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FLASH ALERT: INDIAN NATIONALS STAY CAUTIOUS | HUMAN TRAFFICKING NETWORK COERCED INDIAN MEN TO JOIN THE RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES IN THE WAR WITH UKRAINE

Hae Lim Park, Samuel Pearson, Geo Arshali, Mrinmoy Routh

Elena Alice Rossetti, Alya Fathia Fitri, Senior Editor

March 7, 2024


India[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to Indian nationals following the uncovering of India’s “major human trafficking network” used to coerce young Indian nationals into joining the Russian forces in the war in Ukraine with a promise of work or tourism.[2] The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) announced that the human trafficking network sent approximately 35 men to Russia and at least two have been allegedly killed while fighting at the front. The Indian Embassy in Russia has confirmed one of these deaths. Global human traffickers will likely continue recruiting more young nationals from other Indian cities and suburbs to fight for Russian forces in the war against Ukraine.[3] 


CTG is on HIGH alert for human traffickers forcing Indian nationals to join the Russian armed forces to fight in Ukraine. Human traffickers promised these Indian men admission to Russian higher education or extensions to their visas in Russia, via social media and in-person.[4] The human traffickers’ false promise almost certainly violates the human rights of those trafficked to Russia and very likely indicates that the Russian government is turning towards organized crime networks to sustain its combat operations against Ukraine.


CBI announced the uncovering of a “major human trafficking network” through raids in 13 locations around India and identified approximately 35 men who have been sent to Russia.[5] At least two men died at the front;  with the Indian Embassy in Russia confirming one deceased. These raids revealed cash up to 50 million rupees ($605,000), documents, and digital records. Traffickers targeted individuals through social media platforms and local agents. Traffickers promised young Indian nationals a job, a tourism visa, or admission to “dubious private universities” in Russia and “free discounted visa extensions''.[6] CBI stated that Russian forces trained trafficked Indian nationals for combat and deployed them to Ukraine against their will. Videos circulating online show seven men seeking the help of the Indian government to return home after traffickers forced them to serve in the Russian army.[7]


Human traffickers will very likely continue to contact their targets through social media. Social media algorithms will likely guide their message to the most vulnerable, very likely showing posts to individuals who are looking for work online or appear to be in financial distress from their online activity. Social media companies will likely struggle to remove these posts considering the existing burden on their moderator teams. Indian law enforcement will likely investigate online activities where viewers report them, but traffickers will likely continue using social media as an effective tactic.


Indian law enforcement’s latest action is unlikely to reduce the threat in the long term. The potential profits from human trafficking will likely indicate that additional organizations are likely operating in India, and will very likely continue their trafficking unless law enforcement action disrupts them. There is a roughly even chance that Russian authorities will dismantle the sections of the trafficking ring within their jurisdiction, as Russian authorities will unlikely want to undermine relations with India but will very likely expect to benefit from this ring’s activities. Russian authorities will very likely ignore future or additional similar networks until foreign law enforcement uncovers them.


CTG recommends that Indian nationals and nationals from other nations stay alert and cautious if they receive job offers in Russia or adjacent countries. Young foreign nationals in Russia should exercise extreme caution and avoid third-party visa extensions.


Indian law enforcement agencies should continue to collaborate to identify and dismantle similar trafficking networks operating in the region. Law enforcement agencies across India should increase security measures at key international airports and border crossings to identify potential victims of human trafficking before they leave the country. Law enforcement agencies should strengthen collaboration between urban centers and suburbs to ensure a unified approach to tackling human trafficking. Joint task forces to share information and resources effectively are likely to achieve greater success in tackling human trafficking. Authorities and law enforcement agencies should collaborate with social media platforms to enhance monitoring for suspicious content by establishing a reporting mechanism for social media companies to signal suspicious activity to law enforcement.


The Indian Foreign Ministry should collaborate with Indian immigration authorities to closely scrutinize the travel documentation of individuals heading to Russia.


The Indian government should launch an immediate and widespread awareness campaign to educate the public, especially vulnerable individuals, about human traffickers’ tactics and the risks associated with promises of work or education in Russia. Tailoring this awareness campaign to address regional nuances and vulnerabilities would increase its effectiveness. Information dissemination should account for local languages, cultural contexts, and socio-economic factors. CBI should establish an emergency hotline for individuals to report suspected human trafficking cases. They should widely publicize the hotline, and law enforcement agencies should respond promptly to reports.  They should provide safe houses and support services for victims rescued from trafficking situations. Indian authorities should provide counseling, medical assistance, and vocational training to help them reintegrate into society.


The Indian government should invest in cyber-surveillance technology to counter the use of social media in illegal recruitment. Developing advanced algorithms in partnerships with tech companies to proactively identify and remove trafficking-related content could achieve this.


The Indian government should advocate for, and participate in, international agreements and conventions aimed at combating human trafficking. They should strengthen cooperation with neighboring countries and global organizations to share best practices and intelligence.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH, given the likely persistence of highly organized human trafficking rings in India. Indian law enforcement action will likely be insufficient to defeat this threat over the long term in the absence of proactive cooperation from Russian law enforcement. The continued human trafficking threat will almost certainly impact the victims and their families to varying degrees. It will almost certainly deny the victims’ human rights and will very likely threaten the security of the Indian diaspora and overseas workers. This threat will very likely manifest directly, as a threat of exploitation, and indirectly through damaging public perceptions of Indian overseas workers and diaspora. Continued trafficking will likely damage relations between India and Russia.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that human trafficking will continue to threaten Indian nationals with conscription into the war in Ukraine. This threat will LIKELY continue to unfold over social media and through some in-person targeting of vulnerable individuals. The Russian government will LIKELY retain the services of organized crime to sustain its war against Ukraine. Social media companies and law enforcement action will UNLIKELY prevent this threat over the long term. Direct threats and reputational costs to the Indian overseas diaspora and workers will LIKELY persist. Trafficking operations will LIKELY threaten young foreign nationals in Russia.


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[1] South Asia by Google Maps.

[2] India identifies ‘major human trafficking network’ luring Indians to fight for Russia in Ukraine, The Kyiv Independent, March 2024, https://kyivindependent.com/india-identifies-major-human-trafficking-network-luring-indians-to-fight-for-russia-in-ukraine/

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

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