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Women religious link human trafficking to family homelessness

  • Anne Kelleher

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Image Renate

Women religious of UNANIMA International have launched a new publication with the results of their research on links between human trafficking and family homelessness. At the launch of 'The Intersections of Family Homelessness and Human Trafficking,' in an international webinar on 11 May, speakers from Australia, Philippines, India, Italy, Albania, USA and Ireland, spotlighted the vulnerability of homeless people to being trafficked. It was hosted by Sr Jean Quinn, Congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom and Executive Director of UNANIMA International.

UNANIMA International is a coalition of women religious in 83 countries who advocate on behalf of women and children, particularly those living in poverty, migrants and refugees, homeless and displaced, and in the context of environmental issues. Its work takes place primarily at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and the present focus is on homelessness and displacement. Addressing family homelessness, displacement and trauma are integral to achieving the 2030 Agenda for UN Sustainable Development Goals and the pledge to 'leave no one behind, especially those furthest left behind.'

At the webinar, Sr Imelda Poole, IBVM, President of RENATE Europe (Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation), drew upon her work at Mary Ward Loreto in Albania to highlight exploitative cross-border transits affecting those marginalised in Albanian society. She linked the starkness of the situation for the Roma community in Albania and undocumented Romanian girls living on the street at Euston Station, London. Imelda felt ineffective legislation plays a part in the intersections of family homelessness and human trafficking when in so many countries worldwide, domestic workers - largely immigrant women - are often unprotected by labour laws. In Britain, thousands of identified trafficked people are now lost in the system and they cannot access benefits. They are offered work and they disappear. Imelda warned of the "decivilisation" of human society.

Sr Amarachi Grace Ezeonu, SND, representing the sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at the UN, told the story of a homeless mother and her young daughter in Northern Nigeria who were offered accommodation and work by a man who befriended them. Then one day he was gone and had taken the young girl with him, leaving the mother distraught. Their vulnerability left them open to exploitation.

Sr Noelene Simmons, of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking), reported on emerging issues of migrants and homelessness in Oceania. A woman who was a trafficking victim from the Philippines told her heart-rending story of surviving being forced into prostitution while being homelessness. She attributed her recovery to the support she received from women religious who guided her rehabilitation and opened up choices in her life.

The Co-ordinator of Talitha Kum - a network of Catholic nuns working in anti-human trafficking - Gabriella Bottani, spoke on transnational, collaborative anti-human trafficking work across 92 countries on seven continents. Its theme for the 2021 International Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking on 8 February, An Economy without Human Trafficking, highlighted the dominant economic model as a major cause of human trafficking.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was referenced by all speakers. Imelda highlighted the closure of homeless shelters and drop-in centres; the closure of police front-desks; charities and non-governmental organisations furloughing staff and the ensuing lack of support to protect homeless people. All this has contributed to destitute and desperate people falling into the hands of predators, seizing opportunities to exploit those who are at their most vulnerable.

Referring to research by a UK-based foundation, Street Links, www.streetlink.org.uk, Imelda stressed that displaced peoples have human rights and are members of society and yet they suffer daily deprivation and discrimination. With increased unemployment arising from the pandemic, hundreds of homeless people are recruited into 'slave' labour from street corners and soup kitchens, lured by the empty promises of cash, food, drink or drugs. Imelda talked about people being locked into squalid conditions, beaten, forced to work unrelenting hours and without access to fundamental human rights. She challenged those living in the UK, with, "which of us can say we don't know much of this' now that radio programmes such as The Archers and drama TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy have incorporated the themes of human trafficking and homelessness in various episodes in the past year?" She highlighted our complicity in factors contributing to human trafficking: systemic poverty, breakdown of family leading to dysfunction, homelessness as we demand cheaper goods and services to maximise profits.

She felt there is a moral imperative to respond, raise awareness, and undertake research and advocacy. Raising awareness at night shelters, for example, is undertaken by The Clewer Initative https://theclewerinitiative.org. The launch of 'The Intersections of Family Homelessness and Human Trafficking' is an important contribution to this mission.

Anne Kelleher is in charge of RENATE Communications.

See the full report, 'The Intersections of Family Homelessness and Human Trafficking' at:

https://unanima-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Intersections-Publication-2.pdf

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