The Covid-19 pandemic and environmental change have combined to “increase exponentially” the scourge of human trafficking, according to the Archbishop of Westminster.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Santa Marta Group, said the spread of poverty and instability is being used by international criminal networks pushing forward modern slavery.
“Levels of basic hunger are widespread; people living without a basic income; millions left jobless: all lead to a profound vulnerability open to the most terrible exploitation,” he said, speaking at the launch of the Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse at St Mary’s University, Twickenham,
The research centre, originally established in 2015, has been relaunched as a “flagship” centre intended to respond to the growing scale of human trafficking and slavery in the UK and worldwide and to feed into anti-slavery and human trafficking policy at the highest level, in the UK and internationally.
Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and chancellor of St Mary's, said both the pandemic and environmental change were serving to “increase exponentially” the scourge of human trafficking.
He said: “Levels of basic hunger are widespread; people living without a basic income; millions left jobless: all lead to a profound vulnerability open to the most terrible exploitation.”
He spoke about the support of Pope Francis for the Santa Marta group and other anti-trafficking endeavours.
“The contribution of the Santa Marta Group to the struggle against human trafficking, is to act as a catalyst in bringing together, around the world, the resources of the Catholic Church and the leaders of law enforcement agencies, with a focus on the care of victims. This is one of many essential partnerships in the world-wide fight against the evil trade in the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Our work will be enhanced by this centre, as will the work of all who are engaged in this battle. Everyone participating in this gathering will not only contribute to this work but also benefit greatly from it.”
Other speakers included the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton, who said: “I’m pleased to see the work at St Mary’s University enter an exciting new phase of research, training and education in this important area.” She continued: “I have seen first-hand the crucial role that practitioners play in supporting those affected by trafficking and exploitation. Understanding what works from the survivor-centred and trauma-informed approaches of experts is essential.”
Karen Anstiss, service manager of the Caritas Bakhita House, a refuge for women escaping human trafficking, also spoke, along with the director of the Snowdrop Project, Lara Bundock, who spoke on the National Training Standards Framework to Support Victims and Survivors of Modern Slavery, which was launched in partnership with St Mary’s in 2020.