Ukrainian refugees coming to Scotland are being offered support and advice to protect them from exploitation.
Glasgow-based organisations which help victims of human trafficking across Scotland are offering refugees advice amid concerns that criminals posing as sponsors could take advantage of desperate people fleeing the war.
The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) has teamed up with JustRight Scotland to produce a leaflet outlining people's rights and highlighting danger signs. The information has been translated into Ukrainian and Russian and will be given to people on arrival in Scotland to help them stay safe.
The warning comes after Scots were invited to offer rooms to Ukrainian refugees. TARA - in partnership with JustRight Scotland - created the leaflet amid concerns that criminals posing as sponsors could offer refugees accommodation outwith the scheme on social media, then confiscate people's passports and demand work or sexually exploit women in return for a roof over their heads.
The leaflet states:-
"People in Scotland want to help you, but a small minority may be looking to exploit your circumstances. This may include individuals who have volunteered to sponsor you to come to the UK and are providing you with somewhere to stay.
"Sponsors have volunteered to provide you with somewhere to stay. A sponsor should not ask you for money to continue to stay with them. They should not ask you to work or provide other services in order to continue to stay with them. They should not ask for your passport or residence documents. This will be treated seriously if this happens. You do not need to continue to live with your sponsor if you don't feel safe and there is support and assistance available to help you leave this situation."
Details of support agencies including TARA, Scottish Refugee Council, Migrant Help, Police Scotland, Ukraine Advice Scotland and the Modern Slavery Helpline are included on the leaflet.
Hosts registered with the official scheme will be required to undergo enhanced disclosure checks. And as an additional safeguard, Glasgow City Council's Environmental Health team will inspect official host accommodation provided in the city to check for overcrowding and ensure accommodation is of an acceptable standard.
Officers will visit addresses to ensure the accommodation is safe, habitable and not over-crowded.
Bronagh Andrew of TARA said: "Scots have been horrified by the war in Ukraine and the overwhelming majority want to generously provide a safe, welcoming haven for refugees. However, as the majority of refugees coming via the scheme will be women and children, there is a chance that some unscrupulous people may use the humanitarian crisis as an opportunity to prey on the vulnerable. They may contact people on social media and offer them accommodation then turn out to be anything but kind.
"We're trying to prevent this, by informing people who arrive in Scotland of their rights and making sure they recognise the red flags to look out for. We don't want to alarm people who have already been through a horrendous ordeal, we just want them to feel safe, secure and welcome in Glasgow.
"The council's Environmental Health and Housing teams also aim to inspect addresses offering accommodation to refugees to ensure it is of a suitable standard."
TARA was set up in 2004 by Glasgow's Community Safety Partnership. It is a support service for female trafficking survivors which helps identify and support women who may have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation.
Kirsty Thomson, Managing Director of JustRight Scotland said: "We are living in difficult times. Ukrainians escaping from the horrors of a war are hoping to find a safe place in Scotland. Scots have risen to this challenge by opening their homes and their hearts to these refugees. However, we can't forget that there could be a small percentage of people who may wish to exploit the current situation.
"We want to raise awareness about the risks of human trafficking and exploitation by providing useful information to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland. These leaflets will help Ukrainians better understand the role of a sponsor, how to identify someone when they are unsure of their intentions or what to do if they are in a situation that feels uncomfortable.
"They also contain useful contacts including our Ukraine Advice Scotland details, our free and confidential legal advice line. Ukrainians can call 0800 995 6054 or email firstname.lastname@example.org"
The leaflets can be viewed on the council's website at Safety Advice for Ukranian Refugees