282 – Crisis Prevention of Ukraine Refugee Trafficking, with Ioana Bauer

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Sandie Morgan and Ioana Bauer, with eLiberare in Romania, discuss a crisis prevention model in response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis. They discuss when to prepare for a crisis and four critical components to a safe and sustainable model to address a refugee trafficking crisis.

Ioana Bauer

Ioana Bauer has been active in the area of protecting human rights and dignity since 2005, and, since 2010, she has dedicated her efforts to addressing human trafficking by leading and shaping prevention activities, developing materials on the issue and conducting capacity building activities. Ioana has worked directly with survivors of human trafficking and she is passionate about fighting injustice, being a firm believer in the power of community and collective action. Ioana is an Ashoka Fellow, a 2020 Resilience Fellow with GITOC, and is recognized as one of the women leaders advancing the UN SDGs globally. Currently, Ioana is serving as president of the board of eLiberare, a leading Romanian anti-trafficking CSO, after finishing her term as policy adviser in the office of the Prime Minister in the Romanian Government, where she led the working group on child safety.

Key Points

  • It is important to always prepare for a crisis intervention, never react.
  • Organizations should always remember their mission and who they are, instead of trying to be everything during a crisis.
  • eLiberare developed the Kompass Model, a strategy to create barriers against trafficking for refugees and displaced people in response to the Ukrainian crisis.
  • 4 Components of the Kompass Model:
    • 1) Raised awareness about safety measures for Ukrainian refugees
    • 2) Conducted capacity building for new stakeholders responding to the crises and for Ukrainian refugees to navigate the road ahead
    • 3) Developed individual safety plans for individuals vulnerable to being trafficked
    • 4) Provide and coordinator short-term and long-term assistance


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 282. Crisis Prevention of Ukraine Refugee Trafficking, with Ioana Bauer.

Production Credits [00:00:12] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:32] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:37] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:39] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, of course, Ukraine has been so much in the news over this last year and as we know, so many of the challenges the human suffering that we see in the news relates directly back, unfortunately, to the things that we see in trafficking. Today, we’re going to take a look at this in detail with someone who’s such an expert in this work and is on the ground doing incredible work to serve people. I’m so glad to welcome Ioana Bauer. She has been active in the area of protecting human rights and dignity since 2005. And since 2010, she has dedicated her efforts to addressing human trafficking by leading and shaping prevention activities, developing materials on the issue, and conducting capacity building activities. Ioana has worked directly with survivors of human trafficking and she is passionate about fighting injustice, being a firm believer in the power of community and collective action. Ioana is an Ashoka Fellow, a 2020 Resilience Fellow with GITOC, and is recognized as one of the women leaders advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals globally. Currently, Ioana is serving as President of the Board of eLiberare, a leading Romanian anti-trafficking CSO, after finishing her term as policy advisor in the office of Prime Minister in the Romanian government, where she led the working group on child safety. Ioana, what a pleasure to have you on the show.

Ioana [00:02:16] Thank you so much for having me. This is such an honor.

Sandie [00:02:20] I remember when we first met in Romania. We took a Vanguard team and you were part of our hosting team there in Romania, and we depended on your knowledge and insight so that we could serve in the best possible way. We just loved working with you, and it’s been great now, more than a decade later to still have this ongoing relationship. And personally, I believe that those kinds of long term trusting relationships are really critical in the anti-human trafficking movement globally. So I’m excited to have you here today.

Ioana [00:03:05] Thank you so much. And obviously, this praise reflects more on you because to me, this is basically a dream come true. And it’s a bit surreal to me because not long ago I was a student listening to this podcast as part of my homework at the Vanguard University Certificate that I was doing, learning more about human trafficking and how to tackle this. So, I appreciate all of your work and the mentoring and everything that I’ve learned from the two of you.

Sandie [00:03:36] Well, I’m really glad that you enjoyed using the podcast for homework, because more and more as I travel, I meet my students. I’m using air quotes, that I’ve never seen and I’m so grateful, especially to Dave. It was his idea as one of our GCWJ Community Advisory Board members to start this back in 2011. So, impact of education, here we go. Let’s jump into this interview. You have been doing amazing work in the policy and advocacy area, and we are going to move quickly into intervention in Ukrainian crisis. But you just got back from an OSCE meeting. Tell us what that is and why that’s significant in anti-trafficking movement.

Ioana [00:04:32] Yeah. So I was able to join a delegation of OSCE last week in a visit that they were doing in the Czech Republic. And I think the reason why this is relevant, these types of consultancies is because it gives the opportunity for practitioners to go in and interact directly with policymakers, heads of state, heads of department and so on. And I’m very grateful to always see in the work that they’re doing because this way the assessment that’s being put in place, this was specifically on the Ukrainian crisis response, actually. The data is now going to be public. This is a way to come alongside governments who want to ensure that their response is according to everything that has to do with human rights policies that actually look into the needs of women and children specifically, and other things inspired directly from the work on the ground.

Sandie [00:05:28] So how many collaborators are in the Organization for Security and Cooperation.

Ioana [00:05:35] It’s 57 states. So basically, whatever comes out as a recommendation is adopted by these 57 states, whether we’re talking about the excellent handbook on national referral mechanisms or the different papers that came out as the response to the Ukrainian crisis. These are all papers that come out and that all of these states look into and should take into consideration when developing policy.

Sandie [00:06:05] Okay, so we will put a link in our show notes to those papers. So you as a listener will have the opportunity to see the conversation at that level. Okay, let’s dive into a model of intervention. Over and over again we face crises globally that result in a huge influx of refugees. And we’re getting better at more quickly developing intervention. So let’s talk about what the most important aspects of an intervention model are.

Ioana [00:06:46] I think for us, the crisis in Ukraine basically reshuffled all of our priorities and all of our strategies. Now for a little bit of context, eLiberare, the organization that I lead is in Romania. Romania, a country bordering Ukraine. So for us, waking up on the 24th of February was totally different than waking up on the 23rd, so to speak, because all of a sudden what we, in a way we’re fearing might happen now did happen. So all of the things that presumably would become risks now they were the reality that we were living in and they were literally in our backyard. So I think one of the first things that we need to take into consideration is that this whole idea of crisis mode is not something that you should react to. It’s something that you should prepare for because you never know when whatever you’re hearing on the news is actually going to become your reality.

Sandie [00:07:47] That’s so strategic. So we’re not going to react. We’re going to prepare. And when I think about how I’m going to prepare and plan, that usually starts with an assessment. What kind of things did you need to assess?

Ioana [00:08:06] Oh, well, it was an assessment, and at the same time, it was realizing that, for example, just like the COVID crisis that started off as the health crisis, and then it very much became also a humanitarian and mental health and security crisis. Some of the gaps that were already existed ended up being even more visible and even more impactful. So in a way, the lack of infrastructure, the lack of safeguards, the lack of services, all these things become more and more evident when you face something that is both time sensitive. It has a high risk when it comes to the security threats and so on. So for us, it was important that in a way we had already mapped some of these needs and some of these gaps, but we thought we had much longer to actually address them. So our strategy had to be packed into a response that was both quick but also strategic long term.

Sandie [00:09:09] So the name that you gave your strategy is the Kompass Model Safe Passage for everyone. And it’s implemented in four steps with the strategic objective of creating a barrier against exploitation and human trafficking among Ukrainians escaping and any third country nationals that are displaced. So let’s look at the four elements, components of your intervention model. And maybe before we start on those, give us a little context.

Ioana [00:09:49] Absolutely. So I’ll start with the with the name, actually, because the name was actually chosen for a reason. I remember in the early days when everybody was literally jumping and sending things at the border, I must admit that we were not one of the first organizations to do so. And the reason was actually very specific. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the desire or didn’t have the team, but it was because we wanted to analyze and make sure that there was a good foundation. So during the first few days, what we were doing was we were actually working with the platform that we had co-founded in 2020 as a response to the COVID pandemic, and 22 specialized CSOs in Romania were working to specifically create indicators that would fit the situation that we were facing right now. People on the move, mainly women and children crossing the border a lot of times without paperwork and in a rush so the border police didn’t necessarily have a lot of time to look at specific things. So we were setting the foundation. We were looking at documents that would be distributed to all the Border Patrol. And then later on, also today, immigration police, we were looking at awareness, but done in a way that would actually build the resilience and prepare people for what was next, not scaring them. We were looking around that in a way. All of a sudden we’re seeing responses that didn’t necessarily make sense and that long term wouldn’t be sustainable. The one of the big challenges was how do we actually respond, but we do not mission drift. I think one thing that’s important to understand is that we’re eLiberare with the amazing team that we have. We’re an anti-trafficking organization. We are not a humanitarian organization. Hence, how do you keep your ethos? How how do you stand your course and how do you ensure that your people are still going to be there? They don’t burnout and they don’t start trying to be everything for everyone while also being relevant in this. Hence, the Kompass model came about because we realized that both the responders, as well as the Ukrainians and the third country nationals escaping the world of aggression of Russia against Ukraine. We all needed directions, we all needed to find our way, hence the compass model. So literally finding your north, standing the course and ensuring that you get to your destination. So with that, the four things that we looked at that came very organically just from the assessments that we did and from talking to the people, because that was another thing that we did early on. We hired Ukrainians. We hired two colleagues. Now we actually have three colleagues from Ukraine, but two of our colleagues who came early on board, they came in as our own experts by experience. So we realized that people need information. So, raising awareness about safety measures again in a way that is constructive. Then there needs to be capacity building. And here we’re not just talking about training for the different stakeholders that all of a sudden more involved in responding to this specific crisis, but also to the Ukrainians and the other people fleeing the work. How do they navigate the bureaucracy? How do they navigate the different forms of protection, et cetera? Then we focused on individual safety plans because just like a good friend of ours says, and just like a lot of people in the community talk about traffickers do not traffic population, they traffic individuals. So our response needed to be individualized and then looking at assistance both mid-term and long term for those who need it most. So these are the four steps.

Sandie [00:14:01] Wow. Okay. So I have lots of questions. But first, I have to tell you how wise I think your caution to our listeners is to be very clear on who you are and what your goals are so that we don’t drift from our mission and we stay. I love the compass. I liked it before, but now I love it. True North. Let’s all write that down somewhere. So these four components you mentioned twice not raising fear. So you’ve been very intentional about that. And as this first emerged, I saw a number of posts and things that were probably pretty startling and might induce some fear in people about this. What was so important about avoiding that fear response?

Ioana [00:15:03] Well, Sandie, this is something that I’ve learned from you and it’s something that you talk about a lot of times. The last thing that we want to do is put the burden on the people who are vulnerable to no longer be vulnerable. So, we know the situation and we know the pressure that these people are facing. We don’t need to give them the weather report when they’re out in the rain.

Sandie [00:15:29] That’s right.

Ioana [00:15:30] What we need to figure out is where can they get an umbrella? What’s the best way for them to get shelter, et cetera, et cetera? So we saw a lot of that. We saw posters that were saying, Welcome to Romania. Romanians are very hospitable. Some of them are going to want to help you. Others might want to traffic you, so don’t talk to strangers. Now, if we sit back and we think about it, we’re telling this to a refugee who probably knows no one in the country in which they’re escaping to, and we do not want to come and add pressure. Another thing that we saw that was very concerning in this was in the first few days when there were serious queues at the border crossing, people were communicating on Telegram, which is one of the main means of communication that the Ukrainian population is using. So they were sending each other messages and women were saying that they are afraid to cross into Romania because they think that traffickers are just waiting at the border to snatch them and their kids. So what we’re doing is we are making people not want to be worked for in countries for exposing them to even more danger and risk, because you have different people saying that traffickers are preying on vulnerable people at the border. Now, we all know that traffickers don’t work like that. Actually, it would probably make it easier if they were just waiting with a wide band. They would be easy to spot. But we know that this is way more subtle. So how do you actually develop the skills in people and the safety networks for them to know where to access help and how to get the protection that they need in the situation that they’re in.

Sandie [00:17:20] Okay. Wow. That is so perceptive. I’m really encouraged and I can’t wait to see some of the materials that grew out of this. For those who have never used Telegram, it is an app that’s used  almost like an international phone and texting service. And it has been used for news. It has also been used for misinformation, just like all of our social media. And so making sure that we understand how to assess content for accuracy and double checking and go back to some of the people that have actually produced the content is really important as part of awareness and safety. So capacity building is probably very difficult to do in one day. You’re sitting there waiting and the next day they’re here. So what was the advice that you would give us from your experience?

Ioana [00:18:36] It would be to actually look into the gaps. We’re going back to the assessment. Right. It’s important to know who your key stakeholders are. And here, I remember some other conversations that we had about some of the unlikely allies or nontraditional stakeholders that can be involved in addressing human trafficking. So, for example, our organization before the war in Ukraine was looking into doing capacity sessions with the faith community, whether we’re talking about Orthodox priests or the Catholic clergy. We’re also we were looking at physicians, we were looking at beauticians, et cetera. So now that same model, we applied for the capacity building when it came to the stakeholders involved, whether it was volunteers or the different people responding in the humanitarian crisis, which a lot of times came from the faith community, they were leading on this or whether it was the the different institutions involved. It was important to have the relationship and the report build there. It’s important to for people to know that they can trust you and that the information that you’re bringing to them is not just the result of a quickly written project, but it’s very much the result of your sustained work and efforts that you’ve been doing for a while. Now when it comes to the Ukrainians, because the model also involves building capacity towards the population that was coming into the country to access their benefits, to know their rights, to recognize the risks, and also to know who to call upon. That was something that we, I think we’re still twitching, to be honest, because depending on what the flow was and where people were coming in, you would either find us at the immigration centers where people were applying for temporary protection, or we started going to the different day centers, or we were joining the different events for women, for mothers, and basically adapting to their needs constantly and making sure that we do outreach and not expect them to come to us.

Sandie [00:20:53] Okay. So as I’m looking through the model and I had also looked at the strategy, and people you want to download the PDF that goes with this interview. The strategy for all four of these is an iterative process. It’s like a cycle. You map the ecosystem, you identify stakeholders, you build capacity, you disseminate, and then you go back and do that over and over again. And it becomes a very helpful strategy so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes or the things that didn’t work. They aren’t necessarily mistakes. So I’m going to go into the third point of the Kompass Model, individual safety plans. When I saw this, I was really impacted by this because I understand from having worked so much in Greece with the Syrian refugee crisis that being trauma informed is critical for your staff, for your collaborators, for your stakeholders. And one of the first elements of a trauma informed approach is individual safety. So talk to us about how you map that kind of safety when there’s so much vulnerability.

Ioana [00:22:23] Our colleagues who are social workers put a lot of thought into this. And when people look at the individualized safety plans, what they see is this beautifully designed course with different check in points and different stories on it. But what’s behind it? There are some science to it, if I may say so. So from the first moment, the people who are actually the navigators or the compass implementers, they assess the risks of every person that they sit with. Basically, they look at the different risk profiles and then based on that come the recommendations. Also, one thing that was super important for us was to understand that for each person, their desires are different. At first we thought that we would be chatting with a lot of people on the move. The closer we’re getting, we’re six months into it now and the closer we’re getting to school starting. We’re seeing more and more people who stay here in Romania who do not want to move anymore. So with that, the recommendations are different. But basically, with the individualized safety plan, not only are we doing a personalized risk assessment and we’re putting out recommendations and we’re choosing different check in points with people. But another thing that we’re doing is we’re creating a circle of safety and a community for the people who are right now away from what would normally be seen as protectors. Right. Husbands, fathers, grandfathers are fighting in Ukraine. It’s not like if somebody gets in trouble somewhere in Europe, they can just jump in a car and come. So with this, we’re bringing people into their corner. So the women that we talk to, we establish the safety passwords with them. We established their preferred way of contact. We talk to them about different close protection measures that they can take, especially since it’s just a lot of times it’s just single moms and children or elderly people. So with that, we’re trying to take all of these risk factors and in a way mitigate them one by one through the tools that we have at our disposal.

Sandie [00:24:49] So number four, let’s talk about mid-term and long term assistance. You’re six months in. This must be a critical piece of where you are.

Ioana [00:25:03] Yeah, and Sandie, you know, one thing that we did in the beginning, we were weary of putting in long term assistance, because with this crisis and you mentioned the work that you did in Greece and this crisis, I think a lot of people were hoping that this would not last this long. I think people were expecting this to be over. And in a way, their plan was to just go back. They didn’t even want to hear a long term plan because to them, that was in a way squashing their hope to actually go and return to their country. So we were very careful to actually talk about final destinations or long term plans. And what we did was to wrap it in a way in which we said, okay, let’s talk immediate needs and then let’s talk about what happens as these needs continue. And here, unfortunately, we’re already seeing different indicators of human trafficking, both labor exploitation, as well as sexual exploitation. We’re seeing the risks increasing for the children who are spending a lot of time online. And we know that even before the war, Ukraine had a profile of risk when it came to child sexual exploitation online. So with that, we’re trying to put in place the different measures in order to help people not to be vulnerable, as well as access the help and the referral pathways towards the authorities or towards the different organizations that are able to offer assistance in the situation that they are in.

Sandie [00:26:44] We could spend an entire another podcast just looking into those kinds of indicators and the steps we can take to alleviate, mitigate. But we’re coming up to the close of our podcast, and I want to ask my last question. What can we do?

Ioana [00:27:05] Thank you for this question. I think this is something so important. And here I must say that I’m so thankful for you reaching out early on. Actually, another one of our long standing partners from the U.S. where other people who reached out and were able to assist us from the beginning in all this, and then the help slowly built up. But one of our concerns right now is that Ukraine seems distant. There are other subjects that occupy both the things that we see on TV, as well as our list of worries and immediate needs and so on. But unfortunately, this is not over by far. And if in the beginning, everybody was looking into how to jump in and how to help. Now we’re seeing people kind of drift their attention. So one of the things that you can do is actually what you’re already doing right now respectively. Continue to talk about this, continue to present the things that are happening. There are a lot of atrocities that are going to need a lot of time and a lot of resources to rebuild and to bring back to a situation in which people are in a safe place. Hence, we need to make sure that Ukraine doesn’t seem somewhere far away. But we need to understand that it affects all of us. Right. The other thing is ensuring that we’re prepared for things like this. If there’s something that everyone can learn from what has happened is that there’s never too much preparedness when it comes to the unexpected. And we’ve learned that in our recent history. It seems like every year we’re hoping that we’ll be done with one global crisis, but then another one comes up. And with this, the third point, I think we’re going to see the world in a different light. We’re all facing different challenges. And especially here in Europe, we’re already feeling it from prices going up to, you know, the safety, the individual safety of different states. People are restless. And this usually leads to reacting and it leads to responses that are driven by hate and not by hope. So it’s important to ensure that we’re continuing to see the humanity in each other and that we continue to care.

Sandie [00:29:43] Thank you, Ioana. What a good friend you are. And I want everyone to know we will put links to your resources. One of your strategies is to offer replicable and open source resources. So please check the show notes. Ioana, we’ll talk to you again soon, I’m sure. Thank you.

Ioana [00:30:06] Thank you all.

Dave [00:30:08] Sandie and Ioana, thank you so much for this conversation. Ioana, thank you so much for your work. We are inviting you to take the next step. Hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s guide The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It will show you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified in her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can access it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also the place for all of the links for today’s episode, all the resources we mentioned from Ioana. We hope you’ll take a moment to visit there. The Ending Human Trafficking podcast is also expanding our community of advocates. You can become a patron and access exclusive content and to support our community of advocates around the world. Go over to Endinghumantrafficking.org and click on the Patreon link to access new content such as bonus questions, resources, toolkits. It’s simple and an affordable way to support our membership and to support the work we’re doing. Again, endinghumantrafficking.org for more details if you are already supporting the podcast. Thank you so much. Thank you for supporting our work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University. And as Ioana mentioned, one of the many resources available through the GCWJ center and also Vanguard University is the anti-human trafficking certificate program. Details also at endinghumantrafficking.org. And we will be back in two weeks for our next conversation. See you then, Sandie.

Sandie [00:31:50] Thanks.

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