Italian police have reportedly discovered a factory producing counterfeit cigarettes in which ten foreign workers, among them Ukrainian refugees, were exploited.
Financial police from the Rome Provincial Command carried out a raid on an alleged counterfeit cigarette plant in the industrial zone of Pomezia, a town just south of the Italian capital Rome, on Thursday.
Refugee and migrant workers exploited at illegal factory
Inside, they reportedly found ten workers from Russia, Moldova and Ukraine. While producing the cigarettes, the workers had been "subjected to backbreaking work shifts and forced to work in an unhealthy environment, with windows walled over and without vents for the processing fumes," according to the financial police. Local institutions reportedly have made some initial reception facilities available for the workers, among them several refugees from Ukraine.
The head of the company operating the factory was arrested and taken to the Velletri prison on charges of counterfeiting, smuggling, illicit brokering, and labor exploitation.
Inside the shed that housed the factory, police reportedly discovered over 82 tons of tobacco and counterfeit cigarette packages with labels of well-known brands.
The seizure is the largest of its kind in recent years in Italy.
The sale of these products -- which will be destroyed -- would have led to tax evasion totalling over 19 million euros, investigators alleged.
Refugees at risk of trafficking, exploitation
UNHCR has warned that refugees from Ukraine are at risk of trafficking and exploitation -- and that women and children, who account for 90% of people fleeing the Russian invasion, are particularly at risk.
"It is impossible to gauge how many Ukrainian refugee women and children might have been preyed upon by traffickers. So far, known cases are thankfully few," said the UN's refugee protection chief Gillian Triggs.