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By Peter Novecosky, OSB
Abbot Peter Novokosky
A growing human tragedy

One of the great tragedies of our time is human trafficking. The PM has carried countless stories of the plight faced by those forced to leave their homes and countries because of war, violence or persecution. The problem is worldwide.

Migrants, for example, pay thousands of dollars to human traffickers in countries like Turkey and Libya to ferry them to what they hope are the greener pastures of Europe. The growing crises in places like Libya allow traffickers to work almost unobstructed. Europe is struggling to come up with a humane response that will not be seen as encouraging the phenomenon. The greener pastures often turn into slave labour — or death.

The International Organization for Migration put the death count for refugees at sea from January through early May this year at 1,829 people, compared to 207 at the same time last year. Last year, 3,300 migrants died trying to enter Europe by sea, according to the organization’s statistics.

It estimates that, by May 19, more than 38,000 migrants had reached Europe this year. The majority are coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia and Syria — a growing number of them women believed forced to feed the sex industry.

The grisly discovery of mass graves in Malaysia last week rings another alarm bell. Authorities found more than two dozen squalid camps used by trafficking gangs and evidence of torture used on migrants. The dense jungles of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major route for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Burma, according to a Reuters report. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are ferried by traffickers through southern Thailand every year; recently it has been common for them to be held in remote camps along the rugged border with Malaysia until a ransom is paid for their freedom. Reuters investigations have shown ransom demands ranging from $1,200 to $1,800 U.S., a fortune for impoverished migrants used to living on a dollar or two a day.

El Salvador is an example where violence has become endemic within the country. March marked one of the deadliest months in a decade, with 481 people murdered, an average of 16 homicides a day, many committed by violent and ubiquitous gangs, officials from the National Civil Police said.

Lourdes Molina, a 40-something mother of three teenage boys, told Catholic News Service that she lives each day in desperation and fear that her sons will be hurt or worse by the gangs that terrorize the six million who live in El Salvador. The violence is “unbearable,” she said. Much of it is driven by narcotrafficking. El Salvador is now labelled one of the most dangerous countries in the world not in an official war. Neighbouring Honduras holds that designation.

Desperate people take desperate risks to escape a violent and unsafe environment. Unscrupulous people are more than willing to take advantage of their vulnerability. In the end, they are often left as victims who are helpless, homeless and treated as trash.

The PM joins organizations that expose this issue. One sure way to stop it is to cut off the demand.