‘’The Intersections of Family Homelessness and Human Trafficking.’’ 11 May 2021. Webinar to mark the launch of UNANIMA International publication.
UNANIMA International is a coalition of communities of women religious –in 83 countries – who bring their voices, concerns and experiences as educators, health providers, social workers, development and community builders to the United Nations (UN).
UNANIMA International’s continued and evolving focus on women and children/girls who have been displaced has prompted the organization to take a lead role, including research, in homeless advocacy at the United Nations. Its present focus is on homelessness and displacement as one of several global concerns it seeks to address, at the United Nations.
“Transforming our world” is the core mantra for 2030 Agenda for UN Sustainable Development Goals and its pledge to ‘leave no one behind, especially those furthest left behind.’ Addressing family homelessness, displacement and trauma are integral to achieving that 2030 agenda. In this regard, UNANIMA undertook a significant piece of research on ‘The Intersections of Family Homelessness and Human Trafficking,’ including reflections on the lived experiences of homeless and trafficked persons; along with service providers; advocates and policy makers.
At its launch, speakers were represented from Australia, the Philippines, India, Italy, Albania, USA and Ireland, giving a wide-ranging view of the plight of people suffering the trauma of homelessness, and this trauma combined with human trafficking in some instances.
Sr. Noelene Simmons, ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking), s outlined its response to emerging issues of migrants and homelessness.
A woman from the Philippines told her heart-rending story of surviving trafficking and homelessness, attributing her recovery to the support she received from women religious who guided her rehabilitation.
The Co-ordinator of Talitha Kum – a network of Catholic nuns working in anti-human trafficking – Gabriella Bottani, shared on trans-national, collaborative anti-human trafficking work across 92 countries, seven Continents. Its theme for 2021 International Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking (IDPAHT), 8th February, An Economy without Human Trafficking highlighted the present dominant economic model as one of the major causes of human trafficking. Adi Shakti shared about the SoulWork initiative in India.
Rocio Moron and Kirin Taylor shared on the work of UNANIMA International, specifically the work behind the creation of its publication and Amarachi Grace Ezeonu, SND, representing the sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at the UN, shared her mission of advocacy on family displacement, homelessness and human trafficking.
Imelda Poole, IBVM, President RENATE Europe spoke to the central themes of family, homelessness, and human trafficking, with power-point slides.
Drawing upon her work at Mary Ward Loreto Albania with its mission to end human trafficking and exploitation, Imelda shared from her years of experience working with people in dire poverty leaving them homeless. She also shared her work on human trafficking, homelessness and the cross-border transits that is the reality for the those marginalised in Albanian society. Her account illustrated a starkness to the real-life situations for the Roma community in Albania and the undocumented Romanian girls on the street at Euston station, London.
Imelda went on to say how Ineffective legislation plays its own part in the intersections of family homelessness and human trafficking when in so many, many countries worldwide, domestic workers (largely immigrant women) are often unprotected by labour laws.
In addition to each one’s particular story, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was referenced by all speakers, but Imelda highlighting additional impacts such as the closure of homeless shelters and drop-in centres; the closure of police front-desks; Charities and NGOs being furloughed and the ensuing lack of supports to support and protect homeless people. It all contributes to destitute and desperate people falling into the hands of predators who lurk on the mean streets, watching for and seizing upon the opportunity to exploit those who are at their most vulnerable.
Referencing a UK based foundation, Street Links, https://www.streetlink.org.uk Imelda laid bare the undisputed truth that displaced peoples have human rights and are members of society and yet they suffer daily deprivation and discrimination (Street Link app).
With increased unemployment arising from the pandemic, hundreds of homeless people are recruited into ‘slave’ labour, recruited form street corners and soup kitchens, lured by the empty promises of cash, food, drink or drugs. Imelda talked about these hopeful people being locked into squalid conditions, beaten, forced to work unrelenting hours and without access to fundamental human rights.
She challenged us living in the UK, with ‘which of us can say we don’t know much of this’ now that radio programmes such as The Archers and drama TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy have incorporated the themes of human trafficking and homelessness in various episodes in the past year?
But it was Imelda’s statement that society causes human trafficking which created the greatest impact, as step-by step, she peeled back the onion-like layers of society, exposing our complicity – albeit indirectly mostly– in factors contributing to human trafficking: systemic poverty, breakdown of family leading to dysfunction, homelessness as we demand cheaper goods and services to maximise profits
In the face of the moral imperative to respond to the question ‘’what can be done?’’ Imelda pointed out some very basic steps such as the following;
- Become aware/educate yourself;
- Raise awareness at night shelters (https://theclewerinitiative.org );
- Work Together (Let’s Talk initiative);
- Research (Hostia and the Passage);
- Advocate and speak out.
The launch of The Intersections of Family Homelessness and Human Trafficking has opened the door and shone a light for all to see.
Just as society – individuals as well as policy-makers – responsible for allowing homelessness, exploitation and human trafficking to continue, all are equally responsible to step up and play a crucial role to end these open-wounds on contemporary society.
Her final message is: Let us all play our part together, mindful of the simple steps we need to take.