On October 18, we celebrate the European Day against Trafficking in Human Beings. On this occasion, the September issue of the monthly “Różaniec” published an article by Mrs. Urszula Wróbel, “The Gehenna of Slaves”, in which Sister Anna Bałchan talks about the activities of the Bakhita Network and the PoMOC Association. We encourage you to read it, but also to pray for all people affected by the misfortune of slavery in the modern world.
Gehenna of Slaves
Slavery is not only colourful stories from ancient history. Today, human trafficking is also flourishing in Europe, its cruelty, terrifying.
Marcin decided to go to Great Britain – like many other young Poles, to “earn better money”. He quite easily found an agency that dealt with organizing and financing these types of projects, and he was supposed to work in a restaurant. Upon arrival, it turned out that the offer was no longer valid. In return, he received another offer – one that he couldn’t refuse. And since he had to pay off the debt for the plane ticket to England, he agreed to the new conditions. The intermediaries placed him in a house with other people from Poland who were in a similar situation. He was found a job in a bakery, but the money he earned there was taken away under the pretext of covering the debt, accommodation, and food. His attempts to resist always ended in beatings. He was repeatedly threatened with death if he decided to report this practice to anyone. He was also forced to steal.
Finally, Marcin received help from a British institution that enabled him to return to his home country. In Poland, he was cared for by people from the Bakhita Network. Thanks to this help, Marcin started working on fair terms, but above all, he found peace and mental balance.
HELPING THE VICTIMS
This is a clear example of human trafficking. The nationwide Bahkita Network was established to combat human trafficking and provide assistance to those harmed by this practice. Its members are people belonging to various religious congregations, associations, as well as lay people devoted to this cause. Currently, the Network is represented by approximately 19 religious congregations operating within the Charitable Works Commission of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious Congregations in Poland. The name of the organization comes from the name of a nun named Josephine Bakhita, who herself was a victim of human trafficking as a child. In 2015, Pope Francis announced her liturgical commemoration – February 8 – as the International Day of Prayer and Reflection on the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings.
As Sister Anna admits, slavery takes many forms today. – Slavery does not only exist somewhere in Africa, Asia, far from us. You can fall victim to this practice in the centre of Europe, in a large city – she warns. Extreme situations involve sexual abuse. Women go out looking for work and are forcibly detained in brothels and drugged. Slavery, which Marcin experienced, is also not uncommon. In exchange for hard work, people are forced to live in terrible conditions and are deprived of identity documents, reports Sister Anna. Moreover, as she admits, such dramas take place not only outside our country. We recently helped people who experienced such slavery in Poland. These people, were foreigners from the East and African countries who were exploited by the international
mafia. They were brought to Poland and lured with high salaries, and then they went through traumatic ordeals.
EDUCATION AND PREVENTION
People struggling with unpaid debts are also potential victims. – We know stories of people who were forced to beg in exchange for repaying their debts. However, even though they managed to obtain a specific amount every day, the debt incurred did not decrease. People who are helpless in life and have certain deficits are often exploited in this way. They are easier to manipulate, easier to exploit.
Young people who are not aware of the threats that await them are also at risk – explains Sister Anna. Therefore, nuns working within Bakhita are trying to reach young people to warn them about the threat. It is therefore very important that we have appropriate knowledge. We need to constantly update it, especially regarding new techniques used by human traffickers.
We also learn how to reach potential victims. Wherever they serve, the sisters talk to young people who receive various job and travel offers. Nuns pay attention to potentially dangerous situations. It’s a form of prevention. We also run preventive programs in schools, says Sister Anna.
HEALING THE ENSLAVED
On the other hand, Bakhita tries to help people who have already fallen victim to human traffickers. It is important to be able to accompany suffering wisely and thus help deal with trauma, Sister Anna explains. Such presence, as it turns out, is priceless. “I think that about 90 percent of women who are under our care return to normal life. Of course, the injuries remain for many years, but they can now function in society. We maintain constant contact with many people. It makes us very happy when we see how, thanks to God’s care, they manage to function normally and even enjoy life”, she emphasizes.
Of course, an integral element of the support provided is prayer for both the victims and the perpetrators themselves. There are currently 15 people in the PoMOC Association founded by Sister Anna. Women, including those with children, live with the sisters who serve here. Their stay with us usually lasts 9 months and is completely free of charge. During this time, these people receive spiritual and emotional support. They are looking for a job and can save for a new start. This is a great opportunity that many women take advantage of, says Sister Anna.