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Fears Ukrainians can be exploited by human traffickers as Boy Scouts man make-shift desks

10 March 2022, 07:26

Scouts are manning the refugee driver registration in Poland.
Scouts are manning the refugee driver registration in Poland. Picture: LBC
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

As fears grow in Poland of people traffickers exploiting the chaos at the Ukrainian border, an LBC investigation has found the system to protect refugees is being manned by Boy Scouts.

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Over 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees have poured into Poland alone over the last fortnight. The overwhelming majority are women and children, and local authorities are struggling to cope.

At one processing centre in the town of Przemysl, nine miles from the border, up to 7,000 people a day are sorted and registered by their destination of choice. Drivers turn up constantly, offering lifts to cities right across Europe.

During the first few days, it was a free for all. But after reports of trafficking, authorities tightened the system. Even still, under an incredible amount of pressure, and manned by Boy Scouts, it simply cannot cope.

We posed as willing drivers, and were able to register by providing just a passport number and car registration plate. It could have been any plate. Our details were taken by a Boy Scout, one of many volunteers who had arrived to lend a hand. We were given wristbands, and allowed access to the centre, where hundreds of refugees wait to be taken to destinations around Europe.

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Strictly speaking, once we had found passengers, we were supposed to inform the authorities. But there were no checks. And few refugees we spoke to were aware they needed to tell anyone about their departure.

Even outside the processing centre, drivers held scrawled signs offering lifts. Some had wristbands. Some did not.

The vast majority of people here want to do good, and help people in desperate need. But such is the scale of this crisis, that no system can reliably ensure that everyone is safe from those with ill intentions.

Read more: David Cameron brands Putin a 'phenomenal liar' who lied over shooting down MH17

Signs inside the makeshift centre in Przemyśl, Poland.
Signs inside the makeshift centre in Przemyśl, Poland. Picture: LBC

The UK Government is facing increasing pressure to offer more safe routes for Ukrainian refugees, having only granted just over 700 visas out of 22,000 applications since the start of the war.

In comparison, Poland has taken in more than 1.2 million Ukrainians.

Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told a parliamentary committee that he understood security checks were required, but asked for the visa process to be simplified.

Transport Secretary Grand Shapps told LBC we "need to know who is coming here" as he warned it's "not beyond Putin to send people here to cause trouble".

Boy scouts manned the desks at the makeshift centre in Przemyśl, Poland.
Boy scouts manned the desks at the makeshift centre in Przemyśl, Poland. Picture: LBC

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr the UK's response to the refugee crisis was a "big area of failure".

"I think the Government has broadly done the right thing so far in nearly every area, and I really do praise what they have done, but this is a big area of failure where we have misjudged the public mood," Mr Hunt said.

His comments come after LBC exclusively uncovered that a UK visa application centre used to process Ukrainian refugees in Poland did not open its doors to a waiting crowd, despite the Government's promise to speed up its response to people displaced by war.

In scenes that shame the UK approach to the refugees, people waving British passports who were trying to secure visas for loved ones were left shivering in the minus-3 degree cold for three hours while the centre's doors stayed shut.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has pledged a visa centre will be set up in France for Ukrainians who have made it that far, while James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister, said he was sure the Home Office will expand its ability to process applications.