By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday placed Russia on lists of countries engaged in a “policy or pattern” of human trafficking and forced labor or whose security forces or government-backed armed groups recruit or use child soldiers.
The State Department included the lists in its annual human trafficking report, which for the first time featured under a 2019 congressional mandate a “State-Sponsored Trafficking in Persons” section.
Russia appeared frequently throughout the report because of its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and what the document called the vulnerability to trafficking of millions of Ukrainian refugees in countries to which they have fled.
“Millions of Ukrainians have had to flee their homes…some leaving the country altogether, most with just what they were able to carry,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a ceremony as he presented the report. “That makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation.”
The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the report’s allegations.
Blinken said that currently there are nearly 25 million trafficking victims worldwide .
In addition to Russia, the new state-sponsors section listed Afghanistan, Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and five other countries with a “documented ‘policy or pattern’ of human trafficking,” forced labor in government-affiliated sectors, sexual slavery in government camps or that employ or recruit child soldiers.
The report contained a separate list of 12 countries that employ or recruit child soldiers that included Russia and a number of those included in the new state-sponsors section.
It did not elaborate on why each government was included. But, the report’s individual country chapters detailed the scale of trafficking in each and how they are addressing it, with the report ranking each nation’s efforts according to four tiers.
Moscow, the Russia chapter said, was “actively complicit in the forced labor” of North Korean migrant workers, including by issuing visas to thousands in an apparent bid to circumvent United Nations resolutions demanding their repatriation.
It also cited reports that after seizing parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in 2014, Russian-led separatists used children to man checkpoints and serve as fighters and in other posts.
Following this year’s “full-scale invasion,” “media highlighted new uncorroborate reports of Russian forces using children as human shields,” it said.
It cited reports that Russian-led forces have forced thousands of Ukrainians, including children, through “filtration camps,” where their documents are seized, they are compelled to take Russian passports and then transported to remote areas of Russia.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Grant McCool and Angus MacSwan)