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Report from the Vatican Workshop

 

Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery.

Destitute Peoples and the Message of Jesus Christ.

2nd – 3rd November 2013 Casino Pio IV (Vatican City)

The initiative for this awareness raising workshop on Trafficking in Human Persons was taken by Pope Francis who called on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences together with the FIAMC (The World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations) to organise, in this initial stage, a preparatory workshop.  This workshop examined human trafficking and modern slavery in order to establish the real state of this phenomenon and to follow an agenda to combat this heinous crime. The overall coordinator was Very Reverend Marcel Sanchez Sorondo who worked painlessly to keep each person attending the workshop in constant communication with all necessary information before the event. We thank him for the acceptance of our application and for his extraordinary care to the detail in every manner required.

Vatican, Nov. 2013
The Assembled Group meeting with Pope Francis

Approximately 100 people attended this event of whom 20 presented papers and represented the organisations mentioned above, whilst the others had registered as observers. It was encouraging to know that on arriving at the assembly room, all observers were called participants, all had a voice and all had the opportunity to submit proposals for the conclusion of the days together.
Three members of RENATE attended this workshop, Sr Marie Hélène Halligon, (Good Shepherd – Paris), Sr Patricia Mulhall, (Brigidine – UK), and Sr Imelda Poole (IBVM – Albania). The ‘observers’ were mainly from grassroots non-profit organisations, NGOs or mission groups, working in the field of anti-trafficking, representing a variety of organisations such as social services, the police, law and the justice system, people working in shelters (safe houses) in direct action with victims. Among them were Members of Parliament desiring to make changes in the law, on the side of the victim, NGOs working in the field, and bishops and clergy from the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
Every continent in the world was included and all continents reflected on their experiences of trafficking in human persons within their own cultural differences.  It really exposed the manner in which traffickers are sharp in using conditions of poverty, the ‘culture’ of vulnerability and weaknesses in the law are prevalent, thereby enabling the exploitation and trafficking of people to maximum effect.
Many statistics were shared regarding the extent of this evil. Many millions have been identified as trafficked in the EU yet the number of victims declared as trafficked in the courts had fallen in the recent past by 32%.  The issue of corruption was explored both at the level of government and within other statutory systems. Global poverty and a breakdown of values were seen to be the root causes for the increase in the trafficking in human persons.  Many of the vulnerable succumbed to the deceits of traffickers with promises of ‘a way out’ of poverty, leading to a better life for their families and for themselves.
The conference reflected on the phenomena of migration and movements of peoples around the globe, which has reached momentous proportions and which is truly historic in this 21st century. Globalisation and the issues of cross border protection laws are impacting on the journey taken by the migrant.  The migrant is also suffering from a global culture that rejects the migrant and which has lost the concept that all people are made equal and all are created in the image of God. The ‘commodification’ of the human person has forced the migrant person into the underworld of the illegal market and often into the hands of traffickers. In addition, the secularisation of many societies and the challenge for the people on the edge of society, facing an inhuman and undignified life has created an ambience ripe for the traffickers to be successful in their trade. The change in the numbers living below the poverty line plus this explosion of secularisation in many countries has led to a growth in the culture of individualism. This culture has replaced a fair and just society which emphasises care of the vulnerable and which puts the community at its heart.  The belief that we have a global crisis of values was discussed at length. Many would see this as being one of the prime reasons for the growing phenomena of human trafficking today.
Many questions were asked, including: Where do we stand in the midst of this evil practice?  Are we on the side of the victim?  Do we look for compensation for the victim?  Has every country, including the Vatican State, signed the European Convention Against trafficking?  How do we view the immigrant? Are we aware that the only way forward is to build partnerships to combat this crime? Are we in partnership with others in the field, networking with them or are we working in isolation?  Are illegal employment agencies operating in our vicinity?  Who is making checks and who cares about the exploitation of the migrant worker? What about the question of ‘Demand’ – the engine that fuels the ‘supply’ of people who can be easily exploited and manipulated into the ‘trade in human persons’ (to use Pope Francis’ words)? The trafficking in organs was also an important issue discussed during these two days.
Several organisations were represented and some shared the fruit of their work in prevention or direct action against trafficking.  Two examples of organisations attending the conference DNA Prokids and Walk Free Foundation gave input on their work
DNA-Prokids (http://www.dna-prokids.org), an international project on human trafficking prevention and fight using genetic identification of victims and their relatives. DNA testing ensures ‘lost’ children can be reunited with their families and taken out of ‘risk’ of being stolen or adopted for profit. One case story from ProKids related to Haiti at the time of the Earthquake in 2010. Twenty-five children told their parents had perished in the Earthquake, were stolen from the Haiti, taken by bus and found in Columbia. Of the twenty-five, 18 were reunited with their families. The remaining 7 children, whose parents could not be traced, were given legal protection by the Columbian government to be adopted by Columbian families.
The ‘Walk Free Foundation’ launched in 2012, Perth, Western Australia, is making a scientific analysis of those trafficked, the countries from which they are trafficked, the routes they take and the destinations they reach in ‘The Gobal Slavery Index 2013’. This document was made available to the conference. Their website encourages joining in a world-wide campaign to end modern day slavery. Over a million have joined to date. (cf websites for both organisations)
Professor Suarez-Orozco (University of Los Angeles, California) presented a paper examining the devastating psychological and cultural effects on trafficked children who are deprived not only of their present, but also of their future as many of them do not have the mental, physical or psychological means to overcome such trials. Describing the phenomenon of human trafficking, Suarez-Oroaco said it amounts to a $30 billion enterprise – larger than the GDP of Jordan.    It is the third-most profitable global criminal enterprise, after drugs and armaments. The professor highlighted the fact that up to 75 per cent of all detected trafficked people are women and children. (an estimated 27 million trafficked people in the world today) He noted that the percentage of children is increasing, saying: “In the U.S., it is estimated that of all the detected trafficked people, 50 per cent are under age.”
(http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/11/05/human_trafficking:_an_ancient_infamy_with_a_new_face/en1-742628  of the Vatican Radio website).
Vatican, Nov. 2013
Sr Marie Hélène Halligon, presenting the Mosaic to Pope Francis

An added privilege during the weekend was meeting with Pope Francis – the lead person for this event. Sr  Marie Hélène Halligon had bought with her a mosaic made by girls who were trafficked in Paris. She presented this mosaic to Pope Francis. Sr Patricia Mulhall and Sr Imelda Poole also had the privilege of meeting Pope Francis and asked for his blessing on the work of RENATE.
Vatican, Nov. 2013
Sr Imelda Poole giving greetings from RENATE with Sr Patricia Mulhall in the background

Several proposals were submitted at the end of this workshop and all were collated into one single document. This document was accepted by the participants. No proposal was omitted.  The conclusion reached was that all proposals should be submitted to Pope Francis as an outcome of the workshop with an introductory paragraph to be written after the workshop had been concluded. This paragraph would be agreed by the participants of the conference before submission. The workshop closed on Sunday evening, 3rd November. The networking achieved by the members of RENATE is still having effect as we return to our various countries of work. We feel very grateful that we were welcomed into this forum.
Marie Hélène Halligon (Good Shepherd), Patricia Mulhall (Brigidine), Imelda Poole (IBVM)