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Ukrainian refugees at the Medyka border crossing. Alamy Stock Photo
On The Border

Measures being taken at the Polish/Ukrainian border to prevent trafficking of refugees

Reporter Niall O’Connor has been reporting from the Polish/Ukraine border for The Journal.

LAST UPDATE | 15 Mar 2022

The Journal’s Niall O’Connor is reporting from the Poland/Ukraine border. Read his previous stories here

AN NGO WORKING on the Polish/Ukrainian border has said her organisation has put in place measures to prevent people trafficking. 

Her comments came as EU home affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said one of the EU’s big concerns was how many unaccompanied children have been fleeing Ukraine.  

Kamneev Rai from Chicago is part of the United Sikhs team working at Medyka border crossing in Poland, where upwards of 20,000 people fleeing the war cross every day. United Sikhs was set up by a group of Sikhs in 1999 in New York, and is a UN-affiliated NGO. 

The vast majority of those crossing the border into Poland are women and children, and Rai said that her team have put in place a plan to deal with potential trafficking. 

“We made a big white tent, it can house 2,400 people throughout the day – it is warm with mattresses, food and snacks,” she said. “It is really important for us because in the war there are people taking advantage of the situation.”

She said that the NGO fear that as there are a lot of women and children and young girls coming here alone across the border, that criminals can take their passport and traffic them. 

Rai said that the United Sikhs have liaised with Polish authorities and have also been in touch with the United Nations. “We really want to make them safe. The Polish police have been really good, they have been very aware, and we have been in touch with the UN.”

In order for all of this, for the safety of the women, the tent has security and there is no one allowed in without first being checked.

“We are also making sure that people are not leaving until they are with accredited people and that they are safe and get to their next destination,” she said. 

Image from iOS (14) Kamneev Rai from Chicago, of United Sikhs. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal


EU home affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that one of the EU’s big concerns was the amount of unaccompanied children fleeing.

She repeated warnings over the risk posed to unaccompanied minors by trafficking gangs and said the EU was activating a network to counter the threat.

The members of the United Sikhs have travelled from across the globe to work. 

Rai said that the group has assessed the most urgent needs of the refugees as they cross the border, and using a borrowed food truck they have begun providing warm meals and drinks. 

“What I believe is we support them in whatever way is possible, and we will fight with them in whatever way is possible – whether physically or in this way.

“We have the numbers here and we are fighting with them and standing with them, and we support them as they walk through,” she said. 

The flow of refugees through Medyka appeared lower today when The Journal visited than in previous days, but workers had taken the opportunity to begin work on making the makeshift welcoming village more permanent. 

A large digger was levelling ground, while construction workers were doing work inside a large tent used to house refugees waiting for a bus to take them to nearby Przemysl for processing. 

One aid worker on site, Angel Casas, working with a Norwegian group called Paracrew, said his organisation runs nightly sorties across the border to assist waiting refugees. 

At night, the temperatures on the Polish/Ukraine border drop to minus five degrees celsius. Casas and his colleagues bring blankets and water to those waiting overnight in Ukraine to cross to safety. 

“We are also doing supply runs into Ukraine at night – we have a van that goes back and forth two times and we have members who are staying in what we call ‘no man’s land’,” he says.

“We are spending most nights in Ukraine, and we don’t actually get done until seven in the morning.” 

Across the border

Casas said that the trips into Ukraine are done in a van and also on foot. “It changes every night, some nights it is quick and easy – people are being let through but there are other times the queue backs up.”

“Then you can feel the atmosphere, the anxiety really gets up. People get desperate with the Ukrainian guards grouping them 10 or 20 at a time – so it holds up the line,” he said.

“Yesterday we had a queue stretching four kilometres in length, The worst thing is that there isn’t a volunteer presence over there so the first time they see people is when they are in their queue or at the beginning the queue,” he added. / YouTube

Large aid convoys are continuing to cross at Medyka, with long queues of heavy goods vehicles, vans and cars crossing daily – it is understood they are en route to Lviv in Ukraine.

An Irish aid convoy of medical equipment, medicines and supplies is due in Lviv in the coming days.  

The flow of refugees at the train station in Przemysl continued today – Town Hall spokesperson Kamil Krukiewicz told The Journal that they are seeing an average of 20,000 per day.

Military activity has continued in the Przemysl area, with a radar system for a surface to air missile site visible in a field near the town. The 82nd Airborne Division is also based in the area.

When asked about the presence of troops in the Przemyśl area, Kamil Krukiewicz said that any sightings of US Americans was purely for “sightseeing” purposes.

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