ROME – One of the Vatican’s top officials on migration has said that strict policies increase the risk of human trafficking, as the lack of safe and legal routes force many people to take more dangerous channels thereby falling into the hands of smugglers.
“What I think is going to happen in North America, and I think it’s very important, is to see that migration policy and trafficking are linked. The more difficult we make it for people to move, the more likely they are to be trafficked,” said Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny.
“That’s a very important consideration if we’re really concerned about human rights and human dignity,” he said.
Czerny, one of two undersecretaries of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development who oversee the department’s section for migrants and refugees, spoke to journalists after the Jan. 17 publication of two new Vatican documents on migration and human trafficking.
The first, called “Lights on the Ways of Hope,” is a collection of Pope Francis’s reflections on migration dating back to Easter 2013. The second, titled “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking,” is 42 pages and focuses on the reality of human trafficking and responses to the problem, offering 10 guidelines for pastoral practice and policy-making for civil authorities.
Both documents were published as the migration issue continues to spark international debate, especially in Europe and the United States, both of which are facing serious crises.
Several migrant caravans from Central America have either set out for or arrived at the southern border of the U.S., one of which is from violence-plagued El Salvador. A caravan from Honduras that left a month ago and started out at around 5,000 people made it to the U.S. border late last fall, having splintered to just 300 by the time they arrived.
The continued high influx of migrants has reignited debate as to the Trump administration’s allocation of funding aimed at preventing migrant caravans from making it to the border.
Europe also has been hit by a series of recent incidents in which vessels at times carrying hundreds of migrants were unable to dock in any Mediterranean port.
The most recent case to make headlines was the plight of some 49 people stuck at sea for nearly three weeks aboard two German NGO ships, SeaWatch 3 and Sea Eye. Both vessels were finally allowed to dock in Malta after a deal was struck to disperse the passengers in eight different member states of the European Union.
Czerny said one reason the Vatican issued new guidelines on trafficking is because while the phenomenon has always been a problem, it has changed drastically in recent years, the novelty being “the large, mixed flows of migrants and refugees” seen in the media.
“This is fertile, fertile ground for trafficking,” he said, noting that many people who start their journeys intending to stay on safe routes quickly find themselves “not only not escaping danger, but finding themselves trapped in something they could not have even imagined.”
The Church, he said, is “deeply committed” to promoting the dignity of the human person and seeks to offer support to those who have been trafficked, smuggled, or who are simply lost or abandoned.
“For us who come from North America, we’re probably surprised at how much trafficking there is in North America,” he said, and offered an example of a teenage girl who fights with her parents and takes a bus to a neighboring big city.
“By the time she gets there she’s already very confused and very upset,” he said, noting that it wouldn’t take long, especially at night, for a seemingly kind-hearted stranger to offer help, and “you can fill out the rest of the story. After a few days, can she go back to suburbia after what has already happened? She is very, very, very stuck. She’s been trafficked.”
Pointing to the set of guidelines, Czerny said they are intended not only to be a resource for Catholic parishes, schools and organizations, but they are also proposals for policy, with the hope that both civil leaders and ordinary citizens would recognize the need to do more to prevent trafficking at home, and abroad.
To help in the implementation of the guidelines, the migrants and refugees section of the Vatican development office has organized a 3-day conference in April aimed at studying the 10 points offered in the pamphlet. Though no formal dates have been announced, the event will draw participation from experts, church leaders, diplomats, civil representatives and trafficking survivors.
Speaking to journalists, Italian Father Fabio Baggio, also an undersecretary of the migrants and refugees section, said his department has been in consistent contact with the Holy See’s permanent missions to the United Nations in New York, Vienna and Geneva about the issue.
While policies on trafficking that were spelled out in the 2000 U.N. Palermo Convention against transnational organized crime provided a solid basis, “the different kinds of human trafficking have been developing so fast, that whatever was said before is not enough,” Baggio said.
“We have to think about different ideas, where the background we have is that the dignity of a person is abused and exploited in a commercial way,” he said, noting that many products sold at significantly marked-down prices are often produced with slave labor.
He said that many organizations and governments are interested in joining forces with the Holy See to educate and lessen ignorance on the issue.
“This is what we would like to see done from their side, but we are not just standing at the side and waiting,” Baggio said, referring to the role of the Church. “We would also like to work, work together with (them), but also going and looking for survivors and helping them as much as we can.”