INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS by Peter MadisonNews Weekly
New fronts in the fight against human trafficking
, May 23, 2015
The Vatican is taking up the fight on human trafficking, the huge problem which Pope Francis has labelled a crime against humanity.
The Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples now works in tandem with COATNET, the coalition of Christian organisations against human trafficking.
Meanwhile, a clearer picture of the sinister business is coming to light, which shows victims of human trafficking drowning at sea and being imported into Europe’s highly exploitative sex industries.
A power vacuum in lawless Libya means the state serves as a funnel for thousands of desperate Middle-Eastern and Sub-Saharan migrants pouring into Europe. Few of these realise that the dangers ahead of them are equal to the ones they have left behind. As the Vatican-led coalition combats traffickers, governments worldwide must take note of both the causes of this epidemic and the successful and unsuccessful remedies already applied.
The Pontifical council and COATNET have released a paper intended for church organisations which both depicts the horrors of human trafficking and offers guidelines in the fight against it.
COATNET (Christian Organisations against Trafficking in Human Beings) is a coalition of Christian organisations that fights human trafficking by campaigns aimed at raising awareness, protecting potential victims, passing better laws, and helping survivors of human trafficking. This latest effort, called the “Christian Commitment Paper”, illustrates the ways in which church organisations can help in this work.
Human trafficking looms as a double-headed threat to its victims. On the one hand is the danger to life that goes with illegal immigration. On the other hand are the abuses that migrants can expect in their target countries, especially in Europe.
The world was shocked by the report of an estimated 700 lives lost off the coast of Libya last month, when a fishing boat, just 20 metres long but packed with hundreds of migrants, capsized. Those migrants had hoped to reach Italy. They were still closer by far to Libya than to Italy when they drowned.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that as many as 30,000 people could drown attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year alone. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has compared the sea to “a cemetery”. But traffickers show no remorse at the loss of life.
Meanwhile, migrants who do reach Europe often experience a sad fate and, for women especially, forced prostitution is a real threat. The sex trade is a quickly expanding, organised and profitable business.
Worldwide forced sexual exploitation amounts to $28 billion in profits annually, according to the International Labor Organisation. Human trafficking linked to sexual exploitation has become more profitable than drug trafficking, according to Darrell Weaver, Oklahoma’s most senior narcotics authority.
Traffickers are targeting victims made vulnerable by abuse, and use deception and intimidation to bring them under control. Victims often experience trauma related to violence and substance abuse, and live shorter lives because of their time in forced prostitution.
In Europe, the legalisation of prostitution has worsened the problem. Legal prostitution is a facade for
exploitation. In Germany (2002) and the Netherlands (2000), legislators decriminalised prostitution in the belief that if it was legal it could be regulated.
In fact, legalisation has led to an increase in both human trafficking and rights abuses. The existence of a legal sex industry has also made it harder to prove offences linked to exploitation.
In contrast, anti-prostitution measures elsewhere in Europe show more promise.
The “Nordic model”, in operation in Sweden (1999) and Norway (2008), criminalises the buying of sex. Street prostitution in Sweden has halved, violence to prostitutes in Norway has decreased, criminal networks see less opportunity for profit, and fewer women are recruited into the industry.
The fundamental cause of human trafficking lies in political instability. Libya is an eye-opening case study. Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been a nation of warring militias. There is no effective authority to oppose people smugglers. Border security is abysmal.
Arab and African migrants are soon eager to move on from Libya, where they experience the violence of warring militias, a deteriorating economy and crime, especially against dark-skinned migrants.
While the Vatican renews the fight against human trafficking, secular authorities must do their part to eradicate the plague.
Bringing political and economic stability to developing nations must be a goal, and will eliminate the desperate conditions that tempt people to risk their lives to flee their home countries.
The situation of lawless Libya must be avoided, where criminals have a free rein. To prevent the exploitation of migrants in their target countries, the disaster of the legalised sex industry must be acknowledged.
More realistic and effective solutions, such as the Nordic model, should be considered. Even so, the fight against human trafficking will not be a short one.