UN Oral Intervention: Modern Slavery in the UK

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer Naomi Buhmann for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, thousands of trafficked adolescents are enslaved by criminal gangs on the county lines for drug distribution. The British government should encourage the police to prioritise cases of underage drug couriers and ensure they are covered by the National Referral Mechanism for trafficked people, and that they use more telecommunication restriction orders through the County Lines Taskforce.

Girls acting as couriers on the County Lines are particularly vulnerable. We urge support services to ensure as many victims as possible are introduced to the National Referral Mechanism.

Prostitutes are another vulnerable group about whom we are increasingly concerned since the advent of Covid-19 in the UK. As many of them continue to work, their safety is more at risk. Others are being abandoned by their traffickers and are in need of shelter.

There is insufficient support for those forced into prostitution. Emergency accommodation services do not know where the victims are located. The lack of funding for those that offer emergency accommodation to help prostitutes in need is an acute problem. Her Majesty’s Government has not yet provided sufficient help to support these services.

Since Covid-19, trafficking is more underground and new strategies are needed empowering institutions and structures that can strengthen exit pathways and break the cycle of exploitation.

We wish to see more funding for anti-trafficking support services and charities so they can adapt to new circumstances swiftly.

In order to identify more victims, help hotlines should be better staffed and widely promoted. They need to connect closely with the National Referral Mechanism and with law enforcement officers so all can remain alert in regard to the trafficking issue and the related problem of online sexual exploitation and grooming.

Black Lives Matter – Healing the Nations

We thank Reverend Larry Wright for providing us with his material from the BLM session on 30th July. It was very interesting listening to him as a speaker, so we hope this post is useful if you would like to recall the session or couldn’t attend the meeting at all.

I speak as a white privileged male, who has been a priest for nearly 30 years in a part of the global Anglican Church that has just set up a commission to investigate endemic racism within its structures and institutions and I’m a former Police Officer.

As a Christian priest I subscribe to a mandate of inclusive love while in practice I wrestle with my own prejudices daily. Within the churches and communities we serve I sense the fears and anxieties of many who feel overwhelmed and besieged by current trends in society which challenge their assumptions and values.  Some respond with bewilderment others with anger, others with an uncomfortable aversion or awkward attempts at engagement.   

As a priest in one of the most ethnically diverse and dynamic cities in Britain, the fruits and blessings of multi-culturalism are all around me. Birmingham has a good record of racial harmony but we must not be complacent. The immediacy of social media brings international incidents directly to our attention and the killing of George Floyd resonated globally exposing the unhealed, unresolved character of institutionalised and inculturated racism.

The expressions of grief and outpourings of protest witnessed in America, the UK and elsewhere have accelerated the need for a comprehensive re-assessment of our attitudes, our values and our use of history. From my perspective, there are two distinct though interconnected aspects to the BLM upsurge of protests:

  • Raising consciousness of the depth of racism still prevalent in society
  • And the pressing need to reconsider accepted views of history

As a person of faith, I search the sacred texts of my religion for guidance and inspiration. In them I find challenge and hope for they are both an historical witness to the struggles of faithful people while containing truth and wisdom for future generations.

A prophet revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims is known to me as Ezekiel.  In the prophetic book of writings bearing his name a key chapter is found in what we know as chapter18 in our Christian Bible. In this chapter the prophet draws a profound distinction between the wrongdoings of parents and children (one generation and another) and who bears the consequences of those wrongdoings. Previously, it was widely believed children were punished for the sins of their parents:  God’s anger would punish the many for the sins of the few. Ezekiel reforms this sense of collective punishment so the sins of a previous generation are not to be regarded as the responsibility of the next. The current generation must bear the consequences of its wrongdoings and sin, says the prophet.

In the current campaigns for retrospective justice and recompense for the sins of previous generations who exploited, abused and enslaved millions, many of my generation and background acknowledge the legitimacy of these campaigns while sensing we are being perceived as complicit. The discomfort this generates becomes an obstacle to addressing current issues of racism, exploitation, abuse and slavery.

Some of my generation and background ask ourselves: Can we be sure that the pulling down of statues, violent and non-violent protests, the reform of historical narratives, national acts of remorse and where possible compensation awarded, help to address and overcome racism and exploitation in this generation?  Or, put another way, are these campaigns necessary preliminaries before a new enlightenment era of racial justice can dawn? While they may be powerful acts of protest and demolition, they appear nihilistic and we are fearful they will harden attitudes among those whom we are seeking to transform attitudes.

Retrospective justice is important and necessary but the victims of racism and exploitation now must take the highest priority, let not the campaigns for the former detract from the urgency of the latter.

Reverend Larry Wright

 

Opening Address to our conference

This text was sent in by Reverend Larry Wright who opened our “Healing The Nations” conference on 30th July. The conference is still ongoing and if you wish to join us please use this link.

As a person of faith, ‘healing’ and ‘nations’ are words resonant with meaning, promise and longing, while also evoking concepts to be approached with caution, as their definitions are many and their usage often controversial.

But as a general statement of intent, who would not wish nations and their peoples to be healed?

The question presumes two things. We have an understanding of the malady or illness from which people are suffering and we understand what a nation is. For how can we heal what we cannot describe and whom do we heal if we do not know the patient? To put it in medical terms.

Let’s begin with nation, or nationhood. Any reading of history will soon lead us to understand nations are a relatively recent concept.  Ancient history refers to peoples, ethnic groupings, religious cults and empires. Only in recent centuries has the concept of nation states become a feature of political history and geography.

In the ancient texts cherished by my faith, it is empires that dominate the Near and Middle East of our founding stories. For many post-colonial countries their borders and boundaries were fixed by former colonial powers. We see in the changing geography of the last 100 years, nations emerge, separate or succumb to war and defeat. Nations incorporated – willingly or unwillingly- by new imperial conquests and later liberated to pursue their own national self-determination.

Are we seeking healing of nations or between nations? Surly the wise and the good seek to do both. We have nations divided among themselves and at enmity with each other in a globalised and regionalised world. And let us not exclude the possibility of healing between our species and the natural world we inhabit, for without the earth, our one constant source of life giving resources, peoples and nations will inevitably perish.

So what healing is needed?  Throughout this conference the sufferings and realities of different countries and regions will be examined and analysed. Their historical, ideological, political and economic complexities scrutinised.  Maybe in the course of this conference, new thinking may emerge and new possibilities proposed.  However our conversations unfold, may we be watchful we do not rely on addressing only the more obvious expressions of suffering and conflict in our world. Partial claims for political, economic or ideological remedies to humankind’s needs, address the material aspects of our human nature, but we are flesh and spirit, body and soul; however we choose to define this: A remedy which only concentrates upon the body is deficient, a cure which only addresses the soul incomplete. We must strive for integrated and holistic remedies which are both transformative and healing.

But we must begin with ourselves. The ancient Jewish proverb puts it plainly; “Physician heal thyself!”  In the recognition of our own need for healing and transformation we begin a journey of self-discovery taking us outward to the world in the full knowledge we are less than we could be while celebrating we are more than we were.

It is a journey from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from self-centred egotism to world embracing compassion, from indifference or resignation to action; for people of faith it is the complete reorientation of our lives towards God.

In a highly medicalised world, we are encouraged to put our faith in medical science to cure human sickness, but there is no pill or procedure for the most serious afflictions of our world:  poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, unemployment, environmental degradation, conflict, racism and economic inequality and exploitation. These are the recurring and endemic causes of so much suffering.

To play any meaningful role in the notion of ‘healing the nations’, we must nurture certain values as global concepts: conciliation, justice for all, meaningful and respectful engagement, conflict avoidance, global economic reform and cooperation. Underlying these aspirations must be the recognition of our need for spiritual, moral and religious renewal and reform. Then we will bring to the world’s problems the fullness of our physical and intellectual energies and the transformative power of the spiritual life.

Reverend Larry Wright

 

An open letter: the Hagia Sophia.

Ambassador Hambley has asked us to publish this open letter from his colleagues working in Germany and Scotland to the Turkish President. The views expressed are their own however the NCF’s religious affairs advisor comments: This was a blatantly political decision wrapped in a religious cloak. However, it is the culmination of a 16 year legal case to restore it as a Mosque and as such should be acknowledged as a valid legal decision by Turkish terms, even though many disagree with it. Turkish courts do award cases against government actions occasionally, so there is a degree of judicial independence. Turkey’s political isolation from the West continues and while protestations against the conversion are manifold, there is little chance of a reversal. However, the site is a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s possible UNESCO has more leverage:

“We are permitting ourselves to express our grave concern about the recent decision of the Turkish Government to re-convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. We are writing to you as individuals in our private capacity, committed to dialogue and peace on Planet Earth, and not on behalf of the institutions, networks and projects mentioned in this letter.

“More than most other monuments not just in Istanbul and Turkey, but anywhere in the
world, the Hagia Sophia is an interface of Orient and Occident, of Christianity and Islam.
Furthermore, it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The arrangement instated by President Kemal Atatürk in 1935 – as a museum – was a very good and balanced solution, reflecting its past as a church from 537-1453, and as a mosque since then, but also the sadly at times violent episodes in its history and generally between the two major religions of our part of the world. Given its history, and that of the city around it, it has been a holy site and focal point for both Islam and Christianity over the almost 1,500 years of its existence.

“The recent decision to re-convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque will inevitably cause
offense among much of the Christian (in particular Orthodox) community, and we would
appeal to the Turkish Government to re-consider this step.

“In light of this history, it is impossible for either side to claim sole ownership of this
monument. Whatever arrangement is found, it should equally reflect the significance and holiness of the Hagia Sophia to the faithful of both religions: The museum was a very good arrangement, but we could equally imagine an inter-face venue of worship.

Sincerely,

Frithjof Kuepper and Hartmut Dreier.”

 

 

 

Hartmut Dreier, born in 1938, since 1977 resident in Marl/Ruhrgebiet, Protestant Christian theologian, pastor emeritus, one of the pioneers in Christian-Muslim dialogue, friendship and cooperation since 1984 on the local, regional and national level and in German-Turkish cooperation. Selected activities:

• Intercultural, interreligious projects Marl/Gireson and Marl/Kusadasi
• Solidarity after the Marmara earthquake in August 1999 in Adapazari
• Establishing close working relations with DITIB, Cologne, IGMG (Islamische
Gemeinschaft Milli Görüs), Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland
• Co-founder of CIAG Marl in 1984, for example enabling the construction of Fatih
Moschee Marl, the first new mosque building in Germany
• Co-founder of the annual Abraham’s festival in Marl, Kreis Recklinghausen, in 2001 (in this context Bundespräsident Johannes Rau visited the Fatih Mosque in
December 2001 – this was the first time that a German federal president visited a
Mosque in Germany; Diyanet president Prof. Dr. Ali Bardakoglu gave a keynote
speech in the Fatih Mosque and signed the “Goldene Buch” of the city of Marl)
• Sukran-Plakette of the Republic of Turkey, awarded by the General Consul of Turkey, Mr. Günes Altan, in Münster (March 5, 1997)
• For our current work as an intercultural and interreligious team and for further
awards see https://www.ciag-marl.de/

Frithjof Kuepper, born in 1972, Professor and Chair in Marine Biodiversity at the University of Aberdeen, resident in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and Marl, Germany. Selected activities:

• First prizes at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists and the Young
Europeans’ Environmental Research Competition (both 1992).
• Marine biologist with extensive academic research and teaching activities in SE
Europe and the Middle East, besides other parts of the world. Personal and
professional network in the region includes a sizeable number of both Muslims and
Christians, with whom he fundamentally recognizes the common roots of our faith
and with whom he shares the desire to learn from a difficult history to build a more
peaceful and harmonious ecumenical coexistence based on shared values and
mutual understanding.
• Strong commitment to the peace process in Cyprus and to Greek-Turkish
rapprochement in general, with numerous contacts in both communities in Cyprus – led the first academic publication since the Cyprus War in 1974 which is jointly
authored by scientists from both communities in Cyprus as well as from Turkey and
Greece.

 

The horrors of human trafficking during COVID-19

During this COVID-19 crisis, many feel isolated, “locked in” due to restrictions on their daily life – understandably. But what would the forty million trafficking victims worldwide say about the same situation?

It is not so long since International Sex Workers’ Day (02/06), so perhaps this is a good moment to examine the pandemic’s impact on sexually exploited people and other victims of modern slavery.

Human trafficking is the trade of people, both across and within borders. When a person is affected by this, he/she gets forced into labour exploitation, debt bondage and other miserable circumstances plus often gets one of the “DDD” (dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs: This is modern slavery.

Perhaps trafficking should stop under a nationwide lockdown and increased police presence on the streets. However, luring and recruiting victims is still possible, even in their own home neighbourhoods, where they are still obeying travel restrictions. Instances have been recorded of the use of drive-thru and delivery services for the sexual exploitation of children. Others have been satisfying demand for sexual services delivered online by webcam. Additionally, the county lines (criminal exploitation of children selling drugs on the UK’s streets), are still active everywhere. Brothels operate underground. As recently as 22 April, British police found trafficking victims at four different premises in Westminster, London.

So, the trafficking business has adapted to the current situation and flourishes. Academics have identified three pillars which are the foundation on which this has been happening:

  • Firstly, current victims of labour exploitation need to cope with a worsening of the situation they already find themselves in.

Due to the pandemic, many healthcare services and trafficking survivors’ assistance centres diverted resources to deal with the enormous pressure from COVID-19. This limits the authorities’ ability to expose trafficking activities, identify victims and offer support.

The trafficked persons’ movement restrictions are aggravated by travel disruptions and the governmental order to stay at home. This leaves many vulnerable people isolated and helpless in the hands of their abuser.

Even if they can leave their house, debt bondage forces them to remain with their trafficker, who can now easily force them to do even riskier activities. Moreover, recession leads to low-cost production everywhere, forcing victims into extremely exploitative jobs simply to avoid the danger of homelessness and severe poverty.

Another important aspect of the situation is the way in which increased stigmatization can damage the mental health of trafficked people. Now more than ever, many trafficked people are seen as outcasts due to their living and working conditions: sex workers could easily spread the virus due to their activities, construction workers living very close together in labour “camps” (e.g. in the Gulf) have low hygiene standards, and so on.

  • The second pillar is that of the increased pool of people that can be exploited since many more people worldwide have become vulnerable due to the Coronavirus crisis.

As usual during international emergencies, support structures change and break down. Since COVID-19 has exacerbated social inequalities and unemployment has risen, disadvantaged people are ideal victims a trafficker is looking for!

Let’s say you’re in desperate need of paying for your basic needs and someone proposes a cheap loan or an easy way to earn money – you might accept it, assuming that it’s only temporary. Even if you know that it’s far from a fair offer paying minimum wage, you’d take it since it can help you out of acute poverty!

So, the downward spiral begins, the victim becoming financially dependent on their respective trafficker and usually being threatened with violence.

Even in the absence of such external influences, really desperate people may take, for example, sex work into consideration. However, due to brothels being closed at the moment, prostitution is being pushed underground, making it more dangerous.

The next point is the increased risk of child exploitation – currently, children are mainly at home instead of attending school. This has three negative effects on their safety: they are more prone to online exploitation, abuse and grooming; they might be forced to search for money and food on the streets; and if the situation goes on for much longer, they could be at risk of child marriage in some countries.

This is very concerning, having the third pillar in mind:

  • Due to the pandemic, victim support services and law enforcement agencies are being disrupted in their usual work.

Recently, shelters for trafficked people have had to close due to financial pressure or high infection risk. Since donors turn away from them and governmental resources are being redirected towards the battle against COVID-19, some emergency networks had to issue requests for material support – not just for sanitizers or masks – but simply for food! This illustrates the severity of the situation.

Also, many governmental or NGO offices are closed leading to delays in legal proceedings. Immigrants who’d have to renew their documents might not be able to do so, but then, they cannot return to their country, either. This leaves them in a precarious situation.

To sum up, the remaining question is how can we tackle these problems? Researchers assume that if we invest to support victims adequately, we might still be able to stop a “trafficking epidemic”.

Most importantly, resources need to go directly to the most vulnerable in our society. This could consist of providing housing for victims, providing anti-trafficking workers with PPE and more generally, strictly enforcing minimum wage laws.

Clearly, it’s not easy for an individual to act against such a large-scale issue, but one way to help is to watch out for situations that seem suspicious and report them to police or suitable NGOs (e.g. unseen UK, hope for justice or the Red Cross) – they are grateful for every hint they receive! 

Image by sammisreachers from Pixabay

Right-Wing Politics in Germany

The 2017 German election marked two milestones for me: (i) I could now vote, and (ii) the right-wing populist party AfD came into parliament with 13% of the votes!

Today, we face the aftermath of the recent Hanau attack: nine people killed. The murderer’s ideology was racist but AfD leaders deny these far-right roots – alledging the attack was associated with mental illness instead.

Despite issuing such statements, the AfD has been gaining popularity in 15 of 16 states. In some, the share of votes nearly reached 30%! How is this possible?

In 2014, the extremist NPD won their first European parliament seat, but they subsequently lost support because voters preferred the AfD which pretends to represent disadvantaged people. The 2015 refugee crisis helped them channel hate towards refugees, increasing the number of German far-right extremists up to 24,000 (2019).

How can a right-wing party gain so much support, especially in East Germany?
Although Germany has been unified since 1990, noticeable differences still remain between the East and the West. It was a difficult political and economic transition: some people felt left behind – compared to the more prosperous West. Since the mainstream parties have failed to acknowledge these concerns, populist parties catch attention with slogans offering mediocre solutions for complex problems.

The establishment’s reaction has been fatal: centrist politicians have officially condemned right-wing violence but practically ignored it, some even tried to accommodate parts of the AfD’s content, more moderately, as aspects of their own political agenda – a dangerous method!

Now, what do we do to improve overall awareness?

First, we must invest more in educating people about the holocaust and about xenophobia. Lowering the hurdle of feeling insecure while challenging populist opinions is itself a challenge – this can be done by countering missinformation with facts and reporting fake news! And secondly, there is the democratic duty of all citizens – vote! Together, we can make a difference.