Remarks as delivered
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having me here today to discuss our shared concerns and efforts to support the most vulnerable affected by Russia’s unlawful and unrelenting war against Ukraine. Today’s discussion is particularly timely as I’ve just returned from Geneva where the Human Rights Council is seeking to establish a Special Rapporteur to address Russia’s ongoing egregious domestic human rights violations.
I want to first recognize the important work of the Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Val Richey, to my left, and the vital efforts of our distinguished panelists here today to support those most affected by the war in Ukraine.
Now the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference has provided a platform for the public and private sector experts to address how we can best collectively support the most vulnerable migrants in the massive displacement of more than 14 million people caused by Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine.
In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, we continue to be especially concerned about the susceptibility of refugees from Ukraine—the vast majority of whom are women and children—to human trafficking.
These vulnerabilities are often exacerbated for members of certain groups, such as persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, and members of racial and ethnic minorities.
The risk factors for trafficking begin at the start of these migrants’ journeys. The ongoing war has disrupted millions of lives and forced migrants into economically precarious situations with the loss of jobs and homes. At the borders, traffickers target refugees by preying on their desperate needs for transportation, housing, and other forms of basic assistance. Moving through transit and to destination countries, refugees face further risks as they seek to rebuild their lives, often facing the challenges of employment, affordable housing, education, and childcare.
Throughout their journeys, migrants rely on the internet as often the only source of rapid and reliable information for accessing critical resources. However, the internet is also the primary platform for exploitation. Traffickers misuse the internet, the dark web, virtual currencies, and other emerging technologies to conduct illicit activities, including to recruit, control, and advertise their victims.
I’d like to thank Special Representative Richey and his team for their unrelenting efforts and work to halt the exploitation of all migrants. We welcome the team’s recent report, Recommendations on efforts to identify and mitigate risks of trafficking in human beings online as a result of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The expert recommendations outline critical steps in public-private cooperation to identify and mitigate risks of trafficking in persons online, including improved monitoring of high-risk platforms and amplifying effective reporting mechanisms. We also recognize the Special Representative’s work to launch a joint OSCE/Reuters initiative, the “Be Safe” campaign which aims to warn those fleeing Ukraine of the danger posed by traffickers.
We understand that the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska reshared the “Be Safe” campaign on Telegram! Congratulations to Val and his team. This is going to undoubtedly help reach countless more Ukrainians and others at risk.
Governments, with the support of civil society, survivors of human trafficking, and concerned stakeholders should enhance their efforts to prevent human trafficking, and to identify and respond to cases. This also requires action, including holding tech companies accountable for illicit or abusive activities on their platforms, whistleblowing in the case of corrupt officials, and building cyber capacity of first line responders and anti-trafficking service providers.
The United States recognizes the importance of a whole-of-government approach to help us build on and synergize the work being done by our respective federal agencies. These agencies, including the Department of State, are collaborating closely with industry, NGOs, and academia to develop tech tools to impede human trafficking, including to address demand and ensuring the removal of harmful online data and content.
In the Ukraine context, human trafficking continues to occur. The signs are there, such as people missing from registries of persons under temporary protection, a spike in internet searches for Ukrainian women for offers of marriage or work, and the presence of criminal networks working in Ukraine and internationally to exploit refugees’ vulnerabilities.
We thank Ukraine’s neighbors, who generously continue to support unprecedented refugee populations, including here in Poland. As President Biden said in his remarks at the 77th UNGA, “We will stand in solidarity with Ukraine. We will stand in solidarity against Russia’s aggression.”
To this end, we are increasing our support of anti-trafficking initiatives throughout the region. We are coordinating with inter-governmental organizations, like the OSCE, and we are working with countries welcoming refugees to strengthen their anti-trafficking efforts.
I look forward to hearing from our panelists on how to prevent and combat the exploitation of those suffering because of this unlawful and brutal war.
Thank you all.