Seeking Sanctuary: Speaking out on behalf of ‘strangers’

Phil Kerton, Co-Director of Seeking Sanctuary (CSAN Member Charity)

I start to write this on a ferry heading towards Calais, a journey often made when representing my employers on European collaborations. But, unlike about twenty other voyages during the past couple of years, this one is not for business, nor for shopping or dining in France. I’m again delivering goods to one of the Calais warehouses for distribution to needy migrants across France and beyond. I’m also taking a cheque to a project that has been supported by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the “migrants’ wardrobe” of Secours Catholique – approximately France’s Christian Aid – currently harassed by the local council and national riot police.

It’s not too difficult as I live only an hour’s drive from Dover. What is tough is seeing and hearing about the sorry state of thousands making dangerous journeys to flee violence and poverty, only to end up blocked from further travel towards their chosen goal. They may be misguided in choosing Britain as a destination – reaching Calais some do not know that there is another sea crossing to make – but they arrive cold, hungry, weary and unwashed and usually with shoes and clothes worn to tatters.

Many think that “Calais is over – the migrant camp has gone.” But the recent episode of the “Jungle” was only the most recent in the decades-long saga of the arrival of exiles. Although thousands were dispersed across France as November began, people remain in the camp near Dunkirk, along with a couple of smaller settlements nearby, totalling about 2000. Additional scores of newcomers and returnees turn up daily; about 500 sleep rough in woods and fields around the town or are hidden by sympathisers. The streets of Paris are home to thousands too, who for the present, hesitate to travel further.

A great network for finding and bringing donations to the Calais aid warehouses and kitchens still operates. Some items are often in short supply, volunteer workers are less numerous, and cash donations remain welcome. Money goes toward buying food locally and ordering items in bulk to benefit from wholesale prices and generous discounts.

The former camp developed an amazing society. Smelly in the summer and boggy and partly flooded when winter gales blew in from the sea, its residents always offered warm welcomes and generous hospitality. There were bars, cafés, clubs, gyms, hairdressers, a library and mosques (regularly filled for worshippers marking the daily sequence of prayer). There were also two churches, until French bulldozers demolished the supposedly safe Protestant Church whilst clearing a space around the camp perimeter in May 2016. The Eritrean Orthodox Church remained until the end, with an ever-growing number of impressive icons produced by one of its flock, some now in London.

The scriptures tell many tales of migration, with prophets repeatedly warning rulers that they would be judged by their treatment of the least of their inhabitants – widows, orphans and strangers. The Church has long recognised the right of people to flee war and natural disasters, and the right to try to escape from poverty and seek a better life. Yes: we are called to do what we can to provide constructive help and spiritual support to so-called “economic migrants”, within generous limits. Pope Pius XII wrote a masterly account of the development of Church practice in 1952, when Europeans headed for North America to seek new lives in the aftermath of war. All travellers are human beings, made in God’s likeness. Pope Francis has not invented a new concern, but follows other recent Pontiffs in speaking out on behalf of “the strangers”.

Discovering unprecedented numbers leaving the Middle East and Africa to reach southern Europe, the European Union seemed ill prepared and without a plan of solidarity to support the nations at its external frontier. A small proportion arrive at the French coast where they find very little state support, just humanitarian aid from a large number of volunteers. I find a warehouse needing donations and volunteers, as expected, and with kitchens still preparing food despite an official Calais ban on crowds gathering in locations known to migrants. As a consequence, distribution points now move around. One group reported a 20% drop in the number of meals being collected.

I carefully pass by the armed riot police outside the Secours Catholique premises. There are objections to their provision of showers, a necessity for health and individual dignity. The police detain those who use the facility and staff and volunteers are saddened and puzzled that services offered to the sick and vulnerable are being denied to their sisters and brothers in Christ. Please pray for their perseverance in the face of adversity.


This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 17.03.17

Medaille Trust: A Reflection on the Fight Against Trafficking

Dr Mike Emberson, CEO of Medaille Trust (CSAN Member Charity)

I first became aware of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK around the year 2000. I later started to believe what I was hearing was true in about 2002.  In 2003 I had the opportunity to tentatively begin some work on the problem with the Salvation Army and then with Migrant Helpline.  In 2011 I was fortunate to be asked to join the Medaille Trust and become part of their, now ten year long, fight against this evil. It’s been quite a journey and it will continue, hopefully for a few more years before I pass the baton to those younger than me.  Younger and less cynical perhaps. Let me explain.

A long, long time ago I was in the Army and was trained to be part of a Field Interrogation Team. We spend much time studying  what was known as the ‘dislocation of expectations’ or how disconcerting and bewildering it can be for events to unfold in a manner one was not prepared for.  Having read a little on the subject of trafficking and having met a few practitioners in the field I knew what to expect and what needed to be done.  It would be a great crusade, a great mission etched in black and white terms, the forces of good all unified together to struggle with the forces of evil, with ultimately, of course, the power of Christ prevailing.

Of course it was not, and still is not, like that.  It never was and it will never be a simplistic, ethically clear issue. First of all victims are human beings not stereotypical examples of an homogenous whole.   They are, in short, not what we want them to be – they are not all beautiful young East European women chained to beds in London brothels, grateful to be rescued and compliant to how we feel they should approach their recovery and sharing our dreams for their futures.  Victims are also aggressive male Poles with alcohol issues, feisty Thai women trying to pay for the education of their children through engaging in prostitution, they are timid Vietnamese boys entangled in criminal gangs who grow cannabis in the house next door to you and whose degree of agency or complicity in the drug trade is hard to establish.

Nor is the environment we operate in what we would like it to be. There’s much talk of partnership, collaboration, shared values and joint working. In reality it is an ugly world of competition and hidden agendas where the focus is often far from a victim’s needs.  There is much to disgust. There is a real feeling that the fight against trafficking with its Government support and funding has attracted some unwelcome additions – the foreign charities arriving with inappropriate models of operation that do not transfer well to the UK setting, the international NGOs who spend the money we given on the bloated salaries of the staff so that they can do more fundraising.  The individuals and agencies posturing for personal or organisational aggrandisement, the neo-vigilante groups and those with hidden agendas around proselytising to the weak and vulnerable or changing laws that have only a tangential connection to trafficking.  The rush to the bottom with some anti- trafficking activities has been inexorable and some of us hunger for the early days when a handful of charities, like the Medaille Trust, worked in the field.  The response then may have been inadequate but it was at least a response of doing things, practical, effective things not posturing.  If only we had the money then that is available now. What we could have done!  I doubt it would have been investing in solving the problem through interpretive dance companies or dinner parties for corporate financiers who might just pay your CEO’s next pay rise if you are obsequious enough.

Why then persist with helping in the anti-trafficking fight?

Because despite everything that has been done the staff of Medaille still hear and see, on a daily basis, the pain and the suffering of victims. The shame and the broken lives. The despair and the fear. The tears and the sobs.  The unbelievable inhumanity of men and women to their brothers and sisters.  ‘The horror, the horror’ of a modern heart of darkness.

So we continue because Christ has given us our instructions in Matthew 25, in James 2 and in the two great commandments to love God and love others. Because, as 1Corinthians tells us, love is patient, kind, protective, trustworthy, hopeful and persevering. It never fails and is not envious, boastful, proud, dishonourable, self-seeking, easily angered nor does it bear grudges.   And it will never be redundant while victims are stretched on their Christ like cross.

And so I plod on with a wry smile in the ‘sure and certain hope’ that somehow, someway, someday I may do a very little good. Bring a ‘little touch of Harry in the night’.  Be able to live with myself, knowing that I could not do so if I did nothing. Deus Vult.


This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 03.03.17.

Seeking Sanctuary: Conditions worsening in Calais

Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary, the Kent-based charity and member of the Caritas network working with the migrants in Calais and Dunkirk, brings you the latest from Pas-de-Calais.  As Heidi Allen MP stated in a parliamentary debate on Thursday 23rd February 2017, one of the many reasons to help child refugees in Greece and Italy is to prevent “another Calais” situation.

Volunteers in Calais have confirmed that there were probably close to 500 migrants around Calais, swelled daily by both fresh arrivals and returnees. The Paris situation is forecast to become yet more dire soon, as people realise that Germany has largely closed its doors.

The reception centres across France to which people were distributed upon the destruction of the “Jungle” are now closing, and those who have not applied for asylum will again without shelter and will probably make their way towards Paris and Calais. People found sleeping in the open are moved on by police; their bedding is confiscated and left out in the rain, or sprayed with pepper to render it unusable.

Harassment extends to those providing humanitarian aid, especially on the streets of Paris. Secours Catholique (Caritas France) is not immune – people were questioned when two young men were found sheltering from the early morning rain beneath a temporary building module, while waiting for the Calais Day Centre to open. A more detailed account is available at Independent Catholic News.

We have also been told of attempts to prevent access to showers at the association’s ‘wardrobe’ facility in Rue Moscou (where donations of clothes are distributed to refugees). A Town Hall official blocked the entrance with his car, which was replaced by a large rubbish skip (pictured above).

The following Monday, a judge in Lille gave the Calais council 24 hours to remove the rubbish skip. She made no comment upon the legality of the installation of the showers, but was certain that the misuse of the skip was an illegal act. The council said that it accepted the verdict but would continue its efforts to deter migrants from staying in the area. In the meantime, 25 people took showers in peace that Tuesday before the skip was removed on Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime the Council formally instructed Secours Catholique to cease all building work: too late, as shower installation was complete. Councillors, fearing that Calais will become a stopping point for migrants in transit, issued a statement: “No one denies the distress of people fleeing their country and getting stuck in Calais in the utmost destitution. Today, as in the past, there is no question of the city stigmatising the migrants themselves. Our territory is again penalised by a migratory phenomenon which is not the responsibility of its inhabitants.”

Then, several van-loads of CRS (national riot police, based in Calais for many months) parked nearby. Their official purpose is to stop the activities of people smugglers. Taking care to clear their actions with their superiors by radio, they detained a handful of teenage youths who had intended to get showered. In addition, they arrested a Sécours Catholique staff member who was bringing the migrants to take showers, and a journalist. This suggested that the adults were considered to have breached the legal Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum, which provides that ‘any person who, by direct or indirect assistance, facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, illegal movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 Euros’.

Interviews with the frontier police followed, and apparently everyone had a pleasant hour-long conversation before being released without charge, leaving the youths wandering the streets again, in search of shelter.

Didier Degrémont, regional president of Secours Catholique said that the people detained had arrived in one of their vans when police had prevented its entry to their courtyard, then checked IDs and taken everyone away. He commented that the climate in Calais has been tense for some time: “Our actions have always upset the town hall, which is in total denial of the presence of migrants.”  But he stressed that the arrest of an employee, along with the migrants and the journalist was a new step. “It has never been of that nature,” he said. He believes that a repressive system is being established around the Calais migrants, with intimidation in operation to prevent Secours Catholique offering showers for children.

The latest press reports say that ten more youngsters and four adults were detained yesterday as they arrived at Secours Catholique’s premises. They say that all migrants are being denied entry, not just those wanting showers; Secours Catholique are appealing to the human rights ombudsman.

Meantime, warm clothes and bedding are still required, as are volunteers: details of the latest appeal have been published here (last checked 24 February 2017).

Bedding, warm clothes and other items currently listed on the Calais warehouse websites are still required (http://care4calais.org/donate/  and www.helprefugees.org.uk/news/northern-france-latest-needs-3/).  Seeking Sanctuary (www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com) is always pleased to provide advice about packing goods and getting them to France.

The Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Calais is also in need of volunteers, both short-term (weekends or odd days) and long-term (three months or more, live-in). Tasks include: housekeeping, prayer, cooking, writing, accompanying refugees, helping in English or French, sign-posting, distribution of aid material and befriending. Please contact johanmaertens@hotmail.com if you are interested.

Seeking Sanctuary: Calais crisis has not gone away

Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary, the Kent-based charity and member of the Caritas network working with the migrants in Calais and Dunkirk, brings you the latest from Pas-de-Calais.

We have made recent trips to deliver much-needed goods collected by a number of Church Communities. A very generous donation from a church in North London enabled us to distribute €1,000 to Secours Catholique and to the Catholic Worker House which is doing such vital work in protecting vulnerable migrants in Calais.

All the reports what we heard point to the fact that the crisis in Calais has not gone away – it has merely gone underground. Estimates vary but it is thought that between 200 and 800 people have left the CAO centres (where refugees are processed) to which they were transported in various locations across France, and have returned to Calais.

Here, they are eking out a fragile existence in disused warehouses, in fields and ditches and in other spots where they cannot be seen.

Warm clothes been particularly welcome in the recent freezing temperatures, forming part of the aid which is being distributed discreetly from vans by volunteers, often under cover of darkness.


Many unaccompanied minors are also present in Calais, having left the centres to which they were taken in November, often in remote areas of France, and returned to Calais, hoping to join their friends and get to England.

Many of these youngsters have lost hope of being resettled by officials. Consequently they are trying their chances in Calais in dangerous and freezing conditions.

We also hear disturbing reports about the situation in Paris where the number of places in the official shelters is nowhere near enough to match the need and hence many hundreds of migrants are having to brave the cold and freezing conditions on the streets. The warehouses in Calais are delivering much needed supplies to Paris and further afield.

The demand for humanitarian aid is as high as ever – especially for warm clothes, sleeping bags and food.

You can find out more about how to respond through the Calaid-ipedia website.


The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

Change to “culture of homelessness” still needed for prisoners

Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant 

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Member’s Bill proposed by Bob Blackman MP, is currently progressing through the Houses of Parliament. In seeking to change the Housing Act of 1996, the Bill is a step in the right direction of reducing the number of homeless people in the UK through improving local authority services. Latest statistics by the Department for Local Communities and Government show that levels of rough sleeping rose by 51% from 2014 to autumn 2016.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help local authorities identify and help those faced with losing their homes, but steps still need to be taken to prevent prisoners from becoming homeless once they are released.

On Wednesday 26th January, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness met in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the difficulties prisoners face in finding a home, which add to the UK’s “culture of homelessness”.

Contributions were made by two people who have experienced problems first-hand, Karen and Mike, who now work for the homeless charities Emmaus and Community Voice Council. They described ex-prisoners as being “at the mercy of the local authority” due to a lack of one-to-one advisory sessions on housing before release. They both experienced anxiety in prison over the uncertainty they faced, and stressed how prisoners should be put in touch with a housing service at least 3 to 6 months before their sentence ends. Currently only 2 out of 9 prisoners have a home in place, leading to higher levels of homelessness and re-offending.

Another difficulty which Karen and Mike both experienced was their low priority status. “If you’re healthy, you’re not a priority”, they agreed. A lack of affordable housing means that local authorities cannot help all those in need of a home at the same time. Those with mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and women who have children or are pregnant are prioritised. They also said that prisoners should be held in a prison which is in the best location for finding a home, rather than be moved to a different category prison which breaks local links.

Sally Hill, the Deputy Governor at HMP High Down, said that a lack of funding over the last five years has reversed rehabilitative aspects of the justice system. Not a lot can be done to assist prisoners with housing when they are only allowed out of their cell for 45 minutes a day due to low prison staff levels.

The private rented sector is of little help. Ex-prisoners are faced with the task of affording huge deposits, and landlords are unwilling to lower their rents to help local authorities through a shortage of affordable housing.

The problems prisoners face in finding a home are numerous and linked to rising levels of homelessness. Hopefully, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will act as a safety net before wider change is introduced to provide help to prisoners before they are released.


The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

Caritas cure to isolation

Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant

Everyone feels lonely from time to time. However, there is a difference between feeling lonely and being isolated – cut off from friends, family and communities against your will.

Improved life expectancy is one of the greatest achievements of the last century. 17.7% of the UK’s population now consists of those aged 65 or over, and the proportion of those aged 90 or over has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s.

While living longer is a cause for celebration, an increase in the elderly population may also be a cause for concern. The rise in the number of older people having to provide unpaid care, those experiencing bereavement and long-term conditions has led to an increase in social isolation. Latest figures by AgeUK reveal that currently 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with friends or family for a month, and that 3.9 million older people agree that their television is their main source of company.

Isolation severely impacts on health. Not only does the emotional distress caused increase the risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, but also the likelihood of worse physical wellbeing. It is now considered that social isolation is as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is worrying not only for older people themselves, but also for the sustainability of the NHS as the demand for services increases.

However, isolation may be reduced by the remedy of Christian service – as highlighted by a recent paper titled ‘Doing Good: A Future for Christianity in the 21st Century’ by the think tank Theos. Practical love for our neighbours, through our love for God, possesses the ability to relieve isolation in a challenging political landscape by encouraging the flourishing of human relationships.

Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) member charities carry out effective support for older people through building relationships. Caritas Salford run the St Joseph’s Welfare and Befriending centre in North Manchester. A dedicated team provide help with shopping, appointments, utilities, contacting family members and befriending. Catholic Care in Leeds also offer emotional and practical support. Community outreach services and groups provide regular conversation and a listening ear, as well as support with fitness and personal care. Father Hudson’s Care run the Maryvale Community Project in Birmingham, which provides older people with the opportunity to take part in karaoke, quiz nights, crafts and day trips at lunch and social clubs.

The growing problem of isolation presents a significant challenge to mental and physical health across the county, and therefore to Government policy. However, Caritas agencies deliver vital relief grounded in Christian charity, and offer a promising future.

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

Sailors supported after dramatic sea rescue

The Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), a CSAN member charity, provided support to a group of seafarers after their colleague fell ill on board and had to be airlifted to hospital last Friday.

A bulk carrier, HC Jette Marit, was stationed four miles east of Sunderland when its chief engineer suffered a possible heart attack on board and the alarm was raised, prompting a dramatic rescue at sea.

AoS Port of Tyne chaplain Paul Atkinson received a tip-off about the incident and contacted AoS Sunderland ship visitor Sr Mary Scholastica, who boarded the ship to assist the crew as soon as it docked at Sunderland Port.

“The crew members were a bit anxious and worried about their colleague but otherwise they were fine. They were grateful someone had taken the time to visit them and offer support if needed,” said Sr Scholastica said.

Seafarers work and live together within confined spaces, often for long durations of time.  Incidents like this one can trigger stress and anxiety, making it all the more important that they are supported not only practically but  emotionally.

Separately, AoS Plymouth port chaplain Ann Donnelly has expressed relief after seven seafarers were rescued from their sinking ship, Fluvius Tamar, off Ramsgate on the Kent coast over the weekend.

The Fluvius Tamar and its sister ship Fluvius Axe are regular visitors to ports in the South West of Britain and their crews are well known to Ann and her ship visitors.

“Thank God they were all rescued safely. Incidents like this highlight the dangers that seafarers constantly encounter while doing their jobs bringing us the goods and necessities we buy.”


The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

The promise of social mobility broken?

Porsha Nunes-Brown, Network & Communications Officer 

Disadvantaged White British students are the least likely to attend university.

Black children are most likely to grow up in poverty.

Ethnic minority women are more likely to be unemployed.

Those were some of the findings of the Social Mobility Commission’s latest report: Ethnicity, Gender and Social Mobility, revealing the realities faced by certain social groups in the UK.

The underachievement of white British students at primary and secondary school is a major concern, which significantly hampers the likelihood of further education. Currently, disadvantaged young people from white British backgrounds are the least likely to access higher education, with only 1 in 10 of the poorest attending university. The Social Mobility Commission’s report suggest a number of reasons for the lack of educational attainment among disadvantaged white students which includes parental education and engagement, and economic factors.

The Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) works extensively with young people from diverse backgrounds in schools, having published its “Stepping Stones to a More Equal Society” report on ‘how best to support young people, schools and families in marginalised communities’. Also, directly working with young people addressing the social and emotional aspects of learning, with the aim of building self-confidence, self-esteem, high aspiration, teamwork, and skills in speaking and listening.

There has been a significant increase in participation of Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) students in higher education, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), BAME students are more likely to attend university than white British children. This increase is due to a range of factors including parental expectations, the Government’s commitment to encourage BAME students to access higher education and post 1992 universities’ commitment to provide opportunities for ethnic minority students. However, the question that remains, has this increase helped to minimise social inequalities in educational attainment and contributed to greater social mobility?

Despite, significant educational gains, the likelihood of under- and unemployment remains high for ethnic minority graduates. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has found that BAME workers with degrees are two and half times more likely to be unemployed than their white peers.

“The harsh reality is that even now black and Asian people, regardless of their qualifications and experience, are far more likely to be unemployed and lower paid than white people,” says TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady.

It can’t be right to proclaim the importance of education and its ability to lead to better job prospects, while the reality is that a higher percentage of BAME graduates aren’t able to translate their academic achievements into success in the labour market.

“Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. Action is needed across the education system and labour market to better understand barriers to success. Renewed action is needed by government, educators and employers to dismantle them”. Those were the sentiment expressed by Alan Milburn, chair of Social Mobility Commission, calling on us to work together to truly make Britain a country where everyone is able to succeed and to fulfil their potential”.

Those were the sentiments expressed by Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, calling on us to work together to truly make Britain a country where everyone is able to succeed and to fulfil their potential.

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.


Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children supported by chaplaincy

Faith Anderson, Public Affairs Officer 

At the start of January, The Traveller Movement published Overlooked and Overrepresented: Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in the youth justice system.

The report is an analysis of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children’s experiences of custody, based on surveys conducted for HM Inspectorate of Prisons data collection published in November 2016, Children in Custody 2015–16.

The key findings of the report paint the expected picture: minors in the Criminal Justice System from GRT backgrounds remain “hugely overrepresented”. One in twelve of those in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) identified as GRT, yet GRT communities make up just 0.1% of the population as a whole.

Interviewing boys in Young Offenders’ Institutions, the inspectors found a cohort of GRT boys who had been left behind.

More than half said they were 14 or younger the last time they were in education. One third had been in local authority care. A quarter said they were experiencing mental health issues or emotional problems – and less than half said they were getting help for these.

However, as CSAN has highlighted before, the potential role of the Church remains hopeful. Children from GRT backgrounds, especially those of Traveller ethnicity, are often Catholic and still have strong links to their faith.

The work of chaplains ministering to these boys is made evident in the interviews. Half of the GRT boys interviewed said they could see a chaplain of their faith within their first 24 hours in the institution, compared to 39% of non-GRT boys. 82% said they had access to a chaplain if they need it, compared to 63% of non-GRT boys. They were also more likely to say they felt that their religious views were respected.

At the same time, GRT boys were more likely than other boys to feel unsafe on their first night in the institution, and more likely to report being victimised for their ethnicity. However, they were less likely to say they would have no-one to turn to if they had a problem.

The common theme of the surveys reflects the disadvantages faced by people of GRT background. As identified by the Government, people from GRT backgrounds have poorer educational outcomes – in 2012-3 just 17.5% of Traveller children and 13.8% of Gypsy and Roma children pupils got their five or more good GCSEs, compared to 60% of other white children.

Whilst GRT boys in Young Offenders’ Institutions were not more likely to be involved in educational activities, they were more likely to be involved in vocations training or a job within the establishment.

So the situation is not good, but there are glimmers of hope. From the Catholic point of view, chaplains and faith workers, such as those provided by CSAN member the Irish Chaplaincy or the religious sisters in the Travellers’ Network run by CARJ (Catholic Association for Racial Justice) are providing support. A listening ear and a prayerful reflection can provide much relief in what can be a threatening and difficult environment. Their work can be the difference, as testimonies from across the prison estate show.

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant

When contemplating slavery, it is easy to believe that it disappeared long ago with the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Whilst slavery has now indeed been eradicated in terms of law, institutions of slavery have persisted and acquired a form that is different from the dark centuries of the New World’s sugar and tobacco plantations. Slavery still exists, and the types of victim it targets are widening in scope. Men, women, and children of all ages, ethnicities, and nationalities are susceptible to today’s gravest challenge to the international community: human trafficking. This form of modern slavery is now considered to be the most profitable worldwide criminal enterprise after the illegal arms trade.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the sourcing of persons by threat or force through coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power, a position of vulnerability, or payment, to achieve the consent of control over a person, for the means of exploitation. Exploitation itself may be defined as prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs. In this way, human trafficking follows a distinct pattern; the act of transportation of persons, the means of coercing vulnerable persons, and the final purpose of exploitation.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that annually 2.4 million people are trafficked globally and that also every year $32 billion is generated as a result of it. The majority of trafficked people are sourced from the poorest regions in the world, such as Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South East Asia. The top six most common countries of origin for potential victims in 2015 were Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania, Poland, and the UK. Today, around 14,000 people are in modern slavery in the UK, with over 50% of those people being trafficked through London. Also, between April and June in 2016, the UK saw 1002 potential victims of human trafficking of 70 different nationalities referred to the National Referral Mechanism.

The Santa Marta Group, named after Pope Francis’ home town, was developed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and first met in Rome during April 2014 when police chiefs and Catholic bishops committed to joint work to eliminate human trafficking. The group now has members in over thirty countries, and the Bishops’ Conference continues to bring together the heads of national and international police and law enforcement agencies to examine how they can work with the Church to assist victims. The group thus serves to produce practical answers, through existing as an effective medium between relevant parties.

The Bakhita Initiative, named after St Josephine Bakhita, has set out to strengthen the relationship between the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the London Metropolitan Police, Catholic religious communities, and other support agencies, to reduce the impact of human trafficking. Caritas Bakhita House is a key part of this initiative. It provides traumatised female victims with emergency support, psychological therapy, legal and financial assistance, mentoring, and help with accessing accommodation. Love, respect, community, and spirituality are at the forefront of the project, leading to the successful rehabilitation of women. In 2015, eight women were successfully moved onto secondary accommodation, and three women were repatriated to their home countries.

For National Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2017, it is important to remember the huge scale of modern day slavery, and to think about ways in which we can help undermine its growing momentum.  To read more about the work of the Santa Marta Group please visit: http://santamartagroup.com/

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.