Pope Francis Denounces ‘Plague’ of Human Trafficking

Pope Francis holds mass for World Day for Consecrated Life …

ROME — Pope Francis condemned human trafficking as a “true plague” on Sunday, calling for an international effort to eradicate it.

Following his weekly prayer of the Angelus in Saint Peter’s Square, the pontiff recalled that Saturday was the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking, set on the liturgical memory of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a former Sudanese slave who became a religious sister.

“To heal this plague – because it is a true plague! – exploiting the weakest, the commitment of all is needed: institutions, associations, and educational agencies,” the pope said.

Noting that criminal organizations are increasingly using modern means of communication to lure victims by deception, Francis called for education on the “healthy use of technological means” as well as reminding “the providers of such telematics services to their responsibilities.”

Francis has been an outspoken enemy of human trafficking, and despite his well-known promotion of international migration, acknowledged in early 2019 that “migratory routes are often used by traffickers and exploiters to recruit new victims.”

In 2017, an Italian public prosecutor said that investigators needed to follow the money trail, since huge financial allocations intended for the reception of migrants were attracting mafia interests and abetting human traffickers.

A lengthy report released at the time by Frontex, the border control agency of the European Union (EU), suggested that a number of NGOs had been complicit with human traffickers in providing a shuttle service from North Africa to Italy.

NGOs engaged in maritime rescue operations “help criminals achieve their objectives at minimum cost, strengthen their business model by increasing the chances of success,” the report stated.

In July 2017, the Associated Press (AP) reported that human traffickers smuggle “hundreds of thousands of migrants” across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe each year. “Traffickers have exploited widespread lawlessness in the violence-wracked, fractured North African nation [of Libya] to make it a smuggling haven,” AP stated.

In late 2018, Swedish courts convicted six Bulgarian nationals for smuggling in migrants and forcing them to beg on the streets in what became the country’s biggest-ever human-trafficking case.

The Bulgarians were given sentences between one and a half years to five and a half years in prison for their roles in the human smuggling ring that forced at least twenty victims to beg on the streets of various cities across the country.

In the spring of 2019, Italian officials investigated the head of migrant transport NGO “Mediterranea Saving Humans” for abetting illegal migration. Authorities interrogated Luca Casarini, who along with the commander of the vessel the Mare Jonio, Pietro Marrone, was investigated by the prosecutor’s office of Agrigento after the ship illegally entered Italian waters carrying migrants.

In May 2019, AP reported that Spanish police had arrested 11 people suspected of forming part of a human trafficking ring transporting migrants across the Mediterranean Sea in small boats unfit for the open water. The suspects recruited Moroccan adults and minors seeking to reach Europe, police said.

Once in Spain, members of the trafficking ring would take the migrants to safe houses where they were imprisoned until they paid another 1,000 euros, police said.

Last June, former interior minister Matteo Salvini refused permission for the NGO ship Sea-Watch to land in Italy, accusing them of human trafficking. “Sea Watch does trafficking in human beings and doesn’t care about the rules,” Salvini said, adding that he would never permit the ship to land in Italy.

A particularly tragic example of the immigration-trafficking link, however, is that of Nigeria, whose local mafias have been responsible for systematically trafficking women into Italy and forcing them into prostitution.

During the year 2016, more than a fifth of the 172,000 migrants arriving in Italy were from Nigeria, many of whom were lured into making the dangerous journey by a vigorous promotion campaign promising benefits and opportunities. The vast majority of the Nigerian women who made the voyage found themselves working as prostitutes once they arrived in Italy.

One 24-year-old Nigerian woman named Gloria Erobaga recounted the harrowing experience of forced prostitution on Italian streets, after she had been promised “honest work” by the mafia traffickers who arranged her passage to Italy.

“They would continually check up on us to collect our money and they killed the girls who didn’t pay,” she said. “I know of Nigerian women in Italy who were killed, cut up and thrown into black garbage bags, like trash,” she added.

According to reports in the Italian media at the time, Nigerian traffickers exploited Europe’s migrant crisis “to take girls to Libya and then across the Mediterranean into Italy,” bringing more than 12,000 girls and young women from Nigeria into Italy in just two years.

Of these, four out of five (80 percent) ended up in prostitution. Currently, one out of every two prostitutes in Italy is Nigerian, the report stated.

Matteo Salvini, who made curbing illegal immigration the hallmark of his election campaign, said last year he was “proud” to have put an end to illegal immigration in Italy and to have halted human traffickers who were using immigration routes to deal in human beings.

In a tweet to his followers, Mr. Salvini said that by combating illegal immigration he was also fighting human trafficking and the drug trade.

Decrying smugglers and human traffickers, Salvini said he had evidence that “with the money they make — around 3,000 euro for every person they put on the boat — they buy arms and drugs. So stopping the trafficking of human beings does not just mean stopping immigration, but it also means blocking weapon and drug trafficking.”

Salvini’s closed ports resulted in a significant drop in migrant sea deaths by discouraging would-be migrants from embarking on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

According to a 2019 report by the Italian daily La Verità, “the Salvini method works,” referring to Mr. Salvini’s tightened border controls. Salvini had insisted that open ports fuel human trafficking and encourage migrants to undertake dangerous sea crossings.


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