During a visit to Lambeth Palace some months ago, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew extended an invitation for a joint Anglican/Orthodox conference on modern day slavery to be hosted by the Patriarchate in Istanbul (historic Constantinople).

The Diocese in Europe was honoured to receive two invitations to take part in this conference on 6th & 7th February which brought together bishops, priests, academics and lay activists from both the Church of England and the Orthodox Church.  Canon Malcolm Bradshaw MBE Chaplain of Greater Athens and Bishop Robert’s Attaché David Fieldsend were therefore amongst the fifty or so participants.

The conference was entitled ‘Sins Before Our Eyes – A Forum on Modern Slavery’. After an official opening at which the British Consul-General to Istanbul (bringing a message of support from the Prime Minister) spoke, along with representatives of the Turkish Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Religious Affairs before both Archbishop Justin and Patriarch Bartholomew gave keynote addresses underlining the importance they gave to the issue and dedicating their respective churches to action.

During the Archbishop’s speech he mentioned the work of the Diocese in Europe on both refugees and trafficking. Four plenary sessions then followed each with session titles including ‘Facing Modern Slavery: Engaging the Senses – which included an analysis of media coverage; ‘Theological Thinking about Modern Slavery’; ‘Global and Local Features and Case Studies’, and ‘Action by Faith Communities and International Actors.

Views and experience from every continent were shared in the discussion time, during which Malcolm Bradshaw was able to share about his work in Greece with both refugees and trafficking victims. He was one of a number of speakers to observe the clear links between the movement of large numbers of traumatised people fleeing conflict and left vulnerable in a strange land -, especially unaccompanied children – and the growth of human trafficking through numbers of these people becoming easy targets for exploitation. 

Archbishop Justin followed up these remarks by talking about the shameful lack of urgency in rescuing such children shown by state authorities in a number of European countries. He had got involved in one case in which three orphaned children of primary age had been living together on their own in the ruins of a bombed out building in Aleppo, but were turned down for asylum in Britain, even thought they had an uncle living in London. One of the reasons given was that they had failed to submit their form online! 

David Fieldsend shared both experience as an NGO lobbyist dealing with the issue before he started working for Bishop Robert and his subsequent experience organising the diocesan survey on activity to combat human trafficking and follow-up work to the survey including the recruiting of volunteer archdeaconry co-ordinators to publicise the issue and arrange training and the holding of the first area training day in Belgium at which those willing to get involved in action to combat slavery and trafficking learnt about how to recognise the activity, identify victims and give follow-up support as well as hearing from representatives of local church anti-trafficking projects (from a range of denominations) that were looking to recruit volunteers to help.

The conference closed with the signing of a joint declaration by Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin which, amongst other things called for church leaders ‘to find appropriate and effective ways of prosecuting those involved in human trafficking, preventing all forms of modern slavery, and protecting its victims in our communities’ for church people  ‘to become educated, raise awareness, and take action with regard to these tragedies of modern slavery, and commit themselves to working and praying actively towards the eradication of this scourge’ and committing themselves to ‘the establishment of a joint task force for modern slavery to bring forward timely recommendations as to how the Orthodox Church and the Church of England can collaborate in the battle against this cruel exploitation’.


News story extracted from formal report by David Fieldsend.