Thirty-nine people died last week who should not have. They were the victims of a growing international tragedy, and their story should touch the hearts of us all.
The thirty-nine were found locked in the back of a shipping container in Essex, England, and the evidence at the moment indicates they were victims of human trafficking.
You may have missed the story since it happened far away, but I took notice when I saw the reports online. Trafficking has been on my mind because of a presentation I recently attended (described below). Human trafficking takes many forms labor trafficking, sex trafficking, immigration scams. The stories too often are horrific; the victims frequently tragic. Trafficking is a problem that we all know exists but within our insulated shells we usually have the luxury of ignoring it. Thirty-nine people should not have to die as a reminder, but lets not miss the opportunity to call the problem to mind.
As I write this, there are many question marks in the Essex lorry deaths. By the time you read it, perhaps more will be known. The victims were initially identified as Chinese, but then Vietnamese migrants were included in the investigation. The container/trailer in which they were found had apparently crossed the English Channel from Europe, and people travel in such vessels only for one reason: to be out of sight of authorities.
For what reason is not yet clear. Thirty-one of the deceased were male, and likely were seeking work, or being exploited for labor. Eight were women, one a teenaged girl, and perhaps were intended for sexual exploitation. Certainly, whatever got them into that container, suffocating in the dark was not the fate they sought. Or deserved.
Millions of these shipping containers move across the globe daily, and ports or border crossings typically dont have the resources to inspect more than a fraction of them. Enough get through the minimal screenings to make it a profitable venture for the traffickers.
So the tragedy of the Essex thirty-none was sadly not a unique one. In an annual report on trafficking issued this summer, the U.S. State Department estimated that some 24 million people are trafficked annually thats equivalent to three cities the size of New York. Answers to the problem are not easy, and I dont pretend to have them. But these are numbers that should motivate the international community.
Not long ago, I got to hear a report from the frontlines of the war on trafficking. I spent an evening with R., who operates a Christian ministry rescuing exploited women from sex trafficking in an Asian nation (per the organizations preferences, I wont give his name or identify the nation because, frankly, he and his colleagues are in danger when they carry out their work).
R. described how young girls, often in dire poverty, are lured by promises of jobs, wealth, even marriage across the border to a larger neighboring nation. Some are even sold by the men in their families, steeped in a culture that tends to devalue daughters. Once taken, instead of the rosy futures that were promised, they find themselves trapped, either sold to foreign nations for unthinkable purposes or condemned to brothels in a large city.
R. and his colleagues attempt to interdict trafficking victims at the border and give them an avenue of escape; they then help them with rehabilitation, counseling, medical care, and job training so that prostitution doesnt remain their only option. R.s team does good work, but they are painfully aware that they only save a handful out of the thousands that are victims of trafficking.
Once upon a time, Britain not only outlawed slavery in its empire, it spent decades battling the international slave trade on the high seas, even though looking the other way was the path of least resistance. Its past time for the international community similarly to make human trafficking a higher priority. For the U.S., here is an issue which unites all our quarrelsome political factions, and it seems to me the weighty influence we have over international diplomacy could be focused more intensely on the subject. We should insist that nations seeking our amity prioritize the issue, and see that draconian punishments against those found guilty of trafficking are imposed.
The alternative is more daughters (and sons) lost to sex trafficking; more victims found dead in shipping containers. There are no easy answers, but shrugging our shoulders and looking the other way is no longer an alternative.
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