At the outset of the war in Ukraine, European Freedom Network members, partners and connected churches encountered the initial wave of refugees coming into Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova and Poland. EFN quickly identified that the chaos of the crisis would be a breeding ground for human traffickers to recruit victims. The EFN Operations Team responded by coordinating a weekly call for members and partners to share information of what was happening on the borders, what was needed to support both organisations and refugees and help connect organisations to build a coordinated response. By the fifth day of the war, EFN members and partners were sharing digital and printable materials in local languages on safety tips for refugees and churches/individuals providing transportation and aid to bring. Over the course of the first month of the conflict, these initial responses and resources have grown into a response of over 40 organisations and individuals connected to EFN in over 19 countries.
When reflecting on how this swift response was possible, Leanne Rhodes, the Executive Director of EFN, explained that the network has spent over ten years building relationships and trust both internally and with external organisations and government actors. This has been the foundation to this response and speaks to the power of how large scale issues can be addressed in a coordinated response with the power of a network. Human trafficking is a complex crime that requires an organised response. As EFN has been able to create and a share a portfolio of resources, members and partners have been relentless with sharing both digital and printable resources to refugees, police forces and government offices and the broader church community. The synergy and unity of providing awareness to human trafficking in the border regions has been noticed by refugees and safeguarding groups alike.
The work of EFN during this emergency phase of the crises has been pivotal in setting the tone and standards of how other actors and organisations should respond. EFN Board Members and Operations Team have collaborated directly with over 5 refugee accommodation and hosting websites to ensure the safeguarding of refugees and internally displaced persons in Ukraine and in Europe. These conversations have seen safeguarding policies and systems changed to lead the way on protecting refugees. Additionally, with EFN members and partners addressing these issues on both the ground and at a leadership level a long-term awareness of the vulnerability of trafficking is being built across the various response sectors.
While our hearts grieve the realities of war and conflict for the people of Ukraine, EFN has been encouraged and inspired by the holistic, passionate and professional response of its members. The response to this crisis will be long and challenging but this unified and collaborative network is positioned to continue to ensure every person has the opportunity to live in freedom and dignity and to flourish.
EFN’s Impact Report detailing our key objectives and initiative in responding to the Ukrainian Crisis can be found here