Highlights from the USPG Human Trafficking webinar

First published on: 18th November 2020

Highlights from the USPG Human Trafficking webinar

It is difficult to imagine a more sordid and inhumane practice than that of human trafficking; literally, an activity where people willingly sell other human beings into modern day slavery which can include selling adults into domestic servitude or forced labour or children and young adults into prostitution. Sometimes, people are sold so that their organs may be harvested for profit. Frequently, victims and their families are cruelly duped into believing that they will be heading for a better life, when the reality is that they are treated as nothing more commodities, sold into a living hell for profit.

The USPG webinar ‘The Church’s Response to Human Trafficking in South Asia and the Middle East’ brought five people together to speak about the horrors of human trafficking and what they do to help those in need.

Human Trafficking is rampant in the Diocese and especially in Bangladesh. Most of the people who are caught up in trafficking are from deprived backgrounds. For example, many landless labourers migrate to other parts of India looking for a better life, or they are ‘taken away’ to cities and find themselves working as bonded labourers or as prostitutes. Young women are often forced into domestic servitude. The webinar opened with The Rt Rev’d Sameer Khimla, Bishop of Durgapur Diocese in the Church of North India describing what impact human trafficking has in his Diocese, and what the Church does to assist victims. He said, 

‘We need to reach out to communities directly. We do try to rescue victims and we have a safe house for this purpose. Of course, this has been made more difficult with the Coronavirus pandemic. India is the largest democracy in the world, but the pandemic has caused an erosion of civil liberties.’

‘The knock-on effects of the pandemic are alarming. People have not been able to find work at home, or to manage two square meals a day. The Diocese has helped to feed people thanks to support from friends and supporters. Sadly, it is likely that some of those out of work will fall prey to human traffickers. We try very hard to spread awareness via our Anti Human Trafficking group (AHT) not only of how to look out for traffickers, but also how to avoid being trapped. Of course, with Coronavirus, we have also been able to provide hand soap, sanitisers and masks and some of this has been done via places of religious worship’.

‘Human trafficking has definitely exposed weaknesses in Government and has taken a ‘back-seat’ during the pandemic.  Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) have not had much support, and we have struggled because of a lack of manpower. We have held more regular but smaller meetings and people in desperate situations are easy prey for traffickers. It is quite common for parents to give away female children for child marriages in order to help their children and themselves survive. Eloping is also very common now. We have realised that the more awareness we can create, the better. We are part of the community and can offer safe space, and we are very aware of safeguarding.’

‘We are also trying to use national and local media better – to create awareness and understanding. We need more outreach and hope to be able to reach Bangladesh as well. We really want to eradicate this evil from society.’

The Bishop’s Anti Human Trafficking field staff, Purnima and Shehnaz added to the discussion from their own professional experiences explaining that migrant workers had sought support from the Dean. If they were the only worker in a family of five or six, the whole family was left with nothing to rely on. They said, ‘The relief work via the Dean was the first help these people in such desperate situations had since lockdown. The Dean also helped migrant workers go into fourteen-day quarantine, and provided them with soap and masks, whilst offering them food as well.’

 

Bishop Khimla added, ‘Trafficked victims also feel a great sense of shame when they return. We believe that these people need to come ‘home’ to somewhere secure and safe – this helps with their mental health as well as their physical well-being. We try hard to help people overcome their initial trauma. We seek opportunities to counsel parents and wider family members to help with reintegration, because the child or adult victim needs to be accepted by the family.’         

 

Discussing the Middle East and the Gulf areas in particular, Joel Kelling, the Anglican Alliance Facilitator for the Middle East defined trafficking. He said, ‘The United Nations anti- trafficking policy known as the Palermo Protocol has three elements: the ACT (recruitment, transportation/transfer, receipt of persons) the MEANS (threats, use of force, deception, abuse of power) and the PURPOSE (sexual exploitation, forced  labour, organ removal).’

Living and working in the Middle East, Joel described himself as a migrant. He went on to describe a stereotypical view of migrants there. He explained, ‘When people think about migrants in the Middle East, and Gulf countries, the image that springs to mind may well be of construction workers, but the reality is more complicated than that. 90% of the population of the UAE for example is immigrants, from construction workers to shop assistants, teachers, pilots and oil industry leaders.’

Unsurprisingly, the churches of the Gulf reflect this too, with Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis worshipping alongside Nigerians, South Africans and Britain’s, representing the diversity of the body of Christ, not only in nationality but in profession and experience.

Joel said, ‘The Gulf States may be Arabic speaking Muslim majority countries, all of whom have a predominantly petroleum based economy, but they are all very different countries, with different laws and approaches to issues as diverse as labour law to religious freedom. The Gulf is in not a homogenous whole.’

There is a complexity to not only what it means to be a migrant, but also what exploitation, trafficking and modern slavery look like in the Middle East. Joel said, ‘Our role as the Church is to encourage people to be informed, connected, and supported in the migration they choose to seek.’

Trafficking exists in the recruitment of workers, predominantly by people within their home countries and in ‘contract fraud’, where promises are changed on arrival and new contracts offered (often in Arabic) which give worse or altered conditions of work. The typically private culture of the Middle East creates a space where domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In addition, the climate of the Gulf creates hostile working conditions, and high numbers of construction workers have died of cardiac arrest and other ‘natural causes’ because of working in temperatures regularly over 45c in the Summer. Although nations have laws to prevent working above certain temperatures for more than a short time, contractors or employers ignore those rules, or they are poorly enforced.

Joel talked from his personal experience with the Anglican Alliance about what the church is doing to help these people. He said, ‘We are drawing people together from around the communion to respond more coherently to the needs of migrants.  Each church offers pastoral support and some offer dedicated workers. Some are able to offer meals and some offer sanitary protection for women in need.’

Relief work does little to relieve the exploitation of people, however. Joel said, ‘We have been working against human trafficking for over five years and we have established a strong forum between provinces. We have also responded to specific needs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, with many migrant workers unable to return to their home countries.  We are also introducing the ‘Just Good Work’ app to offer help to migrant workers.’    

The Rev’d Anne Futcher, Social Concern Officer, the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf

spoke to USPG from Cyprus. She said, ‘Cyprus is within the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and The Gulf. It is a very close neighbour of Palestine & Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Cyprus has been a divided island since 1974.  The South is the Republic of Cyprus (part of the European Union) whilst the North is administered by Turkish Cypriots. The Anglican Church in Cyprus is small with just 6 parishes and services are held in English.’

Anne outlined that the geography of Cyprus makes it a key destination for people who are subjected to trafficking:  Over a four period some 800 people were presumed trafficked in the South and most of these were women, largely exploited for sex. All of the identified men were exploited for labour. Seven children were trafficked for begging. She said, ‘The South is deemed to fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. And its government continues to show serious and continuous efforts to do so.  This is very far from true for the North where observers report that commercial sex, including forced prostitution, commonly occurs in nightclubs and that labour laws continue to be inadequately reinforced.  Victims are typically Cypriots addicted to drugs, and young women with disabilities who commit criminal offences like distributing illegal substances and committing welfare benefits fraud.’

There is a second group of non-Cypriots who are exploited and these fall into five main groups. Anne described them saying, ‘First are asylum seekers and refugees, the migrant workers, students, tourists on short-term visas and abandoned seafarers. It’s a simple truth that in any crisis it’s the vulnerable who are most deeply affected, and all of this has been exacerbated with the Covid-19 pandemic.’

The Salvation Army developed a system to help churches engage with those trafficked, which is known as the Freedom Framework. This has four key areas: Prevention, protection, partnership and prayer. Anne described what she has been doing in Cyprus. She said, ‘It is crucial to increase awareness and understanding of human trafficking within our church communities. I have published simple information for all churches focussed on recognising signs that a person might be a victim of trafficking, how to report concerns, and where support can be offered.’

Anne said, ‘Everything we offer is done within a framework of welcome, hospitality and love.  We want those, both who are at risk; and those who are already in exploitive situations, to know that within our worshipping communities they are truly valued as fellow Christians who bring unique gifts into our midst. We aim for them to find ways they can contribute - ways they can give as well as receive.  We have domestic workers as sacristans, foreign students who process in with the cross, those who read lessons, or are members of the choir.’

All the responses Anne described are done in partnership with others: with Local Non-Government Organisations, with other Christian denominations and faith groups , with local municipalities and with the Anglican Alliance which hosts an annual Social Outreach Forum in Cyprus for church representatives and NGOs from both the North and South of the Island.

Of course, everything is brought together by prayer. Anne said, ‘Often we can’t change a situation for someone, but we can accompany prayerfully and pastorally along part of their journey.  And as fellow Christians we can share worship and bible study together.’ 

 

Although this USPG webinar has focussed on human trafficking overseas, it is also prevalent in the UK and Ireland. If you are concerned that you may have witnessed a victim of human trafficking in the UK, you should inform your local police or go directly to the national Crime Agency. To find out more, please visit:  https://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/what-we-do/crime-threats/modern-slavery-and-human-trafficking

The Webinar Speakers were:

  • Rt Revd Sameer Khimla, Bishop of Durgapur Diocese, the Church of North India
  • Purnima, Field staff of Anti Human Trafficking Programme, Durgapur Diocese
  • Shehnaz, Field staff of Anti Human Trafficking Programme, Durgapur Diocese
  • Joel Kelling, Facilitator for the Middle East
  • Rev’d Anne Futcher, Social Concern Officer, the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf

 

USPG hosts were:

  • The Reverend Canon Richard Bartlett, Director of Mission Engagement
  • Fran Mate, USPG Regional Manager for Africa
  • The Reverend Davidson Solanki, USPG Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East.