Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC together with the Catholic National Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Talithakum Sri Lanka have organized a webinar titled, “Issues related Human Trafficking and Labour Migration in the Context of COVID 19 in Sri Lanka” on 8th of February 2021.

The above programme has been organized in line with the Feast of St. Josephine Bakitha, the patron saint of human trafficking which falls the same day. Josephine Margaret Bakhita, (1869 – 8 February 1947), was a Sudanese-Italian Canossian religious sister who lived in Italy for 45 years, after having been a slave in Sudan. In 2000 she was declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

In 1877, when she was 7–8 years old, she was seized by Arab slave traders, who had abducted her elder sister two years earlier. She was forced to walk barefoot about 960 kilometres (600 mi) to El-Obeid and was sold and bought twice before she arrived there. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was sold three more times and then given away.

Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. It is said that the trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name; she took one given to her by the slavers, bakhita, Arabic for ‘lucky’ or ‘fortunate’. She was also forcibly converted to Islam.

Every year, Caritas Sri Lanka celebrates this day and takes time to pray and reflect on the interventions the organization carries out on behalf of the victims of migrants and human trafficking. This year too, Caritas organized this day in partnership with other local and international organizations working for the same cause and objectives.

In the morning, staff of Caritas Sri Lanka together with Catholic National Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants celebrated the Holy Mass and prayed for the thousands of victims, especially for those who have suffered most during the Covid pandemic period. Rt. Rev. Dr. Raymond Wickramasinghe, Chairman and Rev. Fr. Anton Sriyan, National Director/ Executive Secretary of the Catholic Commission and Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, National Director, Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC celebrated the Holy Mass at SEDEC Chapel.

At 10.00 am, the webinar was started. After a few introductory sharing, the main speeches on the context of human trafficking and migration were delivered by Ms. Minoli P. Don, Head of Migrant Assistance & Protection Unit, IOM and Mr. Andrew Samuel, Executive Director, Community Development Services (CDS).

They both elaborated on the present context of human trafficking and migration and emphasized the need and importance of collaborative efforts and further focus and intervention of the government to bring the migration crisis under control in Sri Lanka.

Ms. Naoko Maruyama, Regional Coordinator of South East Asia and Oceania spoke at the webinar on behalf of the Vatican based Migrants and Refugees Section and Ms. Leeza Leeza, Thematic Manager, Migration and Anti Human Trafficking also spoke on behalf of Caritas India and Steering Group of COATNET.

Rev. Sr. Nilanthi Ranasinghe F.M.M, Coordinator Talithakum Sri Lanka also spoke at the webinar.

In addition, Diocesan Directors, staff, members of the “Voice of Migrants” forum which is comprised of Civil Society Organizations and Trade Union to voice for the rights of migrants, interest groups, journalists, members of other NGO and INGOs also participated in the webinar.

The day’s Programmes were organized by the Integral Human Development Unit of Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC which also implements projects and interventions related to the Migration and Anti-Human Trafficking under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, National Director, Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC.