Cardinal pleads for action to stamp out ‘rampant’ human trafficking

Law enforcement officers, Bishops, religious sisters and international organisations from across Africa gathered in the Abuja, Nigeria for the first Africa regional conference of the Santa Marta Group.

The theme of the conference was ‘Church and State working together to restore dignity to trafficked persons’ and set to examine the issue of human trafficking emanating from Africa.

Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, who chaired the conference explained that the current phenomenon of human trafficking needs to be put into the context of faster transport and communication, and globalisation.

Cardinal Onaiyekan praised the new partnerships between the Church and law enforcement describing it as key to the addressing the “tragedy of rampant modern day slavery and trafficking”.


The goal and objective of the Santa Marta Group is to address the tragedy of rampant modern day slavery and human trafficking.

The phenomenon of Human Trafficking needs to be put within the context of the modern increase in human mobility, due largely to fast progress in means of transport and communication, as well as the ever growing accompanying process of globalization. People now move around the planet with ever greater ease. Most people move legally, doing their legitimate business in their host countries, for the benefit of all concerned. We should not allow the relatively few problematic cases to close our eyes to this larger positive picture of the presence of immigrants in many countries of Europe and America.

Problem arises when people are unable to move freely and legally to their desired destinations. Then they seek other ways to reach their objective.

The flow of movement is mainly along the following lines:

  • From poor nations to relatively more affluent ones. This means mainly from Africa, South America, South East Asia and Eastern Europe to Western Europe, North America and Australia
  • From war-torn areas for refuge elsewhere. Middle East, Eritrea, Eastern Congo.
  • From places with natural disaster. Drought, floods, many forms of climate change.

In almost all these cases, human traffickers infiltrate and exploit the vulnerable victims. It soon becomes modern slavery: buying and selling human beings, like cattle. We still remember the disgraceful slave markets of Libya.

Modern Human slavery takes many forms:

  • Slave labour in mines, fishing boats, construction sites, agricultural fields, domestic servitude.
  • Sex slavery, more or less forced. A more heinous form of this is the sexual exploitation of children and minors.

These activities are under the control of ruthless criminal gangs, who make a lot of money at the expense of helpless victims.

The Santa Marta Group has been working in a combined strategy with diverse stakeholders working in collaboration.

These are:

  • State law enforcement agencies.
  • NGOs, especially religious communities. In the Santa Marta Group, the Catholic Church leadership in England and Wales has been in the front line of these efforts.
  • Not to be ignored are the victims themselves, who are often effective instruments of their own liberation, provided they are empowered to do so.

The objectives of this Abuja conference include the following:

Bring the discussions and activities of the Santa Marta Group home to the places of origin of the migrants and refugees. This affords the opportunity to ask in a serious way the crucial question: “Why are people running away from their homes?” All things being equal, people would prefer to stay at home rather than migrate to foreign lands.

This conference would also give the opportunity to pay attention to the perhaps more massive phenomenon of local trafficking; from the rural villages to the exploding urban cities; as well as international movements within the African continent. The large majority of African war refugees are moving within Africa. Relatively few find their way to Lampedusa!

It is hoped that this conference will help to improve the effectiveness of the interventions of the Santa Marta Group in favour of the victims of Human Trafficking in Europe and other rich countries.

At this conference, we should seriously work at replicating Santa Marta Group structures and strategies in our African countries, wherever possible. Can we launch an effective multi-stakeholders team, involving state law enforcement agencies, religious institutions, especially the Catholic Church, and other Civil Society Organizations  interested in this matter?

Finally, can we begin to address the root causes of risky migrations?  Poverty, unemployment, youth exaggerated expectations in life abroad, greed and impatience to get rich fast and by any means.

I wish this conference the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for a most successful outing.

+John Onaiyekan

Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja