An extraordinary contribution to the fight on slavery, understood as the violent deprivation of freedom, forcing people into prostitution or black labour or other forms of exploitation, a scourge that is largely and sadly ignored or underestimated. Since 2007 sixteen religious Congregations in England and Wales have donated 29 properties, with an overall “book” value of almost 16.4 million pounds (over 18 million Euro) to be used as shelters for victims of human trafficking. Safe accommodation has been provided to men, and especially to women with children, who fled predatory forms of labour, prostitution and exploitation, thus enabling them to start a new life.
Inestimable worth. According to the latest report released by “Arise Foundation” – a charity based in London and New York working to end all forms of slavery and human trafficking (including forced marriage or situations of children forced into juvenile delinquency) – in the past five years 172 religious, mostly nuns, have been engaged in rescuing hundreds of vulnerable people from falling pray to situations of exploitation and degradation of human dignity. Their commitment can be quantified in 650 years of service, while total donations amount to 10 million pounds, over 11 billion Euros. “Inestimable worth, as the numbers of our report testify to. Yet religious Congregations are hardly ever consulted by government authorities when developing anti-slavery and anti-exploitation policies. Experts in this field are often unaware of the fact that such high numbers of nuns are in the frontline”, Luke de Pulford, Director of “Arise”, told SIR. “We wanted to show, with supporting data, the huge value of this commitment with a language that everyone can understand, so that greater attention may be given to the voice of religious congregations when deciding new anti-slavery measures.” “I do hope that this information will give visibility to the work carried out by Catholic religious congregations so they may have a say through official channels – for instance the Home Affairs Ministry – thereby contributing to the discussions on the fight and prevention of modern slavery”, the Arise Director remarked.
Little-known heroines. “The female members of religious congregations are the little-known heroines of the anti-slavery movement”, pointed out Luke de Pulford. “I have travelled across world countries and I have witnessed their efforts, often risking their lives. They work hard in the poorest areas of the planet – the source Countries of most victims of modern slavery – as well as in destination Countries such as the United Kingdom, where the religious constantly offer an important contribution.”
Mapping and documentation. From the United Kingdom, a destination Country of the victims of human trafficking, to India, to the Philippines, Africa and South America, source countries of modern slavery practices. The mapping and documentation commitment of the Arise Foundation is set to continue worldwide. “We will start with India”, Luke said, “and extend our work to other Countries. We will meet with the members of the Conference of Religious in order to map the efforts of every congregation – the number of people involved and the resources invested. It will be an important project; the collected sums are huge and we will give evidence of the extraordinary commitment of the Catholic Church in this sector, even in challenging contexts such as the Indian one.”
Embracing with love. Unfortunately even a detailed report as the one published by the Arise Foundation lacks the most important finding, a fundamental aspect that is also the hardest to quantify: the love and the affection with which men and women religious embrace the suffering of people who were victims of slavery for long periods. “No quantitative information or statistical figure can document this aspect. In this respect, our Report is incomplete”, concluded the Director of Arise. “It’s the value of long-term trust and love, offered not to ensure good relations or to launch a successful charity but to embrace vulnerable people with authentic affection. It’s a powerful message that the international community of human rights currently guided by the so-called “impact agenda”, fails to appreciate in full.” “This term refers to statistical data – such as the number of people rescued from forced labour, prostitution and exploitation and given safe shelters. The quality of life, the loving accompaniment and the duration of this accompaniment are crucial, they represent critical aspects of our work that are the most difficult to measure. Concrete data are important, but they don’t tell the whole story.”