Pope Francis speaks of human trafficking in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. In 2014, he set up the Santa Marta Group to bring together local and international strategies to improve victim care and support, and to promote better relationships between law enforcement and the NGO sector, with the aim of playing a major role in eradicating human slavery. Cardinal John Dew, a member of Santa Marta, shares excerpts from his report on the Santa Marta Group’s meeting in London in December 2014.
Human slavery is serious, organised criminality on a vast scale,m targeting the most vulnerable in society. Because of Pope Francis’ concern about exploitation and the suffering inflicted by traffickers, he has committed the Church to tackling this scourge that he describes as ‘an open wound on the body of contemporary society’.
At Pope Francis’ invitation police, Church and NGO representatives met at Casa Santa Marta in Rome in April 2014 and formed an international group to develop a common commitment and goals. The group’s main objective is shared intelligence across law enforcement and NGO sectors so more victims can be identified and prosecutions can increase significantly.
The London meeting was hosted by Cardinal Vincent Nicholls of Westminster, Commissioner of Metropolitan Police Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and the British Home Secretary Theresa May MP. Attending were 104 people from some 25 countries including police commissioners, high-ranking police officers, the director of Euoropol, Interpol agents, about 15 bishops, and representatives of UK organisations that have been working to combat human trafficking and provide care and support for victims.
Police representatives spoke about how their thinking has changed from ‘find and prosecute the perpetrators’ to ‘our first task is to find and free or rescue the victims and then to prosecute’. ‘Victims need to know we are looking for ways to provide practical help and safety for desperate people,’ said Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. ‘We have a common purpose to work together to create an awareness of the problem and do what we can to combat it.’
The group said there is an urgent need to establish cross-border partnerships to combat human trafficking. Victims need to know they can speak up and that love and care will be provided without borders or boundaries. They need to know they are not going to be treated as criminals, and that the Church and police will provide a safe and welcoming place. Shelter will be found for them so their confidence can be restored and they can see a chance to rebuild their lives.
Much of the meeting concerned church personnel collaborating with police, immigration and other organisations. The idea is to inform people in our parishes there are victims of human trafficking in all countries. A recent international report highlighted approximately 600 people in New Zealand, 13,000 in the United Kingdom and about 40 million people around the world in the sex trade, in bonded labour and various situations where in many cases they do not even realise they are victims because they have never known anything else.
One of the strongest pleas was for churches to teach their people to look for indicators of human trafficking and to speak up for victims. Indicators include travel and identity documents held by someone else; a place of work recognised as a place of trafficking; working conditions not allowing reasonable time for breaks and rest; restrictions on where and when people can go out socially, or have a holiday; when people think sub-working conditions are normal and don’t know they are victims.
One of the key issues I will be speaking out about as New Zealand’s Cardinal is the problem of human trafficking and slavery in and around this country.