Holy See urges protection of victims of human trafficking

The Vatican Permanent Observer to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reaffirms the urgent need for more effective protection systems for victims of human trafficking, amid growing concerns for women and children fleeing the war in Ukraine.

By Lisa Zengarini

The Holy See has called for closer international cooperation to ensure that victims of human trafficking receive adequate care and appropriate forms of restoration.

Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, the Vatican Permanent Observer to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), reaffirmed this point in Vienna on Monday at the 22nd Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons Conference which was focused on how to build more effective protection systems.

Increased risk of human trafficking in Ukraine crisis

In his statement, Monsignor Urbańczyk remarked that the theme is especially relevant today in light of the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and of the consequences of the ongoing war in Ukraine and subsequent refugee crisis.

Indeed, since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 25, humanitarian and Church agencies have been working to prevent the increased risk of human trafficking for people fleeing the country. Most Ukrainian refugees are, in fact, women and children, who are particularly exposed to traffickers.

This was also highlighted by Cardinal Michael Czerny, interim Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, during his recent visit to Hungary to meet Ukrainian refugees. Hence the need for heightened vigilance, Monsignor Urbańczyk said, noting that this year’s conference theme complements that of Pope Francis’ annual World Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, which focused on “The power of care. Women, the Economy and Trafficking in Persons.”  

“It is the perverse work of human traffickers and people seeking to enslave those so vulnerable by falsely offering them help and then trapping them”

Protecting victims from deportation

The Vatican Observer especially pointed to the urgent need to protect victims from regulations and procedures that may lead to arbitrary deportation, saying that  “cooperation between States is also an essential element to assure the lawful treatment of victims".

“The need to address re-victimization remains a priority”

He also highlighted the need for legal procedures to protect the relatives and friends of the victims, in countries of origin, transit and destination who “often experience the secondary effects of trafficking, including extortion and being discarded by society”.

Noting that, often, a culture of indifference and exclusion surrounds victims of trafficking, making them almost “invisible”, Monsignor Urbańczyk concluded insisting that Governments “improve access to services for survivors of trafficking and ensure they receive adequate care, qualified protection, legal aid and appropriate forms of reparation or restoration”.  

“Victims must be received, accompanied, and defended with compassion and solidarity”, he said.

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EU Parliament discussing protection of Ukrainian children

The issue of protecting children and young people fleeing the war in Ukraine against human trafficking was discussed on Tuesday morning by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, as the European Commission and the French Presidency of the Europen Council are working on a 10-point plan to improve the common European response to the refugee crisis. The plan will include an EU registration platform and transport coordination, as well as specific guidelines on welcoming and supporting children, in collaboration with the EU Asylum Agency.  

According to UNICEF, nearly half of the some 4 million Ukrainian refugees are minors and "need greater protection as they run a higher risk of becoming trapped  in trafficking and exploitation", reads a statement. This was also affirmed by MEPs who also highlighted the importance of supporting their access to education in member States. A resolution on the issue  will be voted on Thursday morning.

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05 April 2022, 13:27