In early 2015 Pope Francis described human trafficking as ‘a plague on humanity’ and encouraged the Catholic Church to ‘liberate victims, rehabilitate the excluded and unmask the traffickers’.
Pope Francis personally asked Cardinal Vincent Nichols to lead on this issue, and the Diocese of Westminster responded by opening Caritas Bakhita House in June 2015 as an emergency safe house for rescued female victims of human trafficking in the UK.
There are estimated to be more than 14,000 victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery living in the UK today, with 70% passing through or remaining in Greater London. 55% of trafficking and enslaved victims are women. Sadly, there are still large gaps in the care and resources available to help victims upon being freed.
Caritas Bakhita House aims to meet this current gap in care by helping rescued female victims of human trafficking who have no access to public funding and support.
When the guests first arrive at Bakhita House, they are often very traumatised, having been enslaved, abused and kept, often for long periods of time. The transition into a peaceful and welcoming house relieves their anxieties and helps them to relax. There are enough rooms to accommodate up to 14 guests at a time, with one extra room available for victims rescued by the Metropolitan Police in emergencies. Guests can stay at the house for up to three months, which is twice as long as the 45 days provided by Government funded schemes.
At Bakhita House guests receive pro-bono legal advice and assistance, counselling, medical help, translation, one-on-one English lessons, wellbeing & arts therapy, cooking & ICT classes, education and employment training and pastoral and spiritual care, provided by professional staff, religious sisters and 33 volunteers.
The quality of these relationships, and the engagement with the Catholic community, has delivered an experience for the guests which optimises their restoration and rehabilitation, and is a foundation for lasting hope in their lives.
Caritas Bakhita House exists as part of the unique working relationship between the Catholic Church, the Metropolitan Police, the UK’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner and law enforcement agencies across the UK.
The global network of the Catholic Church has allowed the work done at Bakhita House to serve as a model of practice for replication elsewhere throughout the world. So far five international embassies, and a number of other UK Catholic Dioceses, have visited the house to see how this model works in reality.
By serving as a model house, the hope is to motivate other organisations and countries to set up similar safe houses to help victims in need.
Since opening in June 2015 fifty women, originating from twenty-four countries, aged between 17 and 66, have been received into Bakhita House.
Without Bakhita House, these women could have easily slipped through the UK’s care and law systems, and ended up back in the trafficking situation they had originally escaped from. Bakhita House gives these women the love, care and support they need to take their first steps on the road to independence, eventually leaving Bakhita House with the certainty of a better life, and the knowledge that they are cared for in this world.