Hanging beside notices for upcoming events, bulletins from the RCMP warning Ukrainian newcomers about the danger of human trafficking taking place throughout the Okanagan are posted in Kelowna’s Ukrainian churches.
Andrea Malysh, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Thompson Okanagan, explained that the abuse is typically related to forced labour or sexual acts.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is a charity that advocates on behalf of Ukrainians at all levels of government. The congress sent the bulletins on trafficking to Ukrainian cultural centres in the Okanagan and has resources in English and Ukrainian available online.
Samantha, the victim services lead with the Elizabeth Fry Society, an organization that helps survivors of abuse, said that she is not surprised that displaced Ukrainians have been targets of trafficking.
“The people who do this are very skilled… they are looking for a target, they are looking for people who are vulnerable.”
Most of the people seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine in the Okanagan have been matched up with a vetted host. However, some, due to desperation, enter into living arrangements with hosts who are not part of a regulated organization.
Malysh wants Ukrainian newcomers to know that host families should not ask to be compensated with labour, sexual favours or pay in exchange for shelter.
“If people are offering to be a host, it is volunteer. You should not be asked to pay.”
Samantha said, people who are reluctant to engage with authority are vulnerable, due to a lack of money, a poor understanding of the language and the local laws, and are alone, therefore creating an increased risk of becoming trafficked.
“About half of the cases we see are refugees who are promised one thing when they get here,” said Samantha.
She said that initially, the host will take the newcomer’s passport and identification under promises that they are “safe.”
Samantha explained that the trafficker will “brainwash” their victim by telling them lies. She said the abuser will say, “this is better for you… The police won’t help you… I’m the only one that I’m the only one that will help you… I’m the only one that understands you.”
Malysh said that people have also been trapped by promises of work. The people will end up having to pay off a debt and are never paid or have their money taken.
“There are predators out there… there are people out there who will take advantage of the vulnerable,” said Malysh.
Other people are trapped in a situation where they have to repay their hosts by working as a nanny or housekeeper and doing jobs for them, said Samantha.
Samantha said that people can look out for red flags of human trafficking including an inability to leave without supervision, when someone speaks for them, identifying tattoos or branding, and when basic needs like food and clothing aren’t taken care of but they have extravagant gifts like jewellery.
“If in your gut you feel like something is wrong, say something,” said Samantha.
To report suspicious activity call the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010, or call 911.