After World War II, Helen Bamber negotiated the evacuation of TB survivors from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Switzerland. Today, Emma Thompson is the chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation and calls its leader her mentor in human rights.
The org’s mission is as broad as it is simple. “The foundation works with survivors of gross human cruelty,” the actress says. In addition to providing medical help and psychotherapy, the org provides legal aid in dealing with the British government.
“Asylum seekers get conflated with economic refugees,” Thompson explains. “In a lot of cases, these people are from Iraq and have been tortured or they are homosexuals who have been badly treated. If they go back to Iraq, they will face the same kind of abuse, if not worse.”
The foundation also deals with human trafficking, and an art installation called “Journey” (photo above) has occupied Thompson’s most recent efforts. “The installation is comprised of seven shipping containers, which you walk through, each of which represents a leg of the journey. It is designed to give the audience an engaged sensation of human trafficking.”
To call human trafficking a Third World problem misses the point, Thompson says: “London is one of the great destinations for trafficked persons. We are the ones who have created the market. It’s our problem.”
“Journey” comes to New York City and Los Angeles this fall.
Elena is from a small village in Moldova. In 2000, at the age of 19, she became a victim of human trafficking in the U.K., where she was used for sexual exploitation.
“I had been kept under traffickers for three months, forced into prostitution,” she says. In London, Elena was introduced to the Helen Bamber Foundation. As part of her therapy, Elena worked on “Journey,” the art installation based on her story.
“We did seven boxes. One was of my childhood in a happy family. Another was the bedroom where I worked. It was exactly the same bed, with bed sheets and towels and condoms.
“I tell other young women that you can live a normal life,” adds Elena. “You don’t have to feel that you don’t belong to society.” Elena now works in a law firm.
— Anna Stewart