By Elise Harris
After a visit with Pope Francis Wednesday, Ivanka Trump met a group of human trafficking survivors, calling them examples of strength and addressing various legislative ways the U.S. government can help victims.
Ivanka met with a dozen victims of human trafficking from Nigeria and Eritrea. She described them as “remarkable women,” who are “testaments to strength, faith and perseverance in the face of unspeakable adversity and challenge.”
Ivanka is currently accompanying her father, U.S. President Donald Trump, on his first international tour, which also included stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Earlier in the day, Trump and Pope Francis had their first highly anticipated meeting.
The encounter between Ivanka and human trafficking victims took place at the headquarters of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.
Founded in 1968 by Italian layman Andrea Riccardi, a historian and former minister in the Italian government, the community focuses their mission on service to the poor and refugees, conflict resolution, and both ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue.
Sant’Egidio is a favorite of Pope Francis, who often praises the community for their work. It has long been involved in campaigns to combat human trafficking – also an important topic for Pope Francis – and has partnered with the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See for several events.
Ivanka thanked the community for their work, which she said “resonates strongly” not just in Italy, “but throughout the world.”
She said that in her meeting with representatives of Sant’Egidio, they were able to discuss several programs “that have been successfully launched and developed over many, many years now.”
These programs, she said, “have provided support and help to those who need it most, whether it’s the elderly or the disadvantaged, and also victims of human trafficking throughout Africa and the whole world.”
“So it was a great privilege to be able to be here and the hear firsthand from these tremendous thought leaders about the work that’s being done, what has worked and what has the potential to work better and to be better executed in the future,” she said, adding that she looks forward to further collaboration.
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In comments to journalists following the meeting with Ivanka, two women from Sant’Egidio who work with the trafficking victims said it was an “intense” and “moving” encounter.
Some of the women told their stories, including how they were rescued, how their lives have changed and the situations they are in now.
There was “a lot of interest” on the part of Ivanka, they said, noting that she “listened very carefully” to their stories, but also asked questions about possible legislative initiatives on the part of the government to stop human trafficking, specifically when it comes to women.
Trafficking in the Mediterranean and Africa was mentioned specifically, including the trafficking of children, and a strong emphasis was placed on how the process begins in the countries where the victims originate.
According to the women from Sant’Egidio, Ivanka referred to her brief meeting with Pope Francis earlier that morning, telling the women that he is “a great advocate of your stories” of success and integration.
Ivanka then asked the victims what could be done. They said there is a greater need for communication and the sharing of information in their countries of origin, since many women are tricked into a trafficking ring under the false pretense that they will be moving to Europe for legitimate work, in many cases as a cook or maid.
They said that “public campaigns” are needed, because most women “never imagined” they would end up being trafficked.
In addition to the trafficking of persons, organ trafficking was also discussed, as well as the role of religion in ending violence and achieving peace, the freedom of women and the education of children.
In brief comments to journalists, Sant’Egidio founder and president Andrea Riccardi noted that Ivanka made a strong reference to collaboration with the organization’s projects in Africa, specifically in terms of helping to get legal documents for the continent’s “ghost children,” meaning children who are not registered and therefore have no legal identity, making them extra vulnerable and easy prey for traffickers.
Riccardi said Ivanka also showed a strong interest in an initiative the community is currently trying to push forward in Italy to get legal documents for women rescued from forced prostitution.
Before leaving with her father on his first international tour, Ivanka hosted an anti-human trafficking roundtable discussion at the White House May 17. The event gathered a swath of bipartisan lawmakers and representatives of numerous organizations that deal with human trafficking.
According to reports, Ivanka spoke during that discussion about the Trump administration’s efforts to combat trafficking not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, telling attendees that “combatting human trafficking and modern slavery is both a moral and strategic interest domestically and abroad.”
That particular roundtable was a follow-up to a February discussion on the same topic, which was also organized by Ivanka. At the time, President Trump said he would use the “full force and weight” of the U.S. government to fight against trafficking.