The Duchess of Cornwall today met victims of human trafficking and spoke afterwards of how she had been deeply moved by the experience.
Camilla was visiting the Progetto Arcobaleno Association, a small charity which works with underprivileged people in Florence, Italy, including the homeless, unemployed, drugs and substance abusers and those involved in prostitution.
Some of these were deeply vulnerable young women who found themselves at the mercy of the brutal people traffickers as they attempted to flee to a better life in Italy.
Given their very obvious vulnerability, the duchess, who is on the second day of a five-day trip to the country with her husband, Prince Charles, met with them in private.
She described the meeting as being difficult at times due to the horrific experiences the women had been through, but ultimately deeply moving – and even, occasionally, uplifting, given that some had managed to turn round their lives.
She said: “They come here and its funny because when you start talking to them they are all very silent and very shy and they don’t want to open up about it. But you get them talking for a bit and you suddenly start hearing their stories and where they have come from.
“Actually, we spent five minutes in complete silence. Then eventually you say ‘would one of you like to start saying something’ and they just shake their heads.
“But then you just go and do something else and [then] one of them comes and taps you on the shoulder and they do want to tell you their stories.”
The Progetto Arcobaleno Association was up in 1985 by a group of volunteers and aims to raise awareness of the plight of the disadvantaged and enable its members to return to an independent life.
The centre, which is open all-year round, is home to up to 16 Italian or foreign permanent residents and eight day guests at any one time.
The services on offer to them include a language school, legal advice centre, vocational training, traineeships, IT courses and business start-up advice.
It is one of three centres in Florence for immigrant children, working in tandem with public primary and secondary schools and the local community.
Almost ten years ago it also began to support women victims of human trafficking and currently provides safe houses for female abuse victims.
It also provides legal and psychological support in order to facilitate a return to independence, as well as work placements and a helpline service.