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Update on IJM Response to Ukraine Refugee Crisis

IJM Romania is continuing to implement protection strategies and raise awareness on how to prevent trafficking at the Ukraine-Romania border, the Romania-Moldova border and now into overflow centers in larger urban areas such as Bucharest, Romania. Data sheets containing information on how to be safe in Romania, including contact numbers for access to Romanian authorities with Ukrainian speakers, the border control and emergency services, are now also being shared and distributed in Ukraine via trusted partners. Having this important information before crossing the border helps prevent potential exploitation during the stressful and often overwhelming process of crossing the border. People have more time to digest the information and ensure they have contact details and know the procedures before they enter Romania.

IJM staff and partners are seeing first-hand the importance of raising awareness, offering protection solutions about the risk of trafficking and keeping in touch with refugees during their onward journeys. A staff member on the border shared this recent story with us:

While trying to escape the conflict in Ukraine, Larysa* met an Italian man online who promised to help her and take her to Italy to start a new life there. This man’s real intentions soon became clear when he stole 700 euros from Larysa and left her at the Romanian border. She was picked up and cared for by a local shelter which helped her to arrange a safe and vetted onward journey to Germany – which is where she wanted to go. They booked her a direct bus and organised for her to be met on arrival in Nuremburg by a trusted partner organisation, staying in touch with her as she made her trip.

However, partway through her journey to Nuremburg, Larysa was contacted by another man whom she had met online while in Romania. He persistently communicated with her; promising to help her find a job in Berlin, saying he wanted to care for her. He convinced Larysa to change buses in Hungary and get on a bus to Berlin instead. His social media profile was suspicious and, fortunately, the shelter team remained in close contact with Larysa and became aware of this unexpected change of plan. They supported her and advised her to get off the bus in Prague where they arranged for her to be met by a trusted person who was able to be with her as the shelter explained to her why this could have been an exploitative situation. They then took her to the train station so she could safely continue her journey to Nuremburg.

Tired and distressed from a difficult journey, Larysa missed her stop in Germany and travelled a further 20km. Thanks to ongoing communication, the shelter sent a car from a trusted NGO to pick her up. Now Larysa is in a safe place and staff have since continued to work with her to help her understand the risk of trafficking.

“This lady was at risk of being trafficked. If she had gone to Berlin, it potentially would have been a serious issue because she was highly vulnerable and the man she trusted showed all kinds of suspicious behavior. Thankfully our partners managed to keep her safe. This is an example of why it’s so important to stay in touch with people as they journey to places of safety. It is important to understand how vulnerable people arriving from Ukraine are due to the trauma, disorientating loss of family and language barriers.”

- IJM’s staff member

IJM is also in the process of establishing a department within a partner organisation with significant experience in provision, shelter and accommodation for refugees in multiple sites across Romania including Siret (north), Timisoara (west, Tulcea/Issachea (east) and Bucharest (central overflow). These partnership agreements and an extended protection presence, which will be set up and shaped by IJM, will focus on preventing trafficking and providing long-term aftercare support to survivors. IJM has already hired three protection officers who will work in teams of two with Ukrainian/Russian language skills and intends to hire six more to train and work with partner NGOs across the country. These protection officers will communicate with government law enforcement to address any potential trafficking cases. Partnerships between NGOs and the government to provide protection is vital during the crisis and into the coming months.

*A pseudonym

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