Modern Slavery in Tribal Communities

Tribal communities often get the reputation of being exclusive and unwelcoming. This attitude can stem from the fact that Native American communities are hyper-protective of their own. So, it would be easy to think modern slavery isn’t issue among this population. Well, you would be wrong.

Native Americans, especially younger females, experience high levels of violence, abuse, and rape. In fact, according to federal data, Native women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as women of other races. They experience a higher-than-average level of poverty and a lower-than-average rate of employment. Due to this, they are at an increased risk of abduction and disappearance and are easy targets for traffickers seeking to recruit them for commercial sex work.

“I think a lot of disappearances of young women can be tracked back to some sort of trafficking,” said Patti Larsen of Mending the Sacred Hoop, an organization focused on ending violence against Native women.

You can read more about Native women and human trafficking here.

Fleeing from the Northern Triangle

I’ve written before about my experience with those who are fleeing from the Northern Triangle. This trek is a question of life and death. It used to be that these people were coming to America to achieve the “American Dream.” Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Now, these people are coming to America to escape violence, gangs, cartels, and a cycle of poverty.

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), in 2016 alone, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the Mexican-American border stopped almost 47,000 unaccompanied minors and more than 70,000 family units fleeing from the Northern Triangle.

In order to serve this vulnerable population, we must be creative. Currently in San Antonio, when migrants are released from the Dilley and Karnes detention centers, Sister Denise LaRock, D.C., and others with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition and RAICES accompany them to the bus station where they will begin their journey across the United States to join family members and/or sponsors. Bags with food, toiletries, blankets, and other necessities are given to these migrants to help them on their journey. However, the most important thing the refugees receive is a white piece of paper. That white piece of paper has a map of the United States on one side and their travel information on the other.

Click here to read more about the work being done to help these migrants

Continental Network Against Modern Slavery

In August, I attended the Seminario Continental Against Human Trafficking organized by Confederation of Latin American Religious (CLAR) in Bogota, Colombia. Seventeen Daughters of Charity from all different provinces of the Americas attended the seminar.

During our time together, we talked about awareness and the importance of the dignity of the human person. The main objective was to strengthen our networks for the defense of every life.

The dynamics led us to move from a global understanding of the phenomenon of trafficking, especially from the perspective of migration, to a biblical reflection to continue to reframe our different charisms around a new axis given by the cries of life and of the poor.

Following this conference, the Daughters of Charity Intercontinental Commission on Modern Slavery met at the Provincial House in Bogota to revise and complete the study we initiated in February 2016. This study came about after our General Assembly where we were encouraged to “share commitments to ending modern forms of slavery.” We were also encouraged to choose concrete commitment to ending modern slavery in each of our provinces, to increase networking, and to go out to the peripheries and to difficult areas.

Through a process of small and large group discussions, our ideas and plans were developed into a draft document. The document included specific content across three detailed areas: structure & communication, formation, and action & collaboration.

Each member shared with the group a couple specific points from the Seminario Continental Against Human Trafficking that stood out as being important to include in our present work against trafficking and for migrants.

The dynamics of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating forced us to think strategically about new ways of acting against Human Trafficking and how to accompany migrants. We focused on how we could work together and with other groups to reach our goal as this is a collaborative problem that will require many individuals.

My Time in Palenque

During my time in Palenque, a city in the southern part of Mexico, I visited one of the shelters for migrants run by the Daughters of Charity of the Province of Mexico. The needs of the individuals they serve was immediately clear.

Palenque, located some miles from the Guatemalan border, is on the route for immigrants fleeing from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Many of these refugees are traveling with the goal of reaching the United States. To do so, they must ride on the notorious Mexican freight trains, collectively known as “La Bestia” or The Beast. These machines have taken the limbs and lives of countless hopeful migrants. While the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that some 60,000 adults and children have died or gone missing along this route in the past couple of years.

In addition to the physical risks of the journey, the Mexican government has placed dozens of temporary immigration checkpoints in the Southern State of Chiapas to complement the large permanent checkpoints and detention facilities of the area. In this way, the Mexican southern border resembles that of the United States.

The Daughters of Charity living in Palenque run “La Casa del Caminante” (which translates to the House of the Walker), a shelter that welcomes refugees along this path. The shelter welcomes an average of 120 migrants each day, many arriving via La Bestia. Others arrive on foot, seeking a place to rest while waiting to board La Bestia.

Each of these refugees is physically exhausted and in desperate need of rest, food, and often healthcare. Between riding on top of La Bestia and walking miles at a time, they have been traveling day and night, sometimes for weeks. Many have nothing but the clothes on their back and their feet are almost always covered in blood. Not only are they seeking food and a place to rest, but they are in need of medical care and shoes.

While the majority of those arriving at the shelter are many, the Sisters also see many young women. Often these women are pregnant after being raped earlier in their route. Just yesterday, a family of five arrived in need of food and care. They are the lucky ones who are still traveling together, yet to be separated.

After my visit with these Sisters and those they help, I realized more than ever before, the struggles of these migrants. Truly, my heart is still in Palenque with them.

Recovering from ISIS Captivity

Coping with the effects of sexual assault and rape is overwhelming. It is a complex form of trauma that breaches the physical, mental, and spiritual trust of a person against their will. Due to high levels of stress caused by abuse, a person can experience chronic fatigue and many other symptoms.

Two weeks after her rescue, Souhayla, a Yazidi native of Iraq, was still experiencing many of these symptoms. She could not sit up. Her physical injuries were significant, but fortunately, not life-threatening. The sixteen year old’s near unconsciousness was the result of severe shock after three years of serial rape as a captive of ISIS.

Souhayla’s village was raided by ISIS in 2014. Citing a defunct statute of Islamic law, ISIS deemed the Yazidi ethnic minority eligible for enslavement. Soulhayla was held as a prisoner is Mosul, Iraq where she was raped time and time again by multiple men. She was later moved to an area of Mosul that was riddled with armed conflict. It was here that her captor was killed in an airstrike, destroying much of his house. She found the strength to climb through the debris to an Iraqi checkpoint. She was later reunited with her family.

Now back home, Souhayla is slowly recovering, as is common for women who have suffered this type of abuse. Almost 90% of these women slip into a coma-like shock after their rescue as a way of dealing with the psychological trauma they have endured. At first, many show an alarming amount of indoctrinate, unable to abandon their ISIS ideals.

3,410 Yazidi people remain captive or unaccounted for as the conflict in the Middle East continues. Souhayla and her family hope that their story will raise awareness of this abomination of human rights and bring rescue and healing to girls like her.

You can read more of Souhayla’s story here.

Migration from Central America

How can we not be shocked after the tragedy that we have seen these past days in San Antonio?

An overheated trailer carrying many migrants–possibly from the border–was found in a Walmart parking lot. Ten men lost their lives and others are still in precarious conditions. Police believe it is a case of smuggling and/or human trafficking and are still investigating.

“This happens more often than we care to imagine,” Jonathan Ryan, Executive Director of RAICES, told USA Today. “We see it day in and day out in our offices.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons identifies a clear link between illegal migration and trafficking in persons. In fact, migration exacerbates trafficking.

However, in North America, some migration flows are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. Presently, the majority of persons migrating to the United States are from Central America. They are particularly at risk because of their long trek through Mexico which is infamous for cartels and gangs preying on migrants.

These cartels and gangs have birthed a new reality for migrants. A reality of abduction of persons or groups of migrants, held in order to require from them–or their families–ransom in exchange for release. Human beings are being increasingly considered merchandise. Not only is anyone hoping to reach the U.S. border via Mexico expected to pay a “right of exit” imposed by the reigning local cartels, but, as migrants near the border, smugglers (also known as “coyotes”) must be paid to lead the immigrants across the border.

So where are these migrants coming from and why are they coming?

Over the past few years, the violence led by criminal gangs has created worse living conditions throughout Central American, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Territorial conflicts among the gangs have created a climate of violence, terror, and fear that has eroded the social fabric in communities. In desperation, men, women, and children have been fleeing their homelands seeking simply to survive and, hopefully, create a better life for their families. For many, migration is the only option.

In some regions of these countries, the law of the gang is absolute. Young people are extremely vulnerable of being recruited through intimidation and threats of violence against them or their families. They are under pressure to become drug dealers, thieves, or intimidators. Often, families prefer to see their sons and daughters flee their homeland rather than be killed or forced into a criminal lifestyle. As a result, many teens and children are encouraged, even begged, to leave their country, often times without a parent.

What do these migrants face on their way to a better life?

According to reports by migrants who have successfully made it across the U.S. border, violence continues throughout the entire migration route, particularly in Mexico. Most of these individuals are vulnerable due to their lack of legal documentation to allow them to cross Mexico safely. Many are frequently forced to pay traffickers working directly with organized crime networks to avoid being exploited into labor and sex trafficking.

These migrants also often face a systematic cycle of abuse. Public transportation drivers apply higher rates, corrupt police officers require them to pay to continue on their way, gangs claiming to be migrants infiltrate and assault them, organized crime groups inflict violence ranging from extortion to rape, torture, and kidnapping. Every penny is taken from the migrants whenever an opportunity arises. Sadly, many lose their lives.

Perhaps the starkest example of the commonality of brutality on the journey is that many women take contraceptives before their departure from Central America. They know the journey contains a high risk of sexual assault. Credible estimates are that 80% of women migrating through Mexico are raped.

Upon reaching the United States border, most Central Americans admit to their origins, seeking entrance as refugees fleeing from violence and death in their homeland. They are put through a process called “credible fear” so they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship while it is not safe to return to their country of origin.

Local churches in the United States provide a safe haven and passage for these migrants once they cross the border. These organizations aid them on the trips to their families or sponsors. Further, the USCCB coordinates a coalition to alert people and work against human trafficking.

As long as violence and poverty persist in their home country, nothing will discourage these migrants from taking the risk of the journey to the United States. It is not possible to take away their hopes of a better life, especially for their children. Any solution to this problem will require an analysis of every factor involved in the process of migration.

My recent experience of visiting our Sisters at their shelter for migrants at Reynosa on the Mexican border saddened me greatly. The majority of migrants had been deported. They had been taken from their families after working, paying taxes, leading a crime-free life for 20-25 years, only to be dumped in a highly dangerous, gang-infested area, the very atmosphere from which they had fled years prior. You could see the hopelessness, the sadness, the terror that they were now experiencing once again.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

The World Day Against Trafficking in persons was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/68/192. It is to take place tomorrow, July 30.

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women, and children fall into the hands of traffickers in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims. UNODC, as a guardian of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the protocols thereto assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking in Persons Protocol).

Article 3 paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

So, how can you help?

Learn about the local and global reality of human trafficking.
Pray for an end to human trafficking.
Demand slave-free products and buy fair trade when possible.
Advocate for state and federal legislation that protects victims and prevents human trafficking.

Originally published by the United Nations.