On the first day of this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting – the theme of which was ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’ – Aljazeera published the headline : “Richest 1% bag two-thirds of $42 trillion in new wealth.” According to research done by Oxfam International, the richest people in the world have acquired two-thirds of all the world’s wealth since 2020.
In the days since, I’ve been wondering how those who participated in the WEF meeting plan to address the world’s most pressing global challenges, how they will find ways and means to benefit the poorest peoples on earth. I’ve also pondered how such great imbalances can exist in the first place, especially alongside the stories of the people I have encountered in my time volunteering in Detention.
LORD, WERE YOU THERE WHEN I BECAME A TRAFFICKED VICTIM?
Vietnam has been under Communist rule since 1975. Basic human rights are highly restricted and its citizens have little protection or support – especially if they come from poor families. The people work hard and mostly make food products, but they are not able to sell them – or if they do manage to sell food, it often isn’t enough to meet their family’s needs. Wages are too low to cover the basic needs of many families. Poverty, sickness, unemployment, debt, and fatal diseases are the frequent topics that the men I’ve met in detention talk about. In other words, their memories of their homeland are very painful.
LORD, WERE YOU THERE AS I LAY IN BED AT NIGHT CRYING AND LONELY IN A FOREIGN LAND?
How do these Vietnamese men end up being trafficked?
Those I have accompanied have told me about gangsters who threaten them because they cannot pay their debts. They risk their lives to go abroad, following false promises from traffickers of a better life, where they can earn money to help their families. Many borrow money to embark on hazardous journeys from Vietnam to China, Russia, Poland – by plane, lorries, on foot through jungles walking night and day – to France and then to the UK where their passports are taken and they are left homeless and empty-handed. Many are taken to Cannabis farms. Enslaved, trapped, exploited.
They are eventually arrested, put in prison and ultimately detained – identified as perpetrators, not victims, of crime. With limited, or often no English, those I have accompanied feel confused and isolated in detention. If they are unable to have access to an interpreter it can become impossible to navigate the system, to access justice and they face the possibility of deportation.
LORD, WERE YOU THERE WHEN SOMEONE HELPED ME FIND MY VOICE?
I have been a volunteer with JRS for the past 6 years. I feel I have been sent by God to the UK, to serve my people in a foreign land. I have met so many young people and feel pained by how they have been treated and continue to be treated. They suffer isolation and depression, they feel voiceless and powerless, they are treated as criminals. Most of them do not speak English. In volunteering, my mission is to help these young men have a voice and find hope. I strive to accompany them so that they know they have someone who will walk with them, without fear of judgement or condemnation. I look at each one and say, ‘He is my brother’.
ST JOSPHINE, REMEMBER AND INTERCEDE FOR US.
In February, we commemorate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita. St Josephine Bakhita, you were a victim of human trafficking, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Through your intercession and on our behalf, we ask God to strengthen those who are victims of trafficking and slavery and who feel desperate and lonely. We pray for those who are living in uncertainty and fear, waiting for years for their legal documents to be granted to them. In solidarity we stand with them, supporting them in whatever way we can. Compassionate God, we plead for them. Amen.
Sr Vui is a volunteer with the Detention Outreach team. As a Vietnamese National she has a special ministry supporting Vietnamese men who find themselves detained, often after experiencing modern slavery and human trafficking.
This reflection is from February’s Praying with Detainees, a monthly newsletter with prayers and reflections from our work in immigration detention. You can subscribe to receive the Praying with Detainees emails here.