CHURCHES along a major road linking a North Wales port to England have been asked to open as places of sanctuary for those fleeing human traffickers.
The diocese of St Asaph is also looking at how it can provide safe-house facilities for those rescued from traffickers.
There was a “significant ongoing problem” in the area, the diocese said, and criminals were using Holyhead port to bring people into the UK illegally.
Figures from the Welsh government show that incidents of modern slavery in Wales were rising. In 2015, 134 referrals of potential victims of slavery were reported, an increase of 91.4 per cent on the previous year.
The Church in Wales is working with a voluntary group in Colwyn Bay, Transform, which is urging churches to open their doors as places of sanctuary.
Alison Ussery, from Transform, said that high-risk areas for modern slavery were Holyhead port and the major roads, as well as industries such as fast-food outlets, hand car-washes, and domestic staff.
Ms Ussery said: “It is important that churches and people of faith make a stand, and do something about this terrible crime.
“Partnership and collaborative working are very important. By standing together, this horrible crime can be fought and individuals can be saved from horrific abuse.”
She has asked churches if they can be available at short notice to act as local reception centres to provide sanctuary and safety for survivors.
She said: “At the moment, we have to transport survivors found in North Wales to suitable facilities in Liverpool and Manchester, but it would be far kinder and more efficient to process survivors close to where they are found, in the safety of a church or chapel.
“For centuries, churches have been places of sanctuary, and now is the time to continue that tradition to meet the needs of vulnerable individuals finding themselves victims of criminal gangs.”
In an article for the diocesan magazine, she cited the recent case of 111 migrant workers found in a derelict building in Deeside, where they were living while working in the local fields. Each had to pay £55 per week for to live in a room with ten other men, with no hot water or cooking facilities.
The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, said: “It’s hard to appreciate the scale of the problem in North Wales as the issue is largely invisible and people don’t like to think of such activity happening in a cosy, friendly place like North Wales. But it is there, and is significant enough to have come to the attention of the church community.
“It’s important that everyone is aware of the reality of modern slavery and that we work to raise awareness within congregations for the signs and indicators of such activity.”
The diocese of St Asaph’s Engagement Officer, Sarah Wheat, said: “I’ve spoken to our mission areas located close to the A55 and all the Leaders are keen to support the work being done to tackle modern slavery in North Wales. The mission-area conferences are now in the process of identifying the most appropriate buildings and key holders to be available at immediate notice to provide emergency reception facilities. In addition, there are options being discussed to support the provision of a safe house, and a number of properties have been identified.”
The Pope last week spoke out on modern slavery. He said that the situation was worsening, and described it as an “atrocious scourge . . . all the more condemned when it takes place against children”.