‘Caught in the Net’: The Santa Marta Group in the ports of Taiwan

At the beginning of October 2017, the Deputy Director of the Santa Marta Group visited the Apostleship of the Sea World Congress in Taiwan. This year’s theme, ‘Caught in the Net’, not only addressed support for the often called ‘forgotten seafarers’, but also the need to increase safety provision for those who get trapped in a system of human trafficking. The Congress was well attended by Bishops from all over the world, from Myanmar to Ireland.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the Vatican, under which AoS’ ministry falls, stated at the beginning of the conference that “the theme of the … expresses the concern of the Apostleship of the Sea which is not limited to issues of climate change and overfishing, but is especially focused on the human issues, namely fishermen who work in inhumane conditions often ending up in the hands of organised crime”. He added, “This phenomenon is not only limited to certain geographical areas, but is growing all over the world involving men, women and even children.

This global and prevalent issue is what the Santa Marta Group are working so hard to combat. Deputy director, Mick, had an opportunity at this congress to share the current work of the Santa Marta Group as well as make new connections with groups that wanted to become part of the ever-growing network. As well as hosting successful presentations, the trip was an opportunity for Mick to meet victims, the vulnerable and those volunteers working on the ground to help those in need. This began with a visit to the port of Hong Kong. Here, the local government, along with an army of volunteers, provide educational sessions for the fishers that make their home in the port for a period of time.

The Santa Marta Group was presented to the congress in both a presentation and question-and-answer session. Mick informed the delegates of the evils of modern slavery, what the Santa Marta Group are doing to combat it, and how they are working with the Apostleship of the Sea to address human trafficking in sea ports around the world. Conversations were fruitful and delegates from a number of countries expressed an interest in the Santa Marta Group supporting their local initiatives.

As part of the trip, Mick visited ECPAT Taiwan, a charity which supports children who have been trafficked and had a very interesting and moving visit to the Good Shepherd Social Welfare Foundation, run by religious sisters, which provides safe houses and shelters for migrant workers across the Island. Mick ascertained that this work supports victims recovered by state agencies and plays a key a key role in fighting slavery.  

During the latter part of the trip, visits were made to the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, National Immigration Agency and the National Police Agency. It was good to hear about all the work these agencies are undertaking to support victims and prosecute the traffickers and see that migrant workers are well catered for in Taiwan.  

The visit to Taiwan was proof that vital work is being done to combat modern slavery through both church and law enforcement. Mick experienced some worthy examples of work to keep migrants and seafarers safe, in good employment and above the law. However as with most countries more needs to be done and it is hoped that the SMG can help develop strong bonds in Taiwan .

The global network of the Apostleship of the Sea, and their international congress, was an opportunity to bring together those who work to eradicate human trafficking on a global level, across our seas. Conversations here have sparked more links, more work, and ultimately and hopefully, more saved lives around the world.