Address by the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
I would like to thank the Vatican and in particular Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo for organising today’s event. It is a pleasure to be here alongside so many leaders in and people passionate to see refugees welcome, these are some of the most vulnerable people in our world.
Firstly I would like to recognise the efforts of Italy and Greece. They have been at the front of the international response to those who arrive in Europe and we should thank the Mayor of Lesbos, Lampedusa and Palermo, where I have seen first-hand the dignity their communities show to some of the most vulnerable who and how they have shouldered the worlds response which often the rest of the world stood by and merely observed… as we heard so clearly and compassionately this morning from Mayor Galinos and Mayor Orlando.
The trafficking of millions of people around the world is a crime that deprives people of their right to life, right to security and right to freedom, and crisis situations are precisely the places where this crime thrives. The IOM reported that as many as 70 percent of those arriving across the Mediterranean display indicators of being trafficked, that means they have been exploited in some way, often sold for sex, forced to commit crimes or forced labour.
It is therefore vital that we better incorporate protection measures against modern slavery and human trafficking and the risks to migrant into global humanitarian responses.
65.3 million people are now on the move, fleeing conflict and persecution – a record high. With limited ways to provide for their families, displaced people are highly susceptible to being deceived into exploitation by traffickers promising a better life. This vulnerability can arise in an instant and these crisis situations are resulting in increased levels of human slavery across the world.
The injustice we are seeing in the current refugee crisis is unprecedented and unacceptable. The crisis is fuelling the evil trade in human beings as criminals opportunistically take advantage of some of the world’s most vulnerable. It is our duty to develop and implement measures that not only protect and support existing refugees and migrants, but future travellers too.
This is why I have submitted reports and recommendations to 3 UK secretaries of states, solely focused on the refugee crisis and risks of trafficking and slavery. Following my visits to Calais, Italy and Greece, I have outlined the suffering I witnessed and pushed for the action so urgently required and some of these recommendation are now being implemented.
Ultimately, my aim is for protection of the vulnerable and a warm welcome for those who have no hope of a home elsewhere.
I was astounded and amazed at the number of unaccompanied children stranded and at high risk once they arrive in Europe. Every child has a different story, and therefore requires a unique response, but many do indeed share risk factors that need to be understood and addressed accordingly.
I have found that children who have suffered from abuse in their past may not recognise the trafficking situation as they would consider it to be ‘normal’, or something they have become used to. In addition, a number of health practitioners have found that emotional and psychological disorder in a child enhances vulnerability and attachment issues, often to their exploiter.
Unaccompanied children are more likely to have excessive trust in strangers, who appear to take care of them who then force them into committing petty crimes, alcohol misuse and drug taking. Furthermore, a strong desire to escape poverty and deprivation pushes children to accept some degree of exploitation and abuse.
It is up to us to intervene and in particular protect these young people. The vulnerability these children face is an evil of exploitation and this demands a humanitarian response, and it is the responsibility of this generation to deliver.
Such a response will need to address: immediate care provisions upon arrival; child specific assistance; effective assessment of all vulnerability to trafficking; and long term sustainable support, integration and forward planning that anticipates the needs of those who are yet to arrive.
We also need to go back to the beginning, to the root of the problem, and look at development in countries of origin. We need to better understand the push and pull factors that lead people to undertake such perilous journeys. Until we tackle this at source, we are only providing a band-aid approach, never truly dealing with the wound itself.
We must also focus on capacity building of law enforcement. Criminals use every opportunity to exploit the vulnerabilities of migrants and refugees, in particular children, and we must be one step ahead. Criminals know exactly what migrants need. They abused their trust and communicate deceitful messages.
In Thessaloniki I met a young family in their tent who had a 6 day old baby. The father, a 27 year old Syrian was a civil engineer, his wife a trainee doctor. He explained how many of his friends and family had been killed and he could never have imagined in his lifetime have taken such huge risks on the dangerous route to Europe, including travelling across the Mediterranean.
His current circumstance was far from what he imagined or anticipated when at university, but these are the lives we must protect.
I believe that human trafficking and modern slavery are a serious organised crime and have to be addressed as such. This means adopting a similar law enforcement approach to counter terrorism, including using covert techniques to collect intelligence and build a better picture of the on-going crime in order to drastically disrupt the criminal networks.
In these circumstances of despair we see inspiration and hope, doctors and nurses who are volunteering to deliver lifesaving medical support, to the coastguards who jump into the dangerous waters to rescue drowning mothers and children; but in addition to this, I hope to see concerted efforts from governments and states to deliver the change they repeatedly promise.
Modern slavery and human trafficking is described by the UK’s Prime Minister as the great human rights issue of our time; the European migrant situation is described by the UN’s Secretary General as the worst refugee crisis since World War 2; so bring these two issues, the migrant crisis and the trafficking of human beings together and we have the world’s biggest issue, but we do not have the world delivering coordinated or proportionate response.
The family I met with in Greece asked that I do all I can to ensure their 6 day old child can have a life of normality in what has become a very abnormal world.
As leaders it is up to us to do all we can and indeed demand that our governments, cities, towns and agencies across the globe view success in the terms of how we treat our fellow man, so that that 6 day old child and his generation can look at us as the people who made a better world and not just the generation who said a great deal but acted merely as observers, watching as things simply declined and where the value of human life was merely a marginal issue.
From my position I will do all I can to protect and serve that 6 day old child, so his generation and beyond are not the commodities of vile criminal exploiters and we can place this abuse where it belongs, into the annals of the world’s libraries in the history books.