In December 2014, for the first time in history, the leaders of the major world religions gathered together in the Vatican around Pope Francis, with the purpose of eliminating modern slavery. Because of this meeting, the leaders signed a declaration aimed at the eradication of human trafficking and modern slavery by 2020. The Pope addresses men and women of faith, but also all people pf goodwill, to join efforts to combat this ‘’crime against humanity,’’ which affects particularly the poor and the most vulnerable people in society. However, Europe, like other parts of the world, is far away from meeting this goal.
The European Parliament and the Council of Europe have produced Directives and Conventions, legally binding for the Member States, in order to combat trafficking, protect the victims, prosecute the perpetrators and prevent the crime. Many projects have been sponsored at all levels in order to strengthen partnerships between NGOs and other key stakeholders, such as governmental institutions, law enforcement agencies and judiciary.
In 2013 and for the very first time, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, issued a statistical report on trafficking in human beings in the European Union. They issued a second report in 2014/2015. Both reports underline the lack of significant data. The bottom line is that victims are not identified, therefore, the numbers only show the tip of the iceberg, whose main body remains undetected. This conclusion is mirrored in the annual report on human trafficking issued by the Federal Criminal Police in Germany.
Beyond Legal frameworks.
The efforts made by the above mentioned institutions are almost irrelevant to the problem. The European legal framework grants victims protection and assures the prosecution of traffickers. However, it is too removed from the reality or maybe too far away from a more objective examination of the problem, i.e. from an unbiased observation and analysis of the root causes of human trafficking.
As a result, society is getting used to the problem, to the extent of concealing and diluting it and even to the point of acceptance and assimilation. Victims are looked upon as consensual workers, voluntary prostitutes or irregular migrants illegally crossing the borders of the European Union. However, they are not only victims but first and foremost survivors, whose strength, in many cases, is their faith in God and their hope for a better life.
In March 2017, I participated in a conference in the Netherlands as a member of the RENATE network (Religious in Europe Networking against Trafficking and Exploitation), where a speaker postulated in a very simple statement that human trafficking in Europe is the result of two colliding factors, i.e. people are looking for life and Europe is surrounded by ‘walls.’
People are looking for life. This yearning is the deepest desire and the most basic right of every human being: the right to life. To sustain and promote life is what SOLWODI ( SOLidarity with Women in Distress) is doing for many years in Germany and also now in Romania, Austria, Hungary and Kenya, where the organisation started as an exit project for women and children forced by poverty into prostitution.
Promoting the rights of trafficked women.
Sr. Lea Ackermanm, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa, had the vision to promote the rights of trafficked women when nobody spoke about it in Europe. Now, many Religious sisters along with lay women and volunteers are committed in Europe at SOLWODI, working together for the same cause, to grant the victims their rights, give them a chance to build up a new life for themselves and their children. Moreover, Religious sisters and social workers at SOLWODI advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees, for gender equality, as well as to dismantle the hypocrisy of patriarchal practices like prostitution.
In 2008, Sr. Margit Foster and I, two Comboni Missionary Sisters, initiated a SOLWODI Centre in Berlin, focusing primarily on African women. Last October, I represented SOLWODI at the Santa Marta group in the Vatican, when Bishops from more than 30 countries in the world, along with high-level representatives from the police, Interpol, Europol and the FBI, as well as Religious sisters involved in the work of combatting human trafficking, came together to dialogue and network.
This group, supported by the Pope, exemplifies the role that the church at different levels wants to play more and more, so that laws won’t remain only on paper.
A Nigerian woman, survivor of human trafficking, once told me: ‘’Now I have understood, that you in Europe believe in papers, whereas we in Africa believe in God.’’
Maybe, we should take seriously her observation and start moving away from a sterile overproduction of documents and legislations, as well as from the construction of ‘legal walls’ around Europe, listening first of all to God’s voice, speaking through the survivors, whispering to us their yearning for life.
Article featured in NEW PEOPLE, Kenya publication. July-August 2017.
Sr. Beatrice (Mabel) Mariotti was born in 1963 in Milan, Italy. She joined the Comboni Missionary Sisters in 1990, studied Psychology and Religious Studies in the USA and Islamic Studies in the UK. She has lived and worked in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and, since 2006, in Berlin, Germany.
The Church’s involvement in the fight against human trafficking in Europe: The Search for life and the European ‘’walls, ’’by Sr. Beatrice (Mabel) Mariotti, CMS.