Counter Trafficking Award for Priest Recognizes Crucial Role of Clergy

As Head of the All-Ukrainian Charitable "Faith, Hope, Love" (Ukrainian Orthodox Church), Father Ioann has worked tirelessly over the past several years to engage the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the fight against human trafficking in Ukraine. His organization’s achievements include the establishment of three successful church resource centres to counter human trafficking and the creation of the first strategy for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in combating trafficking. Just as importantly, Father Ioann and Faith, Hope, Love are making significant efforts to engage other Churches on counter-trafficking, both in Ukraine and abroad and to create a common inter-church ground for action against the crime. In recognition of his work, Father Ioann has been given an award by IOM at its Third Annual Counter Trafficking Awards Ceremony in Kiev funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Here, the remarkable priest talks to IOM about why human trafficking is on his agenda.

IOM: First, congratulations on your award. How do you feel about it?

Father Ioann: We are very glad that IOM has awarded the Church’s work but we realize that we there is still much to do, especially regarding interchurch collaboration. The interchurch situation is very difficult in Ukraine.

IOM: Why have you engaged in the fight against human trafficking?

Father Ioann: Two personal experiences made me want to be involved in counter-trafficking efforts. A few years ago, I met two girls, both victims of trafficking, in Odessa. As I didn’t know about human trafficking, I didn’t understand that they were victims and I didn’t help them. I then read about the issue and understood that priests can help.

The second incident happened when I was travelling to Italy. Half of the people who were in the bus that took me there didn’t return to Ukraine but stayed in Italy. I later heard that these people had not only been trafficked for sexual exploitation but also for other forms of exploitation.

IOM: What role do you think the church can play in fighting trafficking?

Father Ioann: The young women trafficked from Ukraine come from rural areas. The only institution that we have in these areas is the church. The priests are very powerful there but they usually don’t know about human trafficking. Our mission is to inform them. The first step is on preventive information and the second is on giving support to victims of trafficking. Just today, an article on a priest who helped a victim of trafficking was featured in a Ukrainian newspaper.

IOM: Women victims of trafficking usually have to face stigma upon their return. They can be rejected by their own family and friends. How can the clergy help overcome this difficult hurdle?

Father Ioann: We have to change the negative opinion the priests can have about victims of human trafficking to enable them to explain the problem to the population. We talk about the issue of stigma during our trainings to student priests. Last year, we taught 3,500 student priests in 20 universities and organized 12 trainings for 200 priests working in rural areas. But there are 9000 priests in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 6,000 of whom are in rural areas. So there is still much work to do.

IOM: You work on a Strategy for the participation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. Could you please tell us what more you are doing to ensure this happens?

Father Ioann: First, the Church should provide full information to all priests regarding human trafficking. The information should be translated into "church language". Information regarding active priests who already worked on this issue should also be collected so that we can run local centres against human trafficking. There are currently three local resource centres (in Lviv, Simferopol and Dnipropetrovsk). We have also opened a reintegration centre in Lviv where victims can receive first assistance from priests. Another one will be opened in Dnipropetrovsk at the end of the year.

IOM: Can you elaborate on what these resource centres do?

Father Ioann: They gather information about human trafficking and then put it in a comprehensible way for priests in the area. At first, 90 per cent of these priests are reluctant to participate in the trainings that we organize. They have to deal with several issues and they don’t understand the importance of human trafficking in our country. They have a negative reaction because of the lack of information compounded by fact that there is confusion in Ukrainian society between victims of human trafficking and prostitution. After the trainings, however, the priests usually change their opinion.

In an effort to strengthen the capacity of faith-based organizations and personnel in fighting the crime, IOM training is carried out in collaboration with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the United States (US) Embassy to the Holy See and is part of a multi-country programme funded by the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).