UK

Churches key to combating slavery across the world

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Image caption It is estimated there are 30 million slaves in the world

Nadia was married at 13, and trafficked across the Indian border to a life of domestic servitude by her own husband.

Now in her 60s, she has finally found refuge in the UK, in a small but cosy bedroom in a safe house, thanks to the Salvation Army and the Hestia human trafficking project.

But for many years, she was a victim of modern slavery, locked up in a house in a country in South East Asia that was not her own, with identity documents falsified by her husband to claim that she was from elsewhere. Nadia cries as she remembers it.

"They beat me every day, shouted at me, and gave me almost nothing to eat," she says, the pain still fresh in her eyes.

"My baby daughter was 10 months old, and she got sick.

"They wouldn't let me buy her proper milk because it was expensive, or take her to the doctor, so she died."

It is a scourge that the Pope recently called "an open wound on the body of contemporary society; a crime against humanity".

He set up the Santa Marta group at the Vatican in April, to try to bring together religious leaders and law enforcement officials to create a global alliance against modern slavery and human trafficking.

Police chiefs and church leaders gathered in London recently for the second conference held by the group, to find ways to work together to stop a trade whose victims are often lured by traffickers' false promises.

It was held amid the grandeur of Lancaster House in St James's, its gilded walls and mirrors a stark contrast to the sombre subject matter discussed by delegates from more than 30 countries.

Traumatised

The definition of modern slavery is a broad one.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, says that the 52 million people in the world displaced from their homes or their own countries are among the most vulnerable to exploitation, as are those from the poorest nations.

He cites the example of some young men lured from Africa by human traffickers who sell them "the dream" of living in the UK, with the promise of becoming a Premier League footballer.

"They come in search of a dream, but they don't find it," according to Cardinal Nichols. "Once here, they're enslaved."

According to the latest figures, people are being trafficked from 104 countries to 140 countries.

"This is a global phenomenon, a global crisis," says the cardinal.

The Catholic Church's role and that of other churches in the UK and abroad is often a practical one, with some helping uncover victims, and then giving them practical support via charities offering safe houses and legal advice.

For Nadia, the case worker offering help with dealing with the Home Office over her immigration status has been invaluable.

The Hestia human trafficking project provides safe houses for women who have been trafficked; once they have come forward, they are referred on to Hestia by the Salvation Army.

"When they arrive at the safe house, the women can be extremely traumatised, so we do a risk-and-needs assessment to ascertain what their needs are, and a support plan to help them reach their goals," says Sadia Wain, another Hestia case worker.

Emotional care

She says that almost all women who have been trafficked are in need of counselling, as well as legal advice to help them navigate the system and medical advice - especially if they have been forced to work in the sex trade. Often, the counselling will be taken on by the Helen Bamber Foundation.

"A lot of what we do is offering emotional support and building trust with these women," says Sadia.

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Image caption Cardinal Vincent Nichols is offering practical help

"We know it's a safe house, but they don't. At first, some worry that they've been trafficked to another brothel, so we have to do a lot of reassurance.

"As case workers, we advocate and fight for our client, to make sure they are being looked after as best we can."

In the UK alone, Home Office research estimates, between 10,000 and 13,000 people are the victims of modern slavery.

That equates to a total of around 250 people enslaved in modern-day Britain every week. Many are forced to work in the sex trade and others in agriculture or other areas by gangmasters.


Help for trafficked people:

Between July 2011 and the end of June 2014, the Salvation Army and its partners supported 1,817 people who were trafficked, with an average of 40% trafficked for sexual exploitation, 10% into domestic servitude and most of the rest for labour.

The past year has seen 889 cases - 61% women and 39% men. That represents an increase of 135% on the figure for 2011-12.

They came from 74 different countries, with Albanian and Nigerian women making up the highest number of women, while the highest number of men were from Hungary, Romania and Lithuania.

This year, 29 were British.


The Salvation Army's anti-trafficking response co-ordinator, Anne Read, says victims can and do get in touch at any time of day via their 24-hour helpline.

This year, the Salvation Army has seen a significant shift towards people who have been trafficked to the UK as labour.

"The main age group of the people we help is 26-39. I think there's real momentum now to tackle this.

"While the numbers themselves are discouraging, we should take heart from the fact there are more people actively engaged in doing what they can to stop it."

'Locked up'

The government is now introducing the Modern Slavery Bill, aimed at bringing together the laws under which human trafficking can be prosecuted.

It is currently going through Parliament and would introduce a life sentence for trafficking.

Image caption Karen Bradley is pushing for more prosecutions

It has also created the post of the UK's first independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, the former head of the Metropolitan Police's human trafficking unit, who has over 30 years' experience investigating organised crime.

The new role will focus on strengthening law enforcement efforts in the UK and internationally, and helping to ensure that public authorities identify and support slavery victims as effectively as possible.

"We are saying in Parliament to the courts that we want these cases prosecuted," says Karen Bradley, the Home Office Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime.

"Through the bill, we are putting in victim protection, and making sure we can prosecute these criminals and ensure that they are locked up and spend a very long time behind bars."

But do those who are enslaved in the UK feel able to come forward and put their trust in the police and the legal system?

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, hopes so.

"One of the things we wanted to make clear at the Santa Marta conference is that if you are a victim, and you need help, go to the police. We are here to enforce the law, and to help you - and we are here to arrest the people who are causing the slavery."

He says that over the past four years, the number of victims coming forward has quadrupled, while there have been nearly 400 arrests of alleged traffickers over the same period.

The new laws also aim to ensure that supply chains for businesses aren't tainted by slavery.

"What we are finding is that if we share resources across borders, that helps. For example, the Romanian [police] have offices here, and we have offices there.

"Those are the things that happen at conferences like this - you get a shared understanding, a shared relationship and in the end, shared resources."

Karen Bradley says churches are a key partner on this issue for the police and prosecutors because of their worldwide network.

"The Church has an amazing role to play in this because the Catholic Church, for example, is a major player in all these countries.

"Victims will be going to church, as well as families who have lost loved ones to slavery.

"The Church and charities can offer comfort and support to victims, and then we need to make sure everyone is joined up, to get the information that law enforcement officials need, to prosecute and stop people committing this hideous crime."

Global failure

However, the UK cannot do that on its own.

"We've got to look at the wider world, and make sure we eliminate demand here in the UK and we are not feeding demand in the rest of the world, and that we help find the 30 million slaves that exist across the world and do our part to take them out of slavery," she says.

"Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce and anti-slavery campaigners fought hard to persuade people that slavery was wrong. They succeeded.

"The problem today is that nobody thinks it's right, so it's become a hidden scourge. So finding the victims and giving them the support they need, and ensuring that they are given back control of their lives, is our challenge today."

However, more financial resources must be channelled into tackling the problem, according to Christian Elliott from the charity A21.

"Tragically, only 1% -2% of victims are ever rescued. And what's probably more tragic is that today, out of 100,000 criminals, only one is prosecuted.

"That's a 0.001% success rate. You have to look at police efforts globally. Their priorities are not human trafficking, yet it's such a huge problem."

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