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Trafficking victims 'sold a dream'

Young people in Africa are being sold "the dream" of living in the UK, including the promise of becoming a Premier League footballer, only to be trafficked into slavery, the Archbishop of Westminster has said.

On the final day of a global conference in London between police forces, church groups and Government officials, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said it was clear that support to tackle human trafficking is growing.

The Santa Marta Group met for only the second time following its launch at the Vatican in April, when Pope Francis described trafficking as "an open wound on the body of contemporary society; a crime against humanity".

Cardinal Nichols said of the conference: "What struck me the most of all was the extent and the type of enticement and abuse of people that goes on in Africa according to these reports

"For example, there are schools for football excellence which get youngsters in and promise them a career in the Premier League, and as soon as they get to England they are enslaved.

"There seems to be almost no enticement that isn't being used.

"They come in search of a dream, but of course don't find it.

"There are plenty of people who are willing to entice them and sell them the dream in order to get them here."

He said it is now believed that people are being trafficked from 104 countries into 140 countries.

"This is a global phenomenon, a global crisis," he added.

Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who hosted the the conference at Lancaster House in London along with Cardinal Nichols, said it is essential to build relationships with other countries to achieve the group's two main objectives: how to deal with victims and how to deal with offenders.

Sir Bernard said over the past four years awareness of the issue had led to a four-fold increase in the number of people coming forward as victims in the UK, reaching nearly 400.

However, it is only a fraction of the 13,000 people estimated to be have been trafficked in to prostitution, domestic work and outdoor labour, factories and fishing boats, according to a recently published Home Office report.

The Met Commissioner added: "Often, people are trafficked at a young age believing that they are entering a better world, when in reality they are entering a far worse world from which they cannot escape."

The group discussed working with their respective health services to try to identify women trafficked into the sex trade, which makes up 70% of human trafficking. It also sought to establish links with honest businesses to detect those exploiting people who have been trafficked, as well as training "first responders" who are the most likely to come in to contact with people being exploited.

Sir Bernard added that utilising the internet as a tool to help victims and catch offenders, as well as encouraging the public to look out for signs of exploitation, was also a key conclusion.

The next meeting of the Santa Marta Group will be held in Madrid in October next year.

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