Today, Pope Francis has called on the Church to pray and raise awareness about the violence and injustice that impacts victims of human trafficking and declared the day International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. As we respond to his call reflect on this day, let us remember those victims, especially those who are refugees and migrants.
Pope Francis chose this day as it is the feast of St. Josephine Bachata, the patron saint of anti-trafficking who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in southern Sudan and Italy. After Josephine was freed, she became a Canossa nun and dedicated her life to sharing her testimony of liberation from slavery and uplifting the poor and suffering.
Though St. Josephine was kidnapped and enslaved almost 100 years ago, stories like hers continue today. According to Global Slavery Index and UNICEF, 45.8 million people are enslaved in the world and at least 1.2 million children are trafficked every year.
Refugees and displaced people are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Forcibly displaced people, including millions of children, arrive in new places and countries, often separated from their family with few resources, precarious legal status, and psychological damage from trauma they’ve experienced – all circumstances which could make them vulnerable to traffickers who prey on people lack security and opportunity.
In recent years, human rights organizations have found refugees to be at the center of human trafficking operations. For example, in 2014, Human Rights Watch found that hundreds and perhaps thousands of Eritrean refugees who fled to camps in Sudan from government persecution in Eritrea were kidnapped and sent to human traffickers in Egypt. While, the more than eight-year war in Syria has forced thousands of children into becoming child soldiers and countless women into sexual slavery.
JRS will continue to uphold its mission to protect these refugees and migrants, by maintaining a robust humanitarian response and ensuring that host communities make available procedures for regularization and integration of those who are displaced.
As we recognize this International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, we ask that you open your hearts to the victims, especially those migrants and refugees.
To learn more about human trafficking and what you can do to respond visit the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development’s Refugee and Migrants Section’s website.