"Human trafficking in different forms is very close by," said Thoolen. "It is in our backyard."
Thoolen, a policy advisor from the Netherlands who works for the Vatican, came to SMA Fathers, a missionary congregation focusing on serving Africa, on April 13 to raise awareness for not only for human trafficking, but for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.
Migration is something that has been happening since the early days of human civilization, said Thoolen. The reasons behind the decision to migrate to a new country can vary, including socio-economic issues, conflicts, or persecution. This will either take play in the form of voluntary migration or forced migration.
"In fact, most of your ancestors arrived as migrants, refugees, and slaves, or as we would say today, human trafficking," said Thoolen. "Ordinary people trying to make the best of life. [Some] have to flee their homes [for] mere survival because of persecution, all trying to make a living for themselves and their family. "
Almost every country is confronted with human trafficking problems, said Thoolen. While prostitution is the more commonly known form of human trafficking, trafficking can take a different form: forced labor. Those involved in forced labor, which is typically found in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, often occurs to pay off a debt, with some families paying off the debt for generations, said Thoolen.
"No country is excluded from [human trafficking]" said Thoolen. "People [who are trafficked] have been deceived about the goals of their future activities and, in this situation, are no longer free to decide about their lives. They end up in slavery like situations and there's no way out."
For those who are freed from human trafficking, much care must be taken to give the victims a normal life. The rehabilitation of these victims should include psycho-social counseling, medical care, a visitor's permit, and access to employment, said Thoolen.
"Victims need to be protected and assisted," said Thoolen. "We [have to] ensure that they have access to justice and social legal assistance."
In addition to discussing human trafficking, Thoolen took the time to discuss refugees and asylum
seekers, who move to other countries to receive protection from their old country in hopes of beginning a new life. The United States is one of the biggest countries to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to their country, with 3 million refugees being invited since 1975, said Thoolen.
Although Thoolen is happy with the number of refugees who are invited to the United States, he feels people need to develop a better understanding of these refugees' backgrounds.
"We have to realize the backgrounds are different," said Thoolen. "Some have assisted American troops by offering translations services. Others work at universities and academies. However, there are also individuals who are almost illiterate and can't speak any other language than their local language."
Many of these refugees come from refugee camps, with some even having their children born in the facilities. Others have experienced torture during their time as a refugee, making it difficult to adapt to the everyday life. Government agencies often help refugees for a period of eight month, after which they deem the individuals capable of self sufficiency. However, this time is often not enough to acclimate to the new country, especially for those that were tortured.
"Many remain unemployed and lack sufficient support," said Thoolen. "These people will join the American poor and end up in the same situation, depending on charities and churches to survive."
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