Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, says: “As we approach lent, Myanmar can only cry over our people in exodus and the unending way of the cross of millions.”
The Burmese Salesian Cardinal expressed this to ZENIT. He was present in the Vatican following a press conference in the Holy See Press Office Feb. 9, 2018 on the ‘Santa Marta Group,’ namely an international body against human trafficking, launched in 2014 by Pope Francis. Alongside Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales and president of the Group, the panel was composed of Cardinal Bo; Dr. Cressida Dick, Commissioner, London Metropolitan Police Service; Dr. Nestor Roncaglia, General Commissioner Policía Federal Argentina.
The press conference took place at the end of the audience with the Holy Father and the meeting of the “Santa Marta Group”, held in the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV, Feb. 8-9, 2018.
According to its website, the Santa Marta Group is an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis, to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery. The Pope describes trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society”.
Following initiatives by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, the Group was developed by the Bishops’ Conference. In April 2014, it first met in Rome when police chiefs and Catholic bishops came together, in the presence of Pope Francis, to sign an historic declaration, committing themselves to a partnership to eliminate human trafficking.
Named after the home of Pope Francis, in which the members stayed, the Group now has members in over 30 countries.
Last week, Zenit had an exclusive interview with Cardinal Nichols where he expressed his dismay that Myanmar is ‘the epicenter’ of human trafficking, and how we was touched by the testimony given to those present by Cardinal Bo.
Here Zenit has had the opportunity to speak to Cardinal Bo about this reality and reports some of what he had to say.
“Myanmar as a country raised the threshold of hope in the recent past. The dawn of democracy provoked dreams of human security. Unfortunately, during the last year, hate speech and religious manipulation has dragged the country into a nightmare,” he lamented, stressing: “All these impact the protection for the vulnerable individuals from rampant human traffic.”
Noting that one of the largest forced migration in the recent history took place from Myanmar soil, the Cardinal said: “As we approach lent, Myanmar can only cry over our people in exodus and the unending way of the cross of millions – migrants, refugees and IDPs.”
Myanmar has been a country of concern for Trafficking in Persons Report (2017). Economic and political and continued conflicts have continued to contribute to this and unskilled and under-educated men and women end up as modern slaves “in economic tigers,” he said, of the South East. The Cardinal discussed the findings of the report which demonstrate his people’s suffering.
Our people, the Cardinal decried, are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking.
Men, he also explained to us, are subjected to forced labor in fishing, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and construction abroad.
“Some Burmese men in the Thai fishing industry are subjected to debt bondage, passport confiscation, threats of physical or financial harm, or fraudulent recruitment; some are also subjected to physical abuse and forced to remain aboard vessels in international waters for years.”
“Burmese women,” he lamented, “are increasingly transported to China and subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude through forced marriages to Chinese men.”
Escalating conflicts, increasing the number of displaced people, Cardinal Bo decried, will only increase the chances of more trafficking.
“Without durable peace and an inclusive economy, Myanmar faces the grim prospects of uncontrolled displacement.”