More than 100 laypeople and Religious learnt about advocacy and social justice issues recently at the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

Human trafficking and the work of Franciscans International were among the topics discussed on Oct 24-25, as part of the Franciscans’ celebration of what has been called the Spirit of Assisi.

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, then executive director of Transient Workers Count Too, an organisation that promotes fair treatment for migrant workers, highlighted some of the problems foreign workers have faced in Singapore.

Some who have had their contracts terminated were held against their will by repatriation companies until they are sent to the airport and boarded a flight home, he said.

On human trafficking in Singapore, he said local authorities’ response to the problem has somewhat improved.

Dr Wijeysingha, who has a Christian background, encouraged those present to express their outrage at human trafficking by speaking to their friends about the issue, and by writing letters to the media, and Church and civil authorities.

Franciscan Friar John Wong shared during a panel discussion that there needs to be follow-up after trafficking victims are rescued. This includes ensuring that the victim gets on the flight home, there is someone in authority who would meet the victim at the other end, and ensuring that the victim’s future is taken care of.

The second evening saw Mr Sanjay Valentine Gathia, Franciscans International’s Interim Regional Director for the Asia Pacific Region, speak on the work of his organisation.

Franciscans International (FI) is a faith-based organisation focusing on advocacy, peace, poverty and the planet.

It is built on the Franciscan values of protecting the vulnerable, forgotten and the wounded, and works with Franciscans at grassroots level and other Church groups and NGOs to identify problems.

These issues are then brought to the UN, where FI has a presence.

FI also invites its local members to contribute to the Universal Periodic Review, a process involving a review of the human rights records of all UN member states once every four years.

Those who attended the talks found them informative.

There is “so much more to trafficking than what we know”, commented Ms Margaret Xie, a St Mary’s parishioner.

Friar David Au, a Franciscan novice, said the talks spotlighted the abuse of foreign workers in a relatively pristine place like Singapore. “One can’t be blind towards it,” he said.

He said he is glad that there is an avenue Franciscan friars can turn to to pursue advocacy work.

Darren Boon
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