On the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, and on the eve of the day when the General Synod of the Church of England considers Human Slavery, Fr Ian sent this briefing note to some General Synod reps.
I’m emailing with a note on our experience here at St Chrysostom’s on Modern Slavery.
Since our project at St Chrysostom’s began to help those freed from slavery we have assisted between 400 and 500 people, the majority being men. (This is to do with hostel locations – the majority of those in slavery are, of course women). The men have been trafficked for labour or for the sex trade. They often come from such countries as Romania, Hungary, Baltic States, Vietnam, but also it should be noted a few are from within England and from Ireland.
We assist through conversation classes, providing clothing, helping with special events, and other help we can. We have organised walks, and with the help of the Whitworth Gallery art classes. One of the art classes was attended by Mary Robinson (former Irish President and UN Commissioner) who was very encouraging of the work and emphasised the need to be alert to the fact that men trafficked could be forgotten.
A key point we have discovered is the importance of being simply welcoming, and being friendly – this is crucial for those who so often are profoundly lacking in self esteem.
We have also run evenings to help those in agencies, and those living in the locality, to look for signs of trafficking. These have been attended by police officers, university staff, and NHS staff as well as local residents. These have been run by local agencies also working with the trafficked.
We have found that forming partnerships is essential. We particularly work closely with the Medaille Trust. We have a team of volunteers from our church, and sixth formers from Manchester Grammar School help in the conversation class, as well as other volunteers from the community. The ratio volunteer to ‘client’ has, understandably to be low – sometimes two volunteers or even three to a client to help general and supportive conversation.
We have found generous response in our local area to appeals for material help – especially clothing.
We all know this is a huge problem and so often unseen. For example, we had a regular worshipper at Church who when in hospital admitted to us that they had been trafficked for the sex trade and physically abused by a person they lived with. Because the person was in England ‘illegally’ they were afraid to go to the police. We were able to act as an advocate and friend, and fortunately months later the position was regularised and now they are building up a new life and continue to worship with us.
We have, then, found issues for individuals can be very complicated. Many who come here as trafficked people are afraid, or have no desire, to return to their home country and would rather go homeless here. Some have been trafficked by a family member, or key person in their home community. A significant number have little or no English, and suffer from mental health issues, and addiction problems.
Of course it is right that bodies like synods speak out and seek laws which address this blight on our society. Awareness of the magnitude and closeness of the issue is so important. In the Church of England the Clewer Trust does excellent work with limited resources. Locally the Mothers’ Union has helped us too. Significantly the MGS boys who help received first place in a national award from the Goldsmith’s Company for their work with us in helping the trafficked. This is work where the Church can and should work closely with other agencies.
I believe quite strongly that local churches can, with help, do more – not least in the area of a generous welcome, friendship and pastoral care for those who have been trafficked and those who work to ‘rehabilitate’ them. This is something not to be afraid of – complex issues of status and repatriation etc. are rightly dealt with by others, the church can be a place of welcome and friendly sanctuary. We have learned much from those who have come to us – especially lessons of hope and resilience in difficult circumstances. We would strongly maintain that our work is very much part of, and has enriched our inclusive agenda.