Praying for those at risk of exploitation
As the Catholic Church around the world celebrates the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) is stressing the importance of protecting vulnerable refugees from exploitation. Today (8 February) is the Day of Prayer for Victims of Trafficking and those who work to combat this scourge of humanity, chosen by the Church because St Josephine Bakhita herself was sold into slavery.
Every year, tens of millions of people desperately seek refuge, security and safety. Not only do migrants and refugees face imposing physical obstacles and bureaucratic barriers; they are also vulnerable to human rights violations and exploitation by human traffickers.
“Human traffickers prey on the most desperate and vulnerable,” said the former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “To end this inhumane practice, we must do more to shield migrants and refugees - and particularly young people, women and children - from those who would exploit their yearnings for a better, safer and more dignified future. We must govern migration in a safe and rights-based way, create sufficient and accessible pathways for the entry of migrants and refugees, and ultimately tackle the root causes of the conflicts - extreme poverty, environmental degradation and other crises which force people across borders, seas and deserts.”
The Feast of St Josephine Bakhita was chosen in 2012 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales as the Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking, and it has since been picked up by the Universal Church. Bishop Patrick Lynch, Auxiliary Bishop of Southwark and the Catholic Church's lead bishop on migration, says: "The feast of St Josephine Bakhita is a wonderful opportunity - every year - to remember and pray for those who have suffered from the dreadful experience of having been trafficked and an opportunity to recommit ourselves as the Church to doing everything we can to eliminate the scourge of human trafficking from the world in which we live".
Trapped by a need of safety and security
Internationally, JRS supports refugees in 50 countries around the world through accompaniment, service and advocacy on their behalf. Exploitation can occur at every step of a refugee’s journey – from the first point at which persecution begins, whilst en route to a safer place, once arrived in a new host country, and whilst waiting for the government to give full-legal protection and the right to work. Some of the refugees JRS UK accompanies have experience of human trafficking, and many others through their experience of destitution here in the UK during the asylum process become very vulnerable to different forms of exploitation. Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK, says, “People become more vulnerable to exploitation when they cannot meet their basic needs and have limited support networks. The current government agenda of creating a hostile environment towards asylum seekers and policy of leaving people in destitution leaves many in a precarious position for shelter and food. At JRS UK, we continue to offer emotional and practical support through our day centre, but we long for a day when those seeking sanctuary here are treated with more dignity as a matter of course.”
The international response of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference to human trafficking is channeled through the Santa Marta Group and one of its major initiatives is Caritas Bakhita House, a shelter located in London and supported by a local Westminster parish. The house opened in June 2015 and provides pastoral and practical help to victims of human trafficking, including temporary accommodation and care for the most vulnerable and traumatised victims who are outside of the existing government support structures. JRS UK is part of Caritas Westminster and a number of its volunteers also volunteer with Bakhita House.
The Day of Prayer for Victims of Trafficking comes just two days after the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Italian Islamic Religious Community issued a statement in which they said that the protection of people who are in danger – such as refugees fleeing atrocities or danger – should transcend national boundaries and security considerations. “As Muslim and Christian organisations, we affirm our solidarity with all refugees, regardless of their faith,” the statement said. “Any attempt to reject refugees on the basis of their religion is contrary to Christian and Muslim values of human dignity, care for the weakest in society, and of religious liberty.” The statement continued: “Hostile attitudes towards displaced persons have no place in our religious traditions, and manifest a grave moral failure. Our faiths invite all people of good will to promote everywhere a more generous culture of hospitality to migrants and displaced persons.”