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Fight against human trafficking: KU expert participates in EU project

How can we help those who have become victims of human trafficking? This is the question that Simon Kolbe, research associate in the “Inclusion” research association at the KU, deals with in the context of the EU project aimed at improving integration of Nigerian and Chinese survivors of human trafficking. The social education specialist is part of a transnational team of five researchers. On Monday and Tuesday, the German Bundestag gave the go-ahead for the 415,000-euro project.

Simon Kolbe (left) in Berlin at the first meeting of the project “Intersectional approach to the process of integration in Europe for survivors of human trafficking”. (Photo: Kolbe/upd)

Simon Kolbe (left) in Berlin at the first meeting of the project “Intersectional approach to the process of integration in Europe for survivors of human trafficking”. (Photo: Kolbe/upd)

The project “Intersectional approach to the process of integration in Europe for survivors of human trafficking” (in short INTAP) is coordinated by the “Gemeinsam gegen Menschenhandel” alliance. The planning and implementation of the project involves German, Austrian and Italian NGOs with long-standing experience in the field of integration work: „Solwodi Deutschland“, „The Justice Project“, „Herzwerk Wien“ and „Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII“. The patron of the project, member of the Bundestag Frank Heinrich (CDU) invited Simon Kolbe to support the project as an expert in the field.

Kolbe is a team member of the joint “Inclusion” project and has both academic responsibilities and works as a refugee and integration coach for Caritas Eichstätt. He deals with the question of how we can help women who have fallen victim to forced prostitution and what role religion and spirituality take over in that context. “In addition to psychological and physical violence, human traffickers often use voodoo spells in order to control Nigerian women”, explains Kolbe. “We want to understand the system behind this and find a solution of how we can approach these women and offer our help.”

In his asylum work, Kolbe often meets Nigerian women who have been sexually exploited: “We cannot even begin to understand what these women had to go through before they came to Germany. Still, there is no certainty that they will be granted asylum here.” Their stories are doubted not least because the enormous relevance of this spiritual form of pressure exerted by voodoo is difficult to understand for German authorities. “By carrying out research in this field, we can try and increase the understandability of this matter and thus contribute to strengthening the women’s credibility.”, says Kolbe. He went on to say that this was a first important step towards long-term integration of affected women which can then help them in reaching genuine participation in society.

Kolbe, who has professional links both to academia and practice, attaches great importance to combining both aspects in “INTAP”: “I want to carry out research in order to obtain results both for scientists and practitioners.” Those working in asylum advisory services need scientifically substantiated data and findings on the functionality of the human trafficking system and the needs of those affected in order to be able to provide the best possible help. According to Kolbe, the fields of social work and social pedagogy play a key role in this respect: “They operate at the interface between practice and research.”

In the context of the INTAP project, Kolbe wants to conduct qualitative interviews with victims of human trafficking in order to reach this objective. This task is particularly complicated because it is difficult to build a relationship of trust with the frightened and heavily intimidated women. In his work with asylum seekers and thanks to his involvement in a collaboration project on trauma research with the KU Chair of Clinical Psychology, Kolbe could already convince some women to participate in his project. In total, the team of researchers want to question 40 victims and 20 experts. On the occasion of this week’s first meeting, the team started to develop guidelines for the interviews which will start in April. It is planned to add further meetings, publications and conferences to the project schedule over the next two years in order to create a platform to present the results to the general public.