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Honoured for her services to ending modern slavery

· Sr Imelda Poole made member of the Order of the British Empire ·

Elona was a victim of human trafficking. She was trafficked from Albania and rescued in a Western European country having being sold into the sex trade. She had suffered terrible abuse. Elona was frightened and wanted to stay outside the shelter system. She chose to stay with her father, even though the relationship was not good. One morning, she phoned Sister Imelda Poole, IBVM saying she was on the street, her father had beaten and abused her very badly.

RENATE, a network of religious sisters, headed by Sister Imelda, working against trafficking and modern slavery in Europe, stepped in and she was rescued again. Elona is now in a rehabilitation programme and receiving vocational training. Elona is just one of the many victims of modern slavery rescued by the religious sisters around the world.

RENATE is part of a global network of sisters, Talitha Kum (‘arise little girl’). They provide shelter, healthcare and trauma counselling to victims. They enable them to return safely to their home countries, or help them with training and volunteering placements. They raise awareness of modern slavery through presentations and films such as ‘Called to give voice to the voiceless.’ They work to address the reasons that cause people to be trafficked, reducing poverty and empowering communities economically. They campaign for legislative change and better services for victims.

To honour their work, this week Sister Imelda was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to ending modern slavery by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

The contribution of the religious networks to ending modern slavery is vital. According to the ILO over 40 million people are still in slavery globally. Many of the 660,000 women religious have responded to Pope Francis’s call to care for the marginalised, and in particular to work to end human trafficking and modern slavery. Through their own networks the women religious are able to work in both countries from which victims are trafficked and the countries where they end up, breaking down the cycles of misinformation and abuse that trap the vulnerable.

The British Government, and its partners, has also been at the forefront of this effort. Theresa May, then Home Secretary, participated at the launch of the Santa Marta Group at the Vatican in 2014, a forum that brings together police chiefs and Church representatives who are often at the coal face of anti-trafficking. She introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which gave law enforcement agencies the tools they need to tackle the crimes of slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. It toughened up sentencing, and increased support for victims. Under the Act, large companies have to both identify and tackle modern slavery in their supply chains.

Modern slavery is a global problem which needs an international solution, At the United Nations General Assembly in 2017, the British Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the United Nations launched the Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. Over 80 countries have now endorsed the document, a concrete signal of international intent to combat this scourge. The UK and Holy See both lobbied for Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to end modern slavery by 2030.

Throughout history, British monarchs have rewarded those who have shown service, loyalty or gallantry. Today, Her Majesty The Queen confers honours on deserving people from all walks of life, in public recognition of their exceptional merit, service or bravery. Sister Imelda’s MBE is a small acknowledgement of a difficult work that she and her fellow sisters do in rescuing women like Elona. I congratulate them whole-heartedly.

Sally Axworthy,
British Ambassador to the Holy See




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 17, 2019