LEICESTER, United Kingdom – One of the founders of the Vatican-sponsored anti-trafficking Santa Marta Group has resigned his post as Britain’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
The former head of the anti-trafficking unit for the Metropolitan Police, Kevin Hyland was appointed to the newly created national post in 2014 and given the mandate to coordinate Britain’s efforts to tackle modern slavery, as well as strengthening international efforts to battle the crimes linked to slavery, including money laundering, corruption, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Shortly before taking up his anti-slavery post, he helped to establish the Santa Marta Group – named after the Vatican guesthouse which serves as Pope Francis’s residence – which helps police departments work with local religious groups and NGOs in helping the victims of human trafficking.
While serving in the Metropolitan Police, Hyland realized that in order to battle the trafficking industry, his officers needed access to the information networks – the “eyes and ears” – that parishes and religious orders represent, especially religious sisters who are on the front lines working with trafficking victims.
Working with English Cardinal Vincent Nichols, he established the informal network of cops and religious groups that would turn into the Santa Marta Group, after Francis invited the participants to the Vatican to give it his endorsement and official support.
Nichols said in a May 17 statement that he was “full of admiration” for Hyland.
“He has been dedicated to the fight against human trafficking for a number of years and during his time in office public awareness has grown about the extent of this terrible crime and the need to combat it on a number of different levels,” the cardinal said.
In his resignation letter, Hyland hinted that the independence of the anti-slavery commissioner, which is guaranteed by the UK’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act, was not being honored by the British Home Office, which serves the same functions as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
“At times independence has felt somewhat discretionary from the Home Office, rather than legally bestowed,” Hyland wrote. “I hope that any future incumbent can be assured the independence I am sure you intended as the author of the legislation.”
Nichols said he hopes the government will “speedily” appoint a successor for Hyland, and “increase its active support” for the work of the commission.
“As Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin has always argued for greater resources that have often been promised. He has also argued for a more coordinated approach to combatting this terrible crime. I sincerely hope that his considerable experience and expertise in this field will not be lost,” the cardinal said.
Last week, the Public Accounts Committee of the British Parliament called on the government to do more to better understand the problem of human trafficking and to develop a “coherent action” against the crime.
“The government cannot hope to target resources in an effective manner until it properly understands the scale and nature of the challenge. This crime is complex, and a piecemeal approach will not cut it,” said Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, according to The Independent.
“The government must get a grip on what works and what doesn’t – when things change, it must be sufficiently informed and agile to respond,” she said.