In Damascus, Syria, two young Iraqi sisters live in a women’s shelter run by Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The girls had been living as vulnerable refugees in the community, when one day a woman attempted to traffic them. They will remain protected in the shelter until their cases for refugee status are decided by the United Nations. But if funding for the shelter does not continue, these girls may well be left to fend for themselves, vulnerable again to trafficking in an even more dangerous Damascus.
Annually, an estimated 700,000 to 2 million people — primarily women and children — are trafficked across borders into extreme forms of sexual exploitation and forced labor.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 statement on migration, entitled “Migrations: A Sign of the Times,” the pope deplored the “trafficking of human beings — especially women — which flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited.”
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was promulgated by Congress in 2000 to establish the United States’ efforts and leadership in combating the multi-billion-dollar industry. The Act directs the U.S. State Department’s efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, prosecute those who profit from it, and protect victims.
The law established the T visa, which allows trafficking victims to become temporary U.S. residents. Training is another component of the law, which funds efforts to span the wide expanse of workers who deal with victims — law enforcement officers, federal prosecutors, social service providers, trafficking advocates — to exchange ideas and build networks.
Since 2000, Catholic Relief Services has established more than 100 programs in more than 35 countries to prevent trafficking and protect victims. The shelter in Damascus is one of them.
This year, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act expires. Congress must therefore act to reauthorize it.
As chair of the Education and Work Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) can help this bill pass quickly before the Act expires on Sept. 30. Rep. Kline should move to allow the House Foreign Affairs Committee to pass the bill with strong provisions for global and domestic leadership to combat trafficking.
If the bill does not pass, U.S. pressure on countries across the globe to combat modern-day slavery will suffer. In this economic environment, more vulnerable and marginalized people like the young Iraqi sisters in Damascus may fall victim to those who would exploit them. And, programs to facilitate rehabilitation will close.
Catholic Relief Services is urging those concerned about human trafficking victims to call Rep. Kline at (202) 225-2271 and ask him to allow the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 to move quickly through Congress.
For more information about human trafficking, see the article “Escape from slavery: Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking,” which ran in The Catholic Spirit on Dec. 14, 2010.