Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Faith-based groups play a critical role in the global fight against human trafficking—one which merits a closer partnership with the U.S., one Catholic leader told members of Congress Wednesday.
“Churches are safe havens for individuals and oftentimes the first place that victims seek protection and support,” said Limnyuy Konglim, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission’s U.S. Liaison Office in Washington, DC., to commissioners of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Jan. 15. The hearing before the bipartisan body in the House of Representatives marked the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
She added that “it is critical that faith-based actors receive greater consideration as implementing partners, in addition to suppliers of information for reporting.”
Almost 25 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking, an industry which is estimated to be worth $150 billion.
The TVPA, enacted in 2000 and authored by commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), set up punishments for traffickers, victim assistance, and prevention programs, making changes to the criminal code such as classifying that a minor exploited by a commercial sex act was a victim and not a perpetrator.
It also established a tier ratings system for countries at the State Department, based upon their efforts and success in curbing trafficking.
“Though it is hard to believe it now, when I first introduced the TVPA, the legislation was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition—dismissed by many as a solution in search of a problem,” Smith said Wednesday. “Reports of vulnerable persons—especially women and children—being reduced to commodities for sale were often met with surprise, incredulity or indifference.”
On Tuesday the Justice Department hosted a Summit on Combating Human Trafficking, during which Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen credited the law with spurring an increase in trafficking charges and convictions, but noted that “we have so much left to do.”
“The TVPA responded to the fact that the ability of one person to control, exploit, abuse and profit from another person’s labor and commercial sex acts has not yet been fully eradicated. And it needs to be,” he said.
Also testifying on Wednesday were two Trump administration officials: the State Department’s trafficking ambassador John Cotton Richmond, and Katherine Chon, director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Konglim’s group, the ICMC, helps build a global network of national bishops’ conferences and Catholic institutions to serve migrants, refugees, and trafficking victims.
“The work of ICMC is inspired by the Holy Bible, as well as by the ongoing Teaching and
Tradition of the Catholic Church; and we are deeply inspired and guided by Pope Francis, who
has prioritized the Church response to human trafficking,” Konglim said Wednesday.
“As he [Pope Francis] has so eloquently said, ‘We are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country,’ and therefore, ‘we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.’”
She was formerly an advisor on humanitarian protection at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and advised the U.S. bishops’ conference on refugee policy and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts for the conference.
On Wednesday, she emphasized the need for the U.S. to work more closely with faith-based aid groups that are working with local actors on the ground around the world.
She noted that “considering the deep presence and trust of grassroot Catholic organizations within vulnerable communities, there has been a concerted effort to build their capacity,” and that “Organizations such as ICMC, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Caritas International to name a few—have provided both organizational and technical assistance to enhance the response of local actors.”
Smith noted the “long-standing” work of faith-based groups around the world “providing an enormous amount of support for people who have been horribly mistreated.”
He said he had witnessed faith play a critical role in the recovery process for trafficking survivors.
“I have actually been in trafficking shelters all over the world,” he said, “but I was struck … how women who had been so horribly mistreated and raped and assaulted, it was their faith and the nourishment that came from that, the sense of reconciliation, that was helping them to get their lives back together.”
Konglim vouched for the work of faith-based groups in fighting trafficking. “If they can serve, they will serve,” she said, noting the work done by Vatican conferences on trafficking prevention which gathered actors from all over the globe.
In February 2018, the Vatican hosted a conference on human trafficking with Church leaders and law enforcement officers from more than 30 countries.
Trafficking survivors need “holistic,” long-term assistance to get back on their feet, such as shelter and vocational training, she said, and faith-based groups “are looking at the holistic restoration of the person, and they do their best to serve them from beginning to end.”
These groups also have a global network to help better reunify trafficking survivors with their families on other continents.
Asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of the state of trafficking in the U.S., Konglim said that her group, through the USCCB, has observed, “there is definitely a challenge with labor trafficking, and how that’s being recognized.”
“Irregular migration does impact the occurrence of the trafficking, and that migrant populations are more vulnerable,” she said. “And so we are definitely concerned with there being increased border screening, to ensure that people that are coming in are not victims of trafficking, and if they are, they are receiving the appropriate services that they deserve.”
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