Combating Human Trafficking: Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership
Venue: Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, April 9th -10th 2014
Leaders in the church and law enforcement gathered from all over the world to create a joined-up and cross-border commitment to combat human trafficking. A declaration of intent was signed by both parties at the end of this conference.
To authentic the proceedings and to keep in touch with the real, three victims of trafficking gave a stirring and mind-changing input which would have urged all participants to stay true to this commitment. Fortunately, Teresa May, the Home Secretary in the UK, was able to be present and also gave invaluable input. She offered hope to those gathered stating that the work against trafficking in human persons is a priority in the government. Finally, five religious sisters were present, all of whom worked at the coal face and represented UISG, RENATE, The International Congregation of the Adoratrix, and the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Nigeria.
The proceedings began with prayer followed by a brief statement from Cardinal Nichols who opened the conference and welcomed all present. He said: “Our perspective in everything we do and say has to be informed by the voice of the victim”. A short film followed this statement showing the disturbing experiences of four victims of trafficking. They were all caught up in the web of deceit which trapped them into the hope of a better life and greater opportunity but which had ended in misery, torture and a long road to recovery.
Dr Domenico Giani, the Inspector General of the Vatican Gendarmerie, made four important points: the need to extend the jurisdiction of certain offices in order to embrace, in its totality, the work to combat human trafficking; the power of finance in increasing the ability to commit the criminals; the need to confiscate the assets and re-deploy the money for the work; and finally the need for a strong finance base to combat terrorism.
Bishop Patrick Lynch, the chair of the Office for Migration Policy is a member of the Bishop’s conference Department of International Affairs in the UK. He spoke with passion about the need for a greater awareness of this issue in order to become convinced of the evil being perpetrated. He saw the need for deeper compassion and to be collaborative in all the work. For this to happen he spoke of the need to create good will amongst all of the protagonists. He spoke of St Josephine Bakhita as our role model, a slave herself who was drawn by compassion to free herself from the hands of the slave owners. In the light of this he spoke of the work of women religious all over the world, engaged in the field, at the coal face with victims and in raising awareness of this crime.
Roland Noble, The Secretary General of Interpol, began his input with perhaps one of the most moving and informative films on child trafficking. He spoke from a global perspective. Quoting Martin Luther King, he said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. International solidarity is rising yet slavery is still ever present and it is still hidden. It is creating such a huge economy and there are huge numbers involved. The spread and the involvement of the traffickers are beyond precedence. Human slavery feeds on misery. Merchants will always be able to find men, women and children desperate to find a better life. These stolen lives are frightened as they become indebted to the merchants who constantly follow them. There is a constant fear for the victims that they will be arrested. Trafficking is a deep, complex, self-created criminal machinery. Roland Nobel continued by asking the question: How do we implement the strategy, cross borders, beliefs, cultures? There is no such thing as an unstoppable machine. Prevention is the answer. Stop the flow before the victims reach the merchants. Raise awareness, and have a global awareness raising campaign. Let everyone have a role to play. The knowledge of this crime needs to be spread. We need the knowledge from the eyes of the victims with a much greater interaction amongst all people. To support the law enforcement and the re-integration of victims, networks need to be expanded across every discipline. It is a difficult struggle. Let us be ambassadors of hope. Mr Noble mentioned, in particular, the Roma community, calling for civil rights in their regard. He said that these people are very vulnerable to the work of the criminals. Law enforcement and governments need to focus on safe migration and carefully integrated programmes for the migrants.
Commissioner of the Federal Police in Australia, Tony Negus, spoke of their response to this crime in the ASEAN Region. He spoke of four key features of the policy in this work: On –going explorations of the extent of the problem, taking a whole-of-government approach to combating trafficking; implementing a well-resourced anti trafficking strategy, collaborating with many of the destination and origin countries and looking in particular, at the extent of labour trafficking. Victims have been increasingly identified in agriculture, construction, hospitality and domestic service. The Australian government provides $150 million for this work. There is a highly developed network in their region, he said, to ensure the safety of the victim and to implement rehabilitation programmes ensuring everything is in process long enough to free the victim to denounce the criminal. Since January 2004 more than 340 investigations and assessments into allegations of trafficking in persons have taken place but these have only yielded 17 convictions. Since the last year this has greatly increased and 92% of identified victims are voluntarily participating in an investigation or prosecution during the last year. 52% of these were for labour trafficking, 48% for sexual exploitation. Many other crimes such as fraud and money laundering are also picked up during these investigations. Special immigration officers have been posted from the Australian police in Thailand, China and the Philippines. There is an especially close relationship in this work between the Thai police and the Australian Federal Police.
Mr Ranjit Sinha, the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation in India declared that the problem in human trafficking in his country was huge. The country takes a multi-faith and multi-disciplinary approach. Now it recognises the need for and has set up an anti trafficking system which includes tool kits for awareness raising, handbooks and a mapping is in progress to look at all of the vulnerable factors in India which have led to such mass crime. One million children have gone missing in India. Now there is a missing children alert throughout the country. Kerala and Bombay are the most vulnerable regions for the trafficking in human persons. India is in great favour of global networks being developed to combat the crime.
Mr Marius Roman, Chief Superintendant and Head of the Anti Trafficking Unit of the Romanian Police spoke of the present reality in his country. In Romania there is a strong law enforcement but they can see and detect an increase in the phenomena of human trafficking. They see that the tricks of the traffickers have changed and that there is more mental than physical abuse. In the recent past there have been 1,000 investigations with a huge increase recently. In this time only 200 traffickers have been brought to trial. The challenges they face are based on the knowledge that this is a hugely lucrative crime. The proceeds from this crime are used to finance other crime. The criminal syndicates are highly mobile and active in several jurisdictions and especially where the legislation is permissive. All the cases which go to court are based on a victim’s testimony.
Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave Interpol figures revealing that 30,000 victims have been trafficked from the Sudan and that 3,000 have undergone extreme torture perpetrated by their captors. Many victims have been killed in order to sell off their organs. 4,000 children are known to have been sold from the Sudanese refugee camps in Jordan. It is a $6 million turn over from this crime alone. Law enforcement bears witness to this fact in the Lebanon where thousands have been trafficked from the camps. The question was asked: How can Europol and Interpol be involved collaboratively and globally in the sharing of instant information?
At the end of this first day of the conference the Bishop of South Africa raised the issue of seafarers and that to his knowledge thousands of them were at ransom globally in their work far away from home and unpaid for the work. This is especially happening with many shipping companies who have gone bankrupt. It was added that Scotland also has this problem. It is a difficult problem to identify as the ships move on at a fast rate. Cardinal Nichols suggested the involvement of the Apostleship of the Sea in this work. Bishop Diarmuid Martin from Ireland confirmed that this was also an issue for them.
Bishop Sorondo referred back to the inter-faith agreement which has recently been signed to work together within a global context to combat this crime.
At the end of this first day Cardinal Nichols spoke of hearing the words from the Scriptures ringing out throughout the proceedings of the day: “The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor”. He suggested we take this to heart and listen to the cry of the poor.
There was a shift of emphasis on Day two which was dedicated to hearing the woman’s voice. Three victims of trafficking gave a stirring account of their experiences and the way forward for the forum present. Two female religious spoke of their congregations work against trafficking and Mira Sorvino United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Against Human Trafficking, spoke of her work in awareness raising and advocacy in combating the crime.
The day opened with prayer led by Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher from the Canadian Bishop’s Conference. Mira Sorvino following this, stressed in her closing remarks the need for partnerships. She said that the traffickers have billions of dollars and criminal networks to achieve their evil. She called for all resources from each group or individual in society, working in concert, to level the playing field, learning and building from each other. Only together can we rebuild a healthier society which eradicates slavery. She added that a survivor friend had said to her that the common thread among victims is abuse/neglect in the family. So prevention starts there.
The first victim of trafficking confirmed this point being made by Mira. She had come from a home of abuse, children’s homes and foster care. Later her Father had tried to kill her. A ‘Friend’ offered her work in the UK to escape from this tortuous reality. She was sold to Hungarian Gypsies and trafficked into the sex industry from then on. The second victim had been sold by her sister. She could not believe that this could happen and lost all trust in humanity. She was bought and sold on, by men in London who hurt her badly every day. She was totally controlled and never given any money. The money she came with was also stolen from her. She was starved to make her more thin for the work and even a 3 year old boy, part of the family of the trafficking ring, abused and scoffed at her daily. The effect of all of this is still with this young woman every day. The third victim was tricked to come to Rome for work and was trafficked onwards to the UK where she was used and abused by Czech traffickers in the city of Gloucester. They took her, they took her money, beat her and gave her little food. She was frightened for her life. Her experience has led her to feel less than a person and more like a machine to make money, she said: “You are an amount of money – you are valued by the amount of money you make”. She spoke of losing faith and having no belief in the possibility to run and escape. It left her in total darkness with no one to help her. She spoke of the police being the key to freedom for the trafficked victim. She called on the police to be more present in a visible way, in all the brothels and all possible places where the sex trade may be taking place. The only person the traffickers fear is the police. She asked the church to pray for them. Now that she is free she is happy and she desires this for all trafficked victims. She is now a student but has no papers and therefore in this healing process she still feels like a criminal in Britain. She felt that the laws in Britain do not protect the victim.
Sr Florence Nwaonuma: the General Superior of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, an indigenous congregation in Nigeria reflected on the fact that in Italy 80% of trafficked victims are Nigerian. The pattern of the traffickers in Nigeria has assumed a different dimension. Now the trafficked victim is rarely related to the curse of Juju but thousands of Nigerians are travelling voluntarily for a better life but are easy targets for the traffickers who promise them so much. She sees the need for greater awareness raising, to be aware of the use of social media by the traffickers. She spoke of the wonderful work which the sisters are doing in the empowerment of women and in the shelters and places of safety for the victims. She spoke of the work being an epiphany of God’s love and that the key text to remember is: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat”. All peoples want to escape from poverty and hunger. She said that we are the silent witnesses and eloquent denouncers of evil in the midst of a country with unjust structures.
Sr Aurelia Agredano the vice general of the Congregation of Adoratrices spoke movingly of her congregations work in every aspect of the field of trafficking, as a response to the call coming from the charism of her congregation. The sisters work in direct action in shelters for trafficked victims in many parts of the world and also in awareness raising, advocacy and on-going protection of the victim. She spoke in detail of these many works being carried out in extreme and difficult situations. She said” Our task as men and women followers of Jesus is a matter of the practice of liberation. Healing, and re-structuring of life. We cannot remain on the sidelines of the road as bystanders.. We need to question our way of being in the reality and say with Jeremiah: “ wipe away the tears; there is hope for the future.”
The final word was given to Pope Francis who came at the end of this day’s proceedings to speak to the gathered forum.
“I greet each of you participating in this Conference, the second such gathering held here in the Vatican to promote united efforts against human trafficking. I thank Cardinal Nichols and the Bishop’s conference of England and Wales for organizing this meeting, and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences for hosting it.
Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the Body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity. The very fact of our being here to combine our efforts means that we want our strategies and areas of expertise to be accompanied and reinforced by the mercy of the Gospel, by closeness to the men and women who are victims of this crime. Our meeting today includes law enforcement authorities who are primarily responsible for combating this tragic reality by a vigorous application of the law. It also includes humanitarian and social workers, whose task is to provide the victims with welcome, human warmth and the possibility of building a new life. These are two different approaches, but they can and must go together. To dialogue and exchange views on the basis of these two complementary approaches is quite important. Conferences such as this are extremely helpful, and, I would say, much needed.
I believe the one important sign of this is the fact that, one year after your first meeting, you have regrouped from throughout the world in order to advance your common efforts. I thank you for your readiness to work together. I pray that our Lord will assist you and that Our Lady will watch over you”. (Pope Francis)
Finally it is good to remind ourselves of the estimated facts:
According to the first edition of the Global Slavery Index, which provides an estimate country-by-country, of the number of people living in modern slavery today, the greatest number rank in the following ten countries: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Taken together, these ten countries account for 76% of the total estimate of 29.8 million enslaved people. Over time, the Global Slavery Index report will fill gaps in information about the size and nature of the problem, risk factors and the effectiveness of responses. The intention is to inform and empower civil society groups working on this issue, and to assist governments to strengthen their efforts to eliminate all forms of modern slavery.
We finish with the words of Pope Francis: Human trafficking is an open wound of contemporary society. A scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.
Written by Imelda Poole IBVM (Loreto), RENATE Representative at the Conference