach the most vulnerable in a way never seen previously.

    2. Protection: Safe Living

      IJM understands the importance and nuances of available assistance programs for Ukrainian refugees. There are a myriad of programs run by the public and charitable sectors that can be confusing and IJM has developed a capacity to navigate medical, legal and other housing assistance. Some of the most vulnerable persons fleeing Ukraine are seeking acute medical treatments, pediatric services and care for persons with disabilities, many of whom have no caregivers (including unaccompanied orphans and seniors).

      IJM works with private clinics, NGOs that specialize in medical support and churches that help with medical costs. Additionally, IJM’s Protection Officers interact with vulnerable Ukrainian refugees by offering informational support and medical placement, personalized escort in complicated transportation situations, translation services and psychosocial assistance based on needs. IJM is supporting one partner organization on the border of Ukraine to serve dozens of orphaned children with humanitarian support, training NGO staff on child protection measures. IJM is also supporting and arranging events to give vital information to refugees on the importance of registering for the EU Temporary Protection Order which permits them to work, obtain medical assistance and for children to attend schools; all barriers that can lead to vulnerability and trafficking.

      IJM’s Protection Officers work closely with local immigration centers, help Ukrainian refugees to obtain relevant information regarding refugees’ rights, apply for Temporary Protection or other relevant statuses for refugees, support and then share experiences with immigration officials. The IJM team has the capacity to provide practical legal guidance to refugees in the visa approval, accommodation rental, and job-seeking processes on a case-by-case basis with translation support when necessary.

      3. Prosecution: Investigation and Reporting

        The Global Fusion Center provides IJM’s Protection Officers with weekly trainings and information gathering and data management in open-source intelligence and criminal analytic skills that help Protection Officers better understand how trafficking groups use social media to identify, recruit, and exploit victims. This includes in-depth familiarization with indicators, identification of people within the refugee population at greatest risk of exploitation, red flags to look for in alignment with IJM Protection Officers’ independent research and collection of actionable leads in the field. IJM also is an active and reliable partner with police who recognize IJM’s unique position and expertise in the field of human trafficking. IJM has received multiple actionable leads on cases and helped to immediately diffuse potentially developing and dangerous situations for refugees during recruitment. Other NGO partners are now turning to IJM to consult on suspected cases of trafficking.

        Based on IJM’s prior experience, we believe there will be more actionable leads on human trafficking cases among Ukrainian refugees as the war in Ukraine continues to pass the six-month mark and approaches one year.

        In the dozens of IJM labour and sexual exploitation cases we have handled in Europe to date, only one was reported and identified during the first six months of exploitation. Typically, cases are not reported or identified until more time has passed, so we don’t expect to see the true impact of the Ukraine crisis on trafficking until more time has elapsed. It is critical to stay abreast of the changing landscape of the risk which is why IJM is in the trenches working with refugees each day at various centers. The refugee population is mobile, becoming less resourced over time. As we head towards winter, we anticipate there may be an increase in refugees because of limited cooking and heating resources in Ukraine. Those who remain and those who flee will face massive challenges in the coming winter. As before, large-scale humanitarian needs will continue to be met by organizations with the appropriate expertise and scale to do this, while IJM uses its relationships with such actors to provide our expertise on protection from trafficking for the vulnerable people they are serving. IJM’s unique perspective and expertise with human trafficking in Romania complements more general humanitarian support.

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