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German police warn refugees of traffickers

March 10, 2022

Police in Berlin have received reports of men harassing young women who have recently fled Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They have warned women not to accept rides from lone men purporting to be volunteers.

Berlin central train station: helpers , Ukrainian refugees
At Berlin central train station, helpers are awaiting Ukrainian refugeesImage: Nikita Jolkver/DW

Both police and volunteers working to greet and house refugees arriving in Berlinˈs central station from Ukraine have reported complaints that some people may be trying to exploit the plight of young women, arriving alone or with their small children.

They said that there have been reports of men approaching the women with offers of a ride or a place to stay, trying to use the chaos of the thousands of refugees arriving at the station to their advantage.

However, a Federal Police spokesman told DW that fortunately "they are so conspicuous that they immediately catch the eye of both volunteers and our own staff." He added that number of harassment cases was only in the "lower double digits," and they had no evidence that any crimes of sexual assault, kidnapping, or human trafficking had actually taken place.

"One woman came to us, to whom this happened," the spokesman said. A lone man had been trying to lure her to come with him, promising aid. "We had to remove him from the station. We currently have a huge number of people who want to help with honest intentions and, on the other hand, people who want to use this situation for their own purposes."

Volunteers keeping an eye out

Volunteers at the station have told local media that theyˈve had to follow suspected traffickers until they leave a woman alone. Police have responded by posting warnings on social media, including in Ukrainian, Russian and English. Workers are now also being made aware of the issue during morning meetings at the station with the refugee assistance teams.

"It would be better if those who take in a Ukrainian woman or family had to register," says Monika Cissek-Evans, "unfortunately, some people here also try to exploit others. And it's not just men who approach refugees either, women shouldn't be blindly trusted either."

Cissek-Evans has run "Jadwiga," a counseling center for victims of human trafficking, for 20 years. Many of the people she meets with are women from Eastern Europe. Her group is working on a flyer to be posted at train stations around the country, written in Ukrainian with the following advice: "Don't let go of your passport. Keep your phone with you at all times. Take a picture of the license plate before you get into a car. Ask to see an ID when you are offered an apartment or room. Write down the name and address. Be wary if someone promises you a lot of money quickly."

The threat of forced prostitution

Thus far, there is no evidence, either from German institutions or Ukrainian sources, of any human trafficking of Ukrainian women happening at Berlin's central station, or any other major port of entry in the country.

But Huschke Mau, an author and longtime activist and advocate for sex workers, says that the fear is understandable and the vigilance should remain.

"Every day, 1.2 million men go to a prostitute here. Germany is the number one destination country for EU-wide human trafficking," she said, adding that traffickers and pimps "know that the refugees can bring them a lot of money."

Berlin welcomes refugees from Ukraine

Government announces cooperation with Airbnb

On Thursday, however, the German government announced a new effort to make the situation safer for refugees arriving from Ukraine, many of whom until now have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to find a bed to sleep in.

According to the Interior Ministry, vacation rental firm Airbnb has promised "300,000 private residences will be made available across Germany," to new arrivals. The ministry praised the "wave of solidarity," it has seen from both individuals and companies, in light of the war in Ukraine.

This article was originally written in German.

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Oliver Pieper | Analysis & Reports
Oliver Pieper Reporter on German politics and society, as well as South American affairs.