The international community must join forces to eliminate human trafficking and its root causes, the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations said Tuesday.
“To eradicate trafficking in persons, we must confront all its economic, environmental, political, and ethical causes, but it is particularly important to prevent and end the wars and conflicts that make people especially vulnerable to being trafficked,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said in an address this week.
“Wars and violent conflicts have become the biggest driving force of forced human displacement,” he said, noting that traffickers take advantage of the chaos of war to exploit vulnerable people, using them for sexual slavery or forced labor.
One typical consequence of war is a large population of displaced people, who usually become migrants and refugees in other countries, Auza added, which makes it especially important that countries also work to protect these populations.
In recent years, Europe has experienced a refugee crisis at a level unseen since World War II, with millions of people fleeing violence and instability largely in the Middle East, leaving a large number of people, particularly women and children, vulnerable to trafficking. According to reports from The Guardian, the European Union reported more than 15,000 cases of sex trafficking from 2013-2014, though authorities expect the actual number is much higher.
The United States had more than 5,000 reported cases of human trafficking in 2016.
“When states and the international community have failed to protect people from war and atrocities, such that people have felt compelled to flee their homes, we all have a great and urgent responsibility to protect them from further harm, including falling into the hands of human traffickers,” he said.
“The criminalization of forced migrants, and of undocumented and irregular migrants in general, exacerbates their vulnerabilities, drives them further into the clutches of traffickers and other extreme forms of exploitation, and renders them less likely to collaborate with the law enforcement authorities to catch and punish the traffickers,” Auza added.
While Auza praised previous efforts by the U.N. to eliminate human trafficking, “much more still needs to be done to achieve better coordination among governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and civil society.”
He also thanked faith-based communities and organizations who fight human trafficking and who accompany its victims, “in particular women religious, who have long been at the forefront in the fight against trafficking in persons,” he said.
“On the World Day against Trafficking in Persons this July, Pope Francis warned us all against ‘getting used’ to trafficking in persons, treating it as if it were a ‘normal thing,’ when in reality it is, he said, ‘ugly, cruel, criminal, an aberrant plague, a modern form of slavery, a crime against humanity,’” he said.
“In his name, my delegation renews the appeal for a universal commitment to ending this heinous crime.”