This Sri Lankan woman was badly abused and was not paid when she worked as a housemaid in the Middle East. Now back in her homeland, she has started her own incense-making business with help from Caritas. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

When women migrate alone to other countries for work, “they face the psychological burden of being responsible for their families, while not being at home to care for them. They face the moral and economic burden of sending money back to them. They face exploitation and abuse by people they travel with or by their employers. They face the discrimination of being a migrant,” said Martina Liebsch of Caritas Internationalis at a discussion today.

About 100 people attended the “Building Bridges of Opportunity: Women and Migration” event, held in Rome and organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Other speakers included Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People; Ambassador Miguel Diaz, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; and Dr. Farah Pandith, the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities. Speakers discussed specific struggles and dangers that that women migrants face, with Cardinal Veglio mentioning the scourge of forced labour and forced prostitution.

Speaking of her conversations with Muslim immigrant women now living in Europe, Dr. Pandith described the difficulties that even third-generation immigrants in Europe experience when trying to get jobs or legal status. Muslim mothers in Europe “want their children to have the chance to work in the country where they live and where they will die,” said Dr. Pandith. “They want us to help change the environment so there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

Ambassador Diaz stressed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a migrant woman.

Women religious and clergy, migration experts, and embassy representatives from Poland, El Salvador, the UK, the Philippines, and other countries attended. After the discussion, attendees viewed photos of Nepali women who are at risk of unsafe migration. The photos, taken by Katie Orlinsky for Caritas in March of this year, illustrate the prevalence of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation in Nepal.

In her talk, Liebsch outlined the ways that Caritas helps migrant women in need, and called for more support for such women. “In the case of domestic workers and caregivers, we at Caritas are using the slogan: ‘They care for us, let’s care for them,’ said Liebsch. “We must ensure that migrant women are safe and are treated with dignity.”