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Poverty not an excuse for human trafficking – Bishop Cardinal Onaiyekan

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His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, says that neither poverty nor any form of hardship is an acceptable excuse for Nigerians to engage in human trafficking.

Onaiyekan made the assertion on Wednesday in Abuja during the First Africa Regional Conference of the Santa Marta Group in Collaboration with the Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN).

The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reports that the two-day conference has the theme: “Church and State Working Together to Restore Dignity to Trafficked Persons”.

According to Onaiyekan, all hands must be on deck to combat the worrisome degree of trafficking, especially in humans, as it has to do with the dignity of a person.

He said the first problem in human trafficking was not poverty, because if it was poverty then, “how come all the victims that ended up being trafficked paid to be trafficked?”.

According to him, these victims either pay from their own savings or their families put this money together with the expectation that when this particular son/daughter gets to Europe, he/she will pull them out of poverty.

“This kind of thing happens in Nigeria and maybe, if one or two cases have succeeded, others emulate the same process.

“But, the reality is that in each success story of a young man/lady who goes abroad and comes back to ride a big car here at home, there are also hundreds of others left behind there who will never come back home.

“ It is believed that, that’s the only way to make big and quick money so, people are ready to take the risks in selling all their properties, including their family land just for their children to go abroad.

“ Why was the land not sold for the family to get into meaningful trade for their sons/daughters here in Nigeria?

“A person who has a landed property has something, poverty cannot be the cause of human trafficking when the victims have the money to pay to be trafficked,” he said.

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Onaiyekan said that people had attributed poverty, lack of education, immigration policy, environmental conditions, fractured families and lack of good job opportunities as the real causes of human trafficking.

“There is no doubt that these conditions create a toxic cocktail of vulnerability that makes it easier for human traffickers to exploit their victims,“ he said.

According to him, human trafficking needs to be put within the context of the modern increase in human mobility, which is largely due to progress in means of transportation, communication and the ever-growing accompanying process of globalisation.

“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 large positive picture of the presence of immigrants in many countries of Europe and America,” he said.

According to Onaiyekan, problems also arise when people are unable to move freely and legally to their desired destination as they end up seeking other ways to reach their objective.

“The flow of movement is mainly along these lines: from poor nation to relatively more affluent ones, this means mainly from Africa to Europe; from war-torn areas for refuge elsewhere, example, Middle East, Eritrea, Eastern Congo.

“From places with natural disaster, including drought, floods and many forms of climate change; in almost all these cases, human traffickers infiltrate and exploit the vulnerable victims.

“It will soon become modern slavery buying and selling of human beings, like cattle; we still remember the disgraceful slave markets of Libya,” he bemoaned.

The archbishop urged the Federal Government to put measures to stem the factors that make young people desperate to migrate illegally.

“The Federal Government must know that the major factors that make young people desperate to leave the country for greener pasture is unemployment and uncertain future.

“The government, in finding lasting solution to human trafficking problem must first and foremost tackle unemployment, of which the rate becomes alarming by the day.

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“Now, people are fighting for increment in the minimum wage, but nobody is talking about unemployment in the Nigeria because they don’t have a body as a group to fight for them,’’ he said.

He advised government at all levels to create jobs as a way of discouraging people, especially youths from this modern human slavery.

The cleric also urged Nigerians not to leave the fight against human trafficking alone to the Federal Government, but they should collaborate with the government and other relevant agencies to put an end to it.

Onaiyekan also advised clerics to use their sermons to create awareness on human trafficking, its dangers and consequences.

He said that the knowledge about trafficking framed in a compassionate way for young people within the churches and communities would open doors for dialogue with vulnerable children and teens.

“There is urgent need to involve the church and well-meaning Nigerians in the fight against human trafficking as the fight involves the society and the government.

“With the support of the government at all levels, the church and relevant agencies will be effectively equipped to combat human trafficking.

“We call on all Nigerians to report suspected cases of human trafficking to relevant agencies for proper investigation and possible prosecution,” he said.

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