As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Russia, and victims from Russia are exploited abroad. Although labor trafficking remains the predominant form of human trafficking in Russia, sex trafficking also occurs. Traffickers exploit workers from Russia and other countries in Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the DPRK in forced labor in Russia. Instances of labor trafficking have been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, transport, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail stores, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, call centers, and begging. Labor traffickers also exploit victims in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, facilitation of illegal migration, and the production of counterfeit goods. According to an NGO, foreign nationals increasingly enter the country illegally with the help of criminal groups, which subsequently increases the migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. In previous years, there were reports of widespread forced labor in brick factories in the Dagestan region. After a sharp decrease at the onset of the pandemic, labor migration to Russia began to increase in 2021; media reported more than 7.8 million migrants from the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan entered Russia in 2021. Many migrant workers experience exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions. To offset the shortage of labor migrants, the government increased the use of convict labor, particularly for large construction projects; observers expressed concern that prisoners working for private businesses may not be doing so voluntarily in spite of government claims that its correctional labor programs comply fully with its international obligations. According to an international organization, children of migrant workers are vulnerable to forced labor in informal sectors. Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, media reported more than two million Ukrainians resided in Russia, including more than one million who escaped Russian aggression in Ukraine. Many of these migrants work unofficially and are vulnerable to both forced labor and sex trafficking; most identified victims of forced begging in recent years are Ukrainian. Subcontracting practices in Russia’s construction industry result in cases of non- payment or slow payment of wages, which leave workers at risk of labor trafficking. Organized criminal groups often recruit victims from within their own ethnic communities. Traffickers have been known to pose as landlords renting rooms to migrant laborers to recruit victims and coerce them into forced labor. Traffickers lure children from state and municipal orphanages into forced begging, forced criminality, child pornography, sex trafficking, and use by armed groups in the Middle East. Organized criminal groups recruit victims for forced begging from state institutions for the elderly and people with disabilities; these institutions are not trained on how to identify trafficking and sometimes facilitate the exploitation.
Women and children from Europe (predominantly Ukraine and Moldova), Southeast Asia (primarily PRC and the Philippines), Africa (particularly Nigeria), and Central Asia are victims of sex trafficking in Russia. NGOs report an increasing number of sex trafficking victims are from Africa, arriving either illegally or legally as students. Sex trafficking occurs in brothels, hotels, and saunas, among other locations. During the 2018 World Cup, Russia relaxed its visa requirements, allowing all Fan ID holders to enter and exit Russia without a visa through December 31, 2018. Traffickers exploited this system to bring foreign sex trafficking victims into the country, especially from Nigeria; NGOs report many victims remain in Russia. Observers note migrant workers are also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Children experiencing homelessness are exploited in sex trafficking. Russian women and children are reportedly victims of sex trafficking in Russia and abroad, including in Northeast Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the United States, and the Middle East. Traffickers use social media to recruit, monitor, and control victims. Russian criminal groups threaten family members to coerce women into commercial sex in Russia and abroad. Women from Russia’s North Caucasus region and women from Central Asia residing in Russia have been recruited to join ISIS through online romantic relationships and are then subjected to exploitation. Wives and children of foreign fighters are sold after their spouse or father is killed in action.
Corruption among some government officials and within some state agencies creates an environment enabling trafficking crimes. In recent years, criminal cases have involved Russian officials suspected of allegedly facilitating trafficking by enabling victims’ entry into Russia, providing protection to traffickers, and returning victims to their exploiters; in some instances, officials have engaged directly in trafficking crimes. Employers sometimes bribe Russian officials to avoid enforcement of penalties for engaging illegal workers. Prior to 2018, the DPRK sent approximately 20,000 North Korean citizens to Russia annually for work in a variety of sectors, including logging in Russia’s Far East. An estimated 500 North Korean workers remained in Russia as of March 2020, as did approximately 4,093 North Korean citizens who entered with visas in 2021; observers note a growing trend in the use of non-labor visas to bring DPRK workers to Russia. Many of these North Korean citizens are subjected to conditions of forced labor by the North Korean government. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, multiple reports indicate Russia-led forces have forcibly moved thousands of Ukrainians, including children, to Russia through “filtration camps” in Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine, where they are deprived of their documents and forced to take Russian passports. Once in Russia, widespread reports indicate thousands of Ukrainians have been forcibly transported to some of Russia’s most remote regions and Russian authorities have reportedly forcibly separated some Ukrainian children from their parents and given the children to Russian families. Ukrainians forcibly displaced to Russia are highly vulnerable to trafficking.
Russia-led forces reportedly recruit Syrian children to guard installations and fight in Libya. In the years following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, persistent and widespread but unconfirmed reports indicate Russia-led forces have attempted to conscript or force many Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine to fight against their own country, and following Russia’s full- scale invasion in 2022, Russian forces have reportedly forced many Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine to engage in forced labor, such as to clear rubble and dispose of corpses. Since 2014, Russia-led forces have reportedly used children to perform armed duty at checkpoints and to serve as fighters, guards, mailpersons, and secretaries; uncorroborated reports indicate Russia-led forces have used children as informants and human shields. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, media highlighted new uncorroborated reports of Russian forces using children as human shields. Observers report Russia-associated military associations and clubs, registered as non-profit organizations, continue to routinely prepare youth in Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine for conscripted service in Russia’s armed forces. During the reporting period, there were reports a Russia-backed armed group unlawfully recruited or used children in the Central African Republic.