As we approach the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita this Friday, Fr Luc, one of our Detention Outreach Volunteers, asks us to remember especially those men that we encounter in immigration detention who are the survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking.
The world continues to witness thousands of people making treacherous journeys, risking their lives in search of a safe place to live, a place where their rights will be protected and respected, a place where their family will be able to flourish. The stories of these people often remind me of the situation of many of my fellow Vietnamese countrymen, whom I have met during my time volunteering with JRS in Colnbrook detention centre.
Many of the Vietnamese men I have met and spent time with in Colnbrook left Vietnam with these very hopes – the promise of a brighter future, the promise to be able to support their family and to provide for their children. For the men I have spoken with, the similarities in their experiences ring true – these promises were made to them by people they trusted, but who turned out to betray that trust, and instead entered them into a life of what we now know as modern slavery.
After leaving Vietnam, they first arrived in Russia and their documents were swiftly taken from them and held by the traffickers – the people they had trusted to secure a promised future, who betrayed that trust with threats to themselves and their family if they tried to leave or seek help for authorities. They were guided from Russia to UK by cars and on foot, crossing the borders without access to their documents, they often had to travel at night, navigating through mountains and forests, and run in order not to be caught.
Accompany those in detention through prayer.
At every stage they describe threats to their families, some of their companions even lost their lives during the arduous journey. Yet the glimmer of hope for them was the promised safety they were searching for. Once they got to the UK, it would be ok.
But all was not ok once they arrived into the UK. Many were forced to work on cannabis plantations or in nail bars, in terrible working conditions and for long working hours. Their documents still under hostage and with the consistent threat to their families, they have limited means of escape from their captors.
It is through short conversations in the welfare at Colnbrook, where over time we build up a relationship and space of trust. My fellow countrymen begin to share more of themselves. I cannot help the question repeatedly coming to mind, “Is it worth to risk your life, to leave behind your family?” For me and for many, it’s not worth it. But if you cannot be assured enough food every day for your family, if your life is continually threatened by environmental degradation, by natural disaster or by your political view, you would risk once to go a place where you are promised to have a better future.
Next Friday, the 8th February, is the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita – the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. On this day we are called and encouraged to pray for all those affected by the crimes of modern slavery and human trafficking. This year we are asked to pray especially for victims of forced labour and labour exploitation, people like my fellow countrymen who now find themselves detained as they strive to receive the protection they have been promised by so many for so long.
The Santa Marta Group have some great resources to support your prayer, reflection and celebration for St Josephine Bakhita Day 2019, as we strive together to combat human trafficking and modern slavery. Please do keep the men JRS accompany in detention in your prayers next Friday.