By Christine Caine
The A21 Campaign was birthed while we were walking through the Macedonia airport in Greece. The walls were plastered with photos of women and children who were ‘missing’. We soon found out that these were alleged victims of human trafficking, and that there were millions across the globe just like these.
After some research, we were somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue, but we knew we could not simply sit back and do nothing. We knew we had to play our part in helping to eliminate this ongoing tragedy.
The EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner has estimated that 500,000 women and children are trafficked into the EU on a yearly basis for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Not long after that fateful day at Macedonia airport, we launched The A21 Campaign, and with little knowledge, and a lot of passion, in 2007 we set out to make a difference.
After extensive research, planning, fundraising, more research, relationship building, a lot of learning, and a great leap of faith, we opened our first shelter for victims of human trafficking at the end of 2008.
This shelter is located in a prime destination country in Europe, Greece – and we are now able to provide trafficked victims with a safe, loving and comforting environment; access to medical care and psychological assessment; vocational training; assistance in university education; life guidance/counselling, and access to legal assistance. We work closely with police, hospitals and government officials, and are seeing justice being brought to new rescued victims each month. In fact, in June this year, we won our first court case and saw justice served as a trafficker was taken off the streets and sentenced to prison.
There are an estimated 20,000 women and girls trafficked into the Greek sex industry, earning Greece the title: ‘The Centre of Trafficking in Europe.’
In addition to Greece, we are also working to help prevent human trafficking in the Ukraine. As the Ukraine is a source country for many victims trafficked to Greece, the expansion of work in the Ukraine increases our ability to strategically help both at risk persons and those who have already been trafficked. Through our Ukrainian team, we have already been able to help several trafficked victims, including the provision of much needed medical assistance. We have also begun a school programme, educating at-risk students about the dangers of human trafficking and how to identify false job opportunities.
As we look to the future of A21, and how we can position ourselves to reach out and help even more victims of human trafficking, we are working to open our next shelter in Cyprus.
Cyprus has been said to have the worst record in Europe for trafficking people.
The 2010 US Department of State TIP report made mention of one case in Cyprus where more than 100 victims were trafficked by three suspects late last year. This year, trafficking in Cyprus made global headlines as the European Court of Human Rights found that Cyprus failed to adequately protect a trafficking victim from Russia - she was tragically killed.
The TIP report also stated that the Government of Cyprus does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and that, overall, sentences for trafficking-related offenses are inadequate.
Only ONE in 100,000 Europeans involved in trafficking are convicted.
The need to address the issue of human trafficking in Cyprus is undeniably great, and we believe that it is a strategic location on the trafficking grid. This is why we are so excited to be partnering with J.John to help raise awareness and rally the Church to rise up and BE the change in the country of Cyprus. The hour is critical.
I was reminded of this fact on a recent visit to our shelter in Greece when one of the girls said to me, “Where were you? Why didn’t you come sooner? Don’t you know that there are thousands of girls out there who are suffering in a living hell?!”
I was speechless and my mind began to flood with thoughts: ‘Why hadn’t I come sooner? What was I so busy doing? There is a lost and broken humanity that is crying out, desperate and needing to be rescued … what could I have possibly been doing that was more important?’
As we look to expand the work of The A21 Campaign into Cyprus, I can hear that girl’s words ringing in my ears and I want to tell all of the girls who are desperately crying out right now, “WE ARE COMING!”