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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Exposing trafficking networks in Madagascar


The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, a PC(USA) global partner, ministers to the marginalized, including the victims of human trafficking

June 9, 2024

The Rev. Raobiarizafy Andriafarantafika, left, and Pastor Helivao Poget. (Contributed photo)

On a Sunday morning in March 2023, people fishing off the coast of Ankazomborona in northwestern Madagascar discovered two corpses floating in the sea. Soon, alarmed villagers were combing the coast in pirogues for signs of mariners in distress. Rescuers eventually recovered 34 bodies, including three children. The dead were determined to have been passengers on a small boat that ran aground on its way to the French island of Mayotte, about 250 miles from Madagascar. Twenty-three survivors were also rescued but fled, fearful of being arrested for evading immigration laws.

As the incident gained national visibility, a government official, speaking anonymously on a radio broadcast, confirmed what many local people already knew: This was not an isolated tragedy, but a predictable outcome of a regular pattern of illicit crossings. He claimed that two or three small craft made the crossing to Mayotte or Comoros daily. Each boat typically carried 40 to 60 people — adults in search of work and a better life or children traveling, often unaccompanied,
to join parents who preceded them.

For Pastor Helivao Poget, the situation was familiar. Poget is the director of the National Chaplaincy Program for the 6-million-member Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar,  a PC(USA) global partner, which goes by its Malagasy acronym, FJKM. A social worker and a missiology lecturer at one of FJKM’s theological seminaries, much of Poget’s ministry has been with marginalized people, including those exploited by labor traffickers and Madagascar’s sex tourism industry.

Human trafficking has been called the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, generating annual revenues estimated at $150 billion. Poget first became involved in addressing trafficking following the 2009 military coup d’état in Madagascar that damaged the economy, deepened the nation’s poverty and drove many people, particularly women, to seek work abroad. After discovering that hundreds of Malagasy women were trapped in exploitative employment in Lebanon, she worked with government officials to bring them home. In 2013, when members of a colleague’s family became trapped in similar circumstances in Kuwait, Poget asked me to help her make the connections that would enable her to navigate this new situation. In the process, she found scores of Malagasy women imprisoned in Kuwait for running away from their employers and thereby violating their visa restrictions.

For the past several years, with help from Presbyterian Women, the FJKM Chaplaincy has run a human trafficking prevention initiative, Mamonjy (Malagasy for “save”), to raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking and to emphasize a simple message: “People are not for sale.” After learning that women saw foreign employment as an attractive option to escape abuse at home, Poget added a parallel initiative to educate congregations to confront domestic violence. For these trainings, she adapted materials developed by PC(USA) partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo that my colleague, Christi Boyd, regional facilitator for women’s and children’s interests in Africa, had shared at a regional meeting of the FJKM Women’s Association (Dorkasy).

Pastor Helivao Poget (sixth from left, with glasses on) is pictured with church members outside of FJKM Ankazomborona. (Contributed photo)

In February 2023, Christi and I joined Poget on a Presbyterian Peacemaking Program travel study seminar to the Philippines and Hong Kong that focused on the root causes and current challenges of forced migration and labor trafficking. The experience helped us to understand the global scope of trafficking and the ways in which church partners in the region are advocating for migrant workers.

“Madagascar and the Philippines are both island nations,” Poget observed, “so I felt that our hearts were in similar places. We are accustomed to looking outwards and to viewing the sea as a highway to opportunity.”

Despite this similar outlook, the conditions in the two countries are very different. Madagascar prohibits its nationals from moving abroad to take up labor contracts, ostensibly for their protection. As a result, people move clandestinely, placing them at the mercy of traffickers — and often corrupt officials. The Filipino government, on the other hand, actively encourages its citizens to work overseas. In both countries, many households rely on wages remitted by family members working or residing abroad, but in the Philippines, such remittances are officially recognized (and taxed) and the government provides at least some protections to overseas workers.

In mid-November, I traveled with Poget to the area around Ankazomborona to learn more about trafficking networks in the region, to sensitize local FJKM congregations to the dangers of trafficking, and to encourage them to raise the awareness of the communities where they minister.

“Our visit has helped to open the eyes of pastors and congregations to what is going on here,” Poget remarked. “It has also helped them to understand that preventing trafficking is not ‘political’ but a core calling for followers of Christ.” Poget hopes that the FJKM will continue to engage church and public officials to explore ways to provide more sustainable and effective protection to vulnerable workers.

Douglas Tilton, PC(USA)’s Regional Liaison for Southern Africa

Read more articles from the Spring 2024 edition of Mission Crossroads here.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, June 9, 2024, the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Today’s Focus: Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, a PC(USA) global partner

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Rebecca Jordahl, Administrator, Church Relations, Board of Pensions 
Bequi Jump, Associate translator, Spanish, Global Language Resource, (A Corp) 

Let us pray

God of grace, we thank you that heaven and earth are full of your glory. You created us for life together. Help us create life-giving patterns of community and commerce. In the name of Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life in all its fullness. Amen.