A lack of reliable data on human trafficking in Africa hinders aid reaching people who desperately need it, said the continental coordinator for Caritas Internationalis.
People displaced through violence “are extremely vulnerable to trafficking,” Albert Mashika, regional coordinator for Caritas Africa, said in a telephone interview from Abuja, capital of Nigeria on 6th September.
“We need to gather our own data to strengthen our work and ensure that it is evidence-based,” Mashika said, noting a lack of expertise and resources in Africa to deal with the enormity of the problem.
More than 130 representatives of faith-based organisations, international and regional groups, and law enforcement agencies from 43 countries met in Abuja for a meeting held between 5th-7th September and organised by Caritas with the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers.
Participants included Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja; Comboni Missionary Sr Gabriella Bottani, coordinator of Talitha Kum, a Rome-based international network of religious sisters working to end human trafficking; and the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’adu Abubakar, one of Nigeria’s most influential Islamic leaders.
Trafficking of children, trafficking for sexual exploitation and for domestic servitude were among the topics discussed at the meeting.
“People in general are not aware of the extent of human trafficking and the impact it has on our cities and villages,” said Mashika, who is based in the West African nation of Togo.
Trafficking is particularly rife in conflict-ridden countries, he said, noting that the uprising in Nigeria of the extremist group Boko Haram has had “ripple effects” on other countries in the region, including Chad, Niger and Mali.
“Social cohesion is destroyed” as people leave their homes and villages to escape the violence and “these are circumstances in which trafficking flourishes,” Mashika said.
Poverty is the “most visible issue connected to trafficking,” but there are many underlying problems, including “corruption, mismanagement of resources, and lack of transparency in governance,” he said.
“It is crucial that the Church increases its efforts” to combat trafficking and that it strengthens its ties with other faith and humanitarian organisations doing the same work, he said.
“The resources for this work are limited, so we need to make sure that we work in areas that we can put our competencies to their best use,” he said.
Providing assistance to victims of trafficking is “our main focus as Church,” Mashika said.
According to Caritas Internationalis, 60 million people were either refugees or forcibly displaced in 2015.
“Driven by a desperate need to survive and desire to build a better life,” people forced to flee conflict, poverty and persecution ‘are particularly vulnerable to both sexual and labor exploitation,’ Caritas said in a statement.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, told participants on 6th September, “Slavery starts when people do not respect their own humanity, their bodies and their spiritual potential.
“They see themselves, and consequently other persons, as mere instruments or objects to attain some goal, especially money, profit, influence or power,” the cardinal said. He was quoted in a blog post by Michelle Hough, Caritas communications officer on 7th September.
Hough said trafficking victims are ‘men working to pick Europe’s strawberries in hothouses in southern Spain for little pay and no rights’ and ‘women tricked into prostitution and walking the streets of towns and cities around the world’.
They are ‘Thai fishermen who’re kept in cages on boats without pay and often without food so they can catch fish that ends up being served in the world’s restaurants,’ she said.
Picture: Internally displaced women gather in early February at New Kichigoro camp outside Abuja, Nigeria. People displaced through violence “are extremely vulnerable to trafficking,” said Albert Mashika, regional coordinator for Caritas Africa. (CNS photo/Wolfgang Kumm, EPA).