International Conference on Church Response to trafficking and unsafe migration

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“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

 (William Wilberforce)

Two days International conference was organized in Yangon on 24 & 25th January 2020 to discuss how the church can engage effectively in addressing the most heinous crime against humanity. The Conference brought together the different church agencies like Santa Marta Group, Caritas Internationalis, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference, International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Migrants and Refugees Section from Dicastery on Integral Development to discuss and plan how we can better fight against trafficking in persons and do it in cooperation with different stakeholders. For Caritas Asia, it was a great platform to share the work at the international level with other sister organizations.

The conference began with the opening mass by Most Rev. Lumen Monteiro, Bishop of Agartala, Chairman of Caritas India along with His Eminence Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, from Yangon and His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of Santa Marta Group. Cardinal Vincent Nichols in his keynote address said that “we need to give first place to the victim. Our approach should be victim-centric and keep the victim at the heart of all our intervention because the victim bears the mind of Christ.” He added that the work against trafficking must be carried forward in partnership and that’s why we are here to build the partnership among Church agencies.

The root causes for unsafe migration and trafficking is extreme poverty, lack of birth certificate and other important documents, business which looks at the only profit and the demand side, said Mgs. Robert Vitillo. There are also other causes like conflicts that make people vulnerable to leave their country and land.

The Social Welfare Minister from Myanmar presented that they have singed MoU between Thailand and Myanmar to prevent unsafe migration and labor exploitation. The work by the government was much appreciated by all.

International Organization for Migration called the Church to focus on collecting the evidence, strategy, and coordination and improving the programs that are implemented. The Church can engage with international law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking.

Caritas India had an opportunity to present the work against human trafficking at the conference focusing on trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced marriage. Ms. Leeza shared that Caritas India is working at the Indo Nepal border with international as well as internal trafficking in persons and unsafe migration. In the last one year, 62 girls have been provided with a short stay at the transit home located in Nepalganj, Nepal. Caritas India works very closely with Sahastra Seema Bal (border force), local police and Non-Government Organizations. An Indo Nepal Cross Border Forum has been initiated to bring the different stakeholders to strengthen the rescue, referral and repatriation process.

The conference provided the platform for the Caritas Asia team to come together and discuss their plan of action. South Asia team got together along with the Asia coordinator and discussed the ways to strengthen the coordination between the countries of South Asia. Hence, it was suggested to have a meeting in the month of February in Nepal to take the process forward. It was decided that Ms. Leeza from Caritas India will lead the coordination process along with focal persons from Nepal and Sri Lanka.  

The key action points that came out of the conference were-

  • Putting people at the center of our work against human trafficking.
  • For Bishop conferences to encounter with the victims, collate and distribute the stories and evidence from grassroots.
  • Advocating the government for proper implementation of migration and ani trafficking laws and the international convention on human trafficking.
  • Ensuring our employment and business practices are free from any forms of exploitation.
  • Bishops Conference in Asia to actively engaging in various regional mechanisms to prioritize human trafficking and safe migration in the region.

The conference also invited us to look at our own ways of purchasing and use of things in our day to day life. How can we prevent human trafficking by taking a small step? 

“The truth is, slavery touches the lives of most of us in this room every day through the supply chains of the goods and services we purchase. Do you own a phone or a computer? Clothing? Shoes? Do you drink coffee or tea? Do you wear jewelry or makeup? Do you buy seafood, pet food, meat, fruit, and vegetables or eat fast food? You and I cannot deny that we benefit from the exploitation of other human beings largely because they are invisible to us.” (John McCarthy Chair Sydney Archdiocesan Anti-Slavery Taskforce)

The words of Cardinal inspired me and made me reflect when he said, “Trafficked Drug is used only once but trafficked person is used again and again and again.” 

Leeza
Thematic Manager Anti Human Trafficking and Safe Migration
Caritas India