Information and stories about human rights.

APHRThe Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya follow Islam and have their own language and culture. In 2017, there were one million of the Rohingya population living in Myanmar. However, the government considered them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The government targeted the Rohingya, leaving thousands fleeing as a result of discriminatory violence and abuse. However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) works to help the Rohingya.

The Targeting of the Rohingya

The government officially forced the Rohingya out of Myanmar on August 25, 2017, by burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing the population. Hundreds of thousands had to flee by sea or foot. A minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under 5, died in the month after the conflict occurred. Furthermore, at least 288 villages burned down in northern Rakhine State.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal attacks. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied all allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a network of parliamentarians promoting democracy and advocating for human rights in Southeast Asia. Founded in June 2013, the APHR’s mission is to create a safe place where all people can live without fear of violence and discrimination. Specifically, the APHR focuses on preventing democratic and human rights violations.

The APHR is an organization consisting of public figures in positions of power working with government officials and upholding political freedom. The APHR targets public figures and organizations based on specific strengths and the ability to persuade. The organization emphasizes the importance of international relations and environmental sustainability. Founding members include Charles Chong from Singapore, Son Chhay from Cambodia and Walden Bello from the Philippines.

The APHR works to implement democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief programs. The organization brings officials together through workshops, forums and conferences while working with the United Nations, parliaments, international governments, communities, shareholders and grassroots actors.

The APHR in Myanmar

The APHR is currently focused on assessing regional response to the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and holding the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, accountable for the recent attack on Armed Forces Day. Tens of thousands of people protested in support of democracy in Myanmar and security forces responded by killing 114 people, including children, on March 27, 2021. The APHR called upon the international community to take action against these atrocities.

The APHR members spoke to refugees to gather information on the human rights violations being experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the situation in Bangladesh that led them to flock to Myanmar. The APHR requests that Myanmar’s government allow U.N. agencies and others looking to provide humanitarian assistance access to the northern Rakhine State. Journalists should be allowed to investigate and report accurately on the abuses happening, and “impartial and independent” investigations leading to fair trials seeking reparations ought to take place.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has worked effortlessly to help many other people and causes in addition to the Rohingya people. Overall, the APHR shows its dedication and commitment to protecting the most vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program
Much of the world struggles to assist refugees and other forcibly displaced people. However, Nepal stands out as a rare success story. The nation accepted more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees since the 1990s. Nepal’s refugee resettlement program has proven to be effective. The program has relocated about 113,500 refugees to third countries. Additionally, many of the camps that emerged have shut down because they were no longer necessary. However, it is still challenging to provide refugees with their basic needs.

Origins of the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis

Ethnic Nepalis people whose origins lie in Bhutan primarily partake in Nepal’s refugee resettlement program. The Lhotshampas are Nepali people who reside in the southern portion of Bhutan and maintain a distinct culture.

The Bhutanese government initiated the One Nation, One People policy to promote the dominant Bhutanese culture. Many perceived this policy as an attempt to suppress Nepali culture in Bhutan. Additionally, this policy replaced the Nepali language with Dzongkha as the primary mode of instruction in schools. Furthermore, it forbade Nepalis from wearing their traditional clothing, forcing them to dress like the Bhutanese majority.

Bhutanese officials became wary of the substantial Lhotshampa population in the south after the 1988 census. Additionally, accusations emerged of them being illegal aliens along with instances of violence and discrimination. As a result, large numbers of ethnic Nepalis left Bhutan for refugee camps in Nepal.

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program

The population of Lhotshampa refugees in Nepal has increased to more than 100,000 people. Unfortunately, talks with Bhutan failed to produce any solution. Thus, the government of Nepal developed a plan to resettle the refugees in other countries.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program started in 2007. In addition, Nepal and eight other countries collaborated with each other. These countries are the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. These nations agreed to accept Lhotshampa refugees, allowing them to lead new lives outside of refugee camps.

Organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government of Nepal have aided in the program’s success. UNHCR and the Nepalese government underwent efforts to provide documentation for each refugee. Photos and listings of details of each person provided an accurate number of refugees. This made monitoring the program much easier. In addition, IOM oversaw the practical side of the program. This included arranging flights and teaching refugees how to navigate through an airport.

Challenges That Those in the Camps Face

As a result of Nepal’s refugee resettlement program, the number of Lhotshampas in the country has decreased to about 6,000. Furthermore, out of the seven camps that began in the 1990s, only two remain in the Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal. While this constitutes a success, the Lhotshampas who remain in the camps still face challenges.

Many people feel isolated because they are unable to join their families abroad. Additionally, they suffer a lack of emotional support and income. As a result, many suffer from depression, substance abuse and suicide in these camps. Furthermore, the camp’s dwindling population has led to a shortage of teachers. UNHCR established a suicide prevention program and youth centers to combat these issues.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program is effective in relocating most of the Lhotshampas refugees since the 1990s. UNHCR, IOM and the government of Nepal have allowed refugees to have the opportunity to lead new lives in other countries. Many challenges remain for those in the camps. However, the government has made significant efforts to address them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BrazilHuman rights in Brazil are under attack by the country’s own presidential administration. Having campaigned on his famous “anti-human-rights rhetoric,” President Jair Bolsonaro is now turning his words into concrete actions that affect millions of Brazilians. Activists in Brazil are not backing down, relentlessly fighting for the human rights of the Brazilian people.

Human Rights Concerns in Brazil

  • Bolstering of police impunity for use of illegal force
  • Government complicity with torture in detention facilities and the systematic disassembly of government monitoring programs tasked with preventing torture
  • Funding cuts to environmental protection programs, approval of new pesticides for use without proper monitoring of toxicity levels in rural communities, minimization of consequences for illegal logging and ignoring reports of increased deaths of forest defenders
  • Civil and property rights of indigenous people, quilombolas, women and LGBTQI communities
  • Limiting the independence of nongovernmental agencies and restricting access to government information and public records

Despite the wave of policy change threatening human rights in Brazil, there is an equally powerful movement rising to meet it; real people and organizations dedicated to the fight for all humans and their right to exist freely in a peaceful, healthy and safe country.

Damião Braga

At 54 years old, Damião Braga is an experienced activist. He is the leader of Pedra do Sal, a community of African slave descendants in Rio de Janeiro called quilombolas. For 30 years, Braga has been in a judicial struggle over land in a historical part of Rio because he believes it should belong to his people whose ancestors arrived there as slaves.

This land is currently owned by the state and claimed by the Catholic Church, two formidable opponents. Braga says granting quilombolas the property rights is an essential step in making reparations for these descendants of slaves. Because slaves freed in Rio were never given property to live on in the first place, forcing them to settle in the margins of the city that became known as favelas, many believe it is time the government makes amends.

It is not only important for the quilombolas to fight against racism and systematic marginalization but it is also important for them to fight for the right to have a place of their own. Here they can build a future in a land they did not arrive at willingly but now call home.

The Guardians of the Forest

This group, formally established in 2013, is made up of around 120 indigenous activists in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve. Located in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this reserve is one of the regions most at risk of illegal logging. Emboldened by the relaxing of consequences for illegal loggers by the Bolsonaro administration, violence is increasing and the local people are taking matters into their own hands.

At first, most of the group’s work entailed destroying the camps of illegal loggers, using guerilla tactics to make them feel unwelcome. The Guardians are now working to set up an NGO and website in order to raise awareness and donations to help fund a more organized resistance.

It is indeed dangerous work. In 2019, the Indigenous Missionary Council released a report saying that violence against the indigenous peoples of the Amazon went up 23% from 2017 to 2018, making for a total of 135 people murdered in 2018 alone. Thus, the Guardians take this work very seriously. Most of them are Guajajara, the indigenous people of the area, therefore, they see it as a sacred duty to protect the land they have lived on for centuries. “We will continue to confront the wrongs committed by the Brazilian system of justice against the lives of Brazilians.”

Marielle Franco

Born to a very poor family who immigrated to Rio, Franco grew up in the favela Maré. Because she was exposed to the injustice of police brutality at a young age, Franco’s experiences fuelled her political career.

In 2016, she became a councilwoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party, officially enlisting in the fight for human rights in Brazil. She worked hard in this position to improve the situations of women and people living in favelas.

The councilwoman proposed 16 bills but only two were approved while she was alive. Another five would pass after her death, a small comfort to those who saw her as a leader.

In March of 2018, a now-charged man shot the 38-year-old Rio councilwoman in an alleged assassination. Now, after her death, her life is celebrated by supporters wearing shirts that read, “Fight like Marielle” and her name is the inspiration and strength people need to keep fighting for their rights.

Inspiring Activism in Brazil

The danger of these and thousands of other activists fighting for human rights in Brazil is tangible and constant. Thus, the courage to continue this work even in the face of such great risk shows the world their commitment to stand up against an authoritarian government.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Hong KongHuman trafficking is a persistent problem all around the world, including in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region located in the People’s Republic of China. The Justice Centre Hong Kong produced a study in 2016 on human trafficking in Hong Kong and it was found that one in six of the 370,000 migrant workers in the city were forced labor victims. While Hong Kong does take steps to eradicate human trafficking, it is important to study human trafficking in every region of the world so that it can be prevented in the future.

Recent Changes and Legislation

Lawmakers in Hong Kong proposed that the government pass an anti-slavery bill based on Great Britain’s “Modern Slavery Act.” However, two of those lawmakers, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung, were removed from Parliament, leaving many questioning whether the bill would ever get passed. A member of The Mekong Club, a group in Hong Kong dedicated to fighting modern slavery said, “There is little chance that this important bill will move forward.” This, in conjunction with the current protests in Hong Kong likely means that lawmakers have had little time to focus on anti-human trafficking legislation.

Another recent development on human trafficking in the nation is that in mid-2020 the U.S. demoted Hong Kong from Tier 2 on the Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier 2 Watch List, suggesting that Hong Kong “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The government of Hong Kong disputed the U.S. human trafficking report’s claims, arguing that the report was not based on evidence and looks at minor flaws rather than the big picture.

Hong Kong’s Approach to Resolving Human Trafficking

One problem with the nation’s current anti-human trafficking legislation is that the city only defines human trafficking as “involving cross-border sex trafficking for prostitution,” which means the legislation does not cover “labor exploitation, debt bondage, domestic servitude or similar practices.” Unfortunately, the legal system can make it difficult for those who are trafficked in Hong Kong to get the help they need or support from legal authorities.

While anti-human trafficking laws could be amended, lawmakers and academics have shown there are creative solutions to the problem. Reed Smooth Richards Butler, a law firm, worked with Liberty Asia, an anti-slavery charity, to create the Legal Gap Analysis report, which explains how other laws can be used to persecute human traffickers. For example, individuals responsible could be arrested for false imprisonment rather than human trafficking directly. Creative efforts like these are important to find solutions to salient issues, including the trafficking of people.

Protecting Human Rights

While the government can certainly improve its response to human trafficking in Hong Kong, the country has implemented many measures to help reduce human trafficking and protect human rights. Human trafficking needs addressing and analyzing the nuances in human trafficking policy can help incapacitate the industry globally.

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

Forced Uyghur LaborForced labor stemming from human rights violations in the Xinjiang province of China has been linked to at least 83 major corporations. In a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, companies such as Nike, Gap, H&M, Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen all have connections to the use of forced Uyghur labor in China. The report identified 27 factories in China that employ the use of labor transferred from Xinjiang.

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

Between 2017 and 2019, it is estimated that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China through labor transfer programs known as “Xinjiang Aid.”  The Chinese government refers to these job assignments as “vocational training” while maintaining that they are part of the “re-education” process assigned to the Uyghur population. These programs have all been identified in connection to the human rights abuses of the Uyghur population as a whole.

It is reported that surveillance tools are being used to monitor the Uyghur population in these programs and to restrict their freedom of movement. Additionally, it has been reported that they are subject to threats, arbitrary detainment and abusive working conditions.

Factories Identified and Company Responses

The companies identified in connection to this forced labor use include international brands that span across the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.

In the technology sector, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, among others, have been connected to factories that utilize forced labor in China. Amazon has issued a statement saying they do not tolerate the use of forced labor and will be investigating these findings further.

The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd has been specifically connected to forced labor of the Uyghur population. Workers at this factory also attend a night school that seems to closely resemble the “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province. Nike is this factory’s primary customer and released a statement saying that the factory has not recruited new workers from Xinjiang since last year and that it is seeking advice on the most responsible path toward handling the employment of the remaining workers from this region.

The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd is also identified as using forced labor. This factory’s corporate website cites partnerships with the companies Fila, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Adidas specifically stated that it does not have a current relationship with the company and is investigating this claim. Nike has also released a statement that it has no current relationship with the factory.

Since the release of ASPI’s report, H&M has ended a relationship with a Chinese yarn supplier due to its ties to forced labor.

The Global Supply Chain

The complexity of the global supply chain has undoubtedly made it more difficult for global corporations to monitor the connections of their suppliers to forced labor in China, but ASPI reached out to all 83 brands included in the report to confirm details of their suppliers as listed in the report.

Unfortunately, companies and consumers are now put at risk by purchasing goods that connect to forced labor. Investors in these 83 companies are potentially at risk as well. U.S. Congress has recently introduced legislation to protect investors through the requirement of disclosure of goods sourced from Xinjiang.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

There are several advocacy groups dedicated to spreading awareness and furthering tangible steps to end the persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur population. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition has written to 17 companies regarding the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471), which is intended to end the use of forced labor from this region in supply chains. The coalition has also issued a call to action that aims for brands to remove all connections with suppliers that have used forced labor. This has been endorsed by investor organizations from more than 35 countries as well as more than 300 Uyghur groups, trade unions and civil society groups.

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

Though most companies were not aware of the use of forced labor of Uyghurs, along with the awareness that was brought to light, action is also being taken by these companies to show that they do not support forced labor by any means. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition is doing important work to continue bringing awareness to the issue and to protect the rights of this vulnerable minority population.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

International Women of Courage AwardThe United States Secretary of State presents the International Women of Courage Award to women who have “demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.” Now running for its 15th year, since its beginning in 2007, more than 155 women have received this award in more than 75 countries.

The International Women of Courage Award

The Secretary of State and First Lady of the United States host a gala ceremony on or around International Women’s Day (March 8), to present the award. The recipients then travel across the U.S. to participate in specially designed International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP) experiences. American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) hosts a celebratory dinner for the awardees. AWIU also awards grants so the women can continue their work in their home countries. The 2021 events were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fatima Natasha Khalil

Born an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, Fatima Natasha Khalil lived her whole life bravely. In an interview with the New York Times, her sister Lima describes how the midwife walked out halfway through Khalil’s birth. The midwife was furious that the family of refugees could not pay her full fee and so Khalil’s mother had to cut the umbilical cord herself.

Khalil was an excellent student growing up and graduated from the American University of Central Asia with a double major in human rights studies and anthropology in 2019. After graduating she applied for a job at the Afghan Independent Commission of Human Rights (AIHRC) in Kabul, Afghanistan. Khalil’s boss, Shaharzad Akbar explained the difficulty of the line of work. Akbar was reforming the entire organization to rid it of corruption and thus recenter its focus. Additionally, Akbar told Khalil that she might not receive a salary for many months. Khalil gladly accepted the job as donor coordinator for the AIHRC.

The 2020 Explosion

On June 27, 2020, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under the car that Khalil and AIHRC driver, Jawid Folad, were traveling in.

“You took one of my sisters,” reads Lima’s Twitter profile. “I have one more and four brothers. You can’t cultivate hate in my heart if you even take all of us.”

While no person or group has come forward to claim responsibility for the explosion, similar incidents claim dozens of lives every day in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.

Assassinated Afghan Women Honored

The Department of State awarded the International Women of Courage Award to a group of phenomenal women from around the globe. It also included an honorary award for seven women leaders and activists from Afghanistan who were assassinated for their commitment to bettering the lives of their communities. Khalil was one of the women honored because of her courage, bravery and dedication.

The International Women of Courage Award recipients have performed extraordinary work in their fields. From police officers to lawyers and nurses, these women are changing the world, starting with their communities.

Holly Dorman
Photo: Flickr

Belarus Welcomes in Democracy and Human RightsThe country of Belarus is both physically and politically stuck between Russia and Western Europe, who have been at odds for the past several years. Currently, Belarus is in the wake of recent political protests and social unrest. Additionally, the country is reaching a tipping point and the people are demanding change. The first step is the introduction of a new democracy and human rights bill in the U.S. Congress.

The Presidential Election

Belarus’s current president is Alexander Lukashenko, a man given the nickname of “Europe’s Last Dictator.” In August 2020, a presidential election was held and a high majority of the country’s population claims that the election was entirely fixed. Lukashenko won in a landslide victory and claimed his 26th straight year as Belarus’s leader. Consequently, massive waves of political protest immediately followed the election. It demonstrates a demand for the president’s removal of office. Lukashenko showed no indication of planning to resign. Vladimir Putin politically supports Lukashenko. However, there is strong evidence that suggests that Putin’s support comes from the worry of a potential social rebellion of the Belarusian people. As a result of the social outcry, protestors and police forces have violently clashed.

The election in August created a chain reaction of historical change for the country. Belarus’s citizens have a history of being private about their personal political opinions. Nevertheless, the severity of this matter encourages people to break their silence. This social upheaval brought with it an extreme push back from law enforcement in the result of above 7,000 arrests of political demonstrators within seven days after the election. In addition, these arrests include accusations of extreme abuse and the disappearances of inmates. This has gained the attention of the U.N. Like everywhere else, Belarus also has significant cases of COVID-19. In response, the U.N. put $7.5 million toward medical aid and spread prevention. Furthermore, basic universal human rights now become one of the main focuses of Belarus’ and the U.N.’s plan for positive reform.

A Democracy Bill

In October 2020, a team of U.S. politicians introduced a proposed plan of solution for the situation in Belarus. It proposed The Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020. This act would grant the U.S. an opportunity to help introduce democracy to the people of Belarus. In a recent press release from The Committee On Foreign Affairs, each house member who supports the Act explains their reasons for supporting the bill.

Moreover, one of the most notable quotes came from Republican Leader Rep. McCaul. He said, “We stand with the historic numbers of peaceful Belarusian protesters that continue to flood the streets to demand a more democratic country. Their voices must be heard and the Belarusian authorities using violence, arbitrary detentions, and repression in an attempt to stifle their calls to chart their own future must be held accountable.” He went on to clarify that Lukashenko’s victory would not be considered legitimate by the United States.

Basic human rights belong to every person, no matter their geographical location or political situation. This serves as a reminder that not every country shares the same rights globally. The introduction of democracy and freedom is an important piece to the puzzle of trying to make circumstances better for a nation and its people.

Brandon Baham

Photo: Flickr

The EndSARS Movement in NigeriaSocial media is becoming a diversified platform that has been vital to the fight against police brutality in Nigeria. Nigerian citizens have experienced years of unjust violence by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), including armed robberies, rapes, torture and unsystematic killings. For Nigerian citizens, media censorship on television has led to the circulation of the hashtag #EndSARS on social media sites. People have taken to Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and other platforms to post news and videos of the violence incurred. Through the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, young Nigerian activists are emerging and are critical to the new wave of international awareness.

What is SARS?

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police force, was assembled in 1992 by the Nigerian Government to cope with the failings of the Nigerian Police Force. Emboldened by their power to arrest and monitor crimes, the group has increasingly used its authority to engage in dangerous tactics and fear-mongering.

Among protests and complaints, Amnesty International has investigated and determined numerous unlawful killings and human rights abuses. 2015 marked the first set of promises, made by Nigerian President Buhari, to disband and restructure SARS. However, after years of promising reform to appease citizens, the government has not implemented any effective actions to deter the unit.

SARS has promoted corruption and violence toward citizens, especially against an evolving population of youth. There are many reports of youth being harassed by SARS for their new technology, clothing styles, hairstyles and tattoos. In protest, Nigeria’s youth have been leaders and catalysts in organizing the #EndSARS movement. A viral video in December 2017 depicted a murder committed by SARS, and since then youth have consistently used social media to document violence done by SARS. A revival of the hashtag #EndSARS occurred in October 2020 and has created a resurgence of conversation about the issue.

Leading the International Awareness of SARS

With a limitation on media coverage of protests and SARS criticism, Nigerians have taken to social media to spread the message. Protestors have created a unified voice among supporters without endorsing an individual leader of the movement. Private citizens with their phones are the main information source and record first-hand videos of the violence. For example, an Instagram Live of protestors being shot and wounded by Nigerian military officials garnered global media coverage. The shift from traditional media to social media has been an advantage to the #EndSARS movement.

The grassroots movement has diverted from the repressive Nigerian media and toward an inclusive citizen-led campaign online. Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok are serving as major platforms for Nigerians to organize protests, volunteer and donate. Twitter users offered to pay phone bills of protestors to continue the spread of information online. Other protestors began crowdfunding donations to supply food to protestors, posting specific details relating to peaceful protests or sharing medical aid, legal aid and mental health hotlines. The variety of evidence and resources circulating on social media has bolstered the international podium of #EndSARS.

The turmoil of police brutality in Nigeria has been fiercely combatted by a new generation of youth activists. Social media has ignited an international drive to end the corruption of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Tangible change is coming about with protests and aid spread globally on social media. The Nigerian youth are using technology to their advantage and are moving to end a period of instability through the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Ghana
Human trafficking is a wicked global business that involves kidnapping people for slavery, forced labor or exploitation, robbing millions of people (largely women and kids) of their homes. Many children experience human trafficking in Ghana.

Human Trafficking in Ghana

Human trafficking in Ghana is a nationwide affair but is more prominent in the Volta region and the oil-producing Western region. Research from August 2016 reported that 35.2% of households consisted of trafficked children with 18% working in the fishing industry, 10% in domestic servitude and a few reports of early and forced marriage.

Since 2002, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with several NGOs and international organizations, has aimed to combat human trafficking in Ghana. These organizations mainly work towards rescuing, sheltering and rehabilitating victims.

The Importance of Community Outreach and Education

International Organization for Migration (IOM) organizes programs in the Volta, Central, Greater Accra and Brong-Ahafo Regions of Ghana to strengthen the ties between communities to effectively condemn and prosecute traffickers, provide intensive care for distressed victims and prevent trafficking altogether. The programs intend to educate the villagers about the dangers of child trafficking, international and national legislation on child rights and human trafficking as a culpable offense.

Traffickers do not always realize the immorality of keeping the kids away from their parents and schools. “For instance, Benjamin Tornye, a fisherman for 15 years, used to visit parents and ask them if their children could help him with his work. As he said, “children are good fishers.” He would teach them how to use the boat, swim and dive, and he believed he was doing the right thing.”

Therefore, rescuing trafficked children is much more than just freeing them from the clasps of exploitation. To make a real impact, the authorities must sensitize and educate people about human-trafficking; and create and maintain a peaceful environment for the well-being of the children.

Rehabilitation and Reintegration

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and APPLE, a Ghanaian NGO founded in 1977, both rescue children from trafficking and bring them back to their families. Rescued children first go to a government-run shelter for up to three months before they reunite with their parents. At the shelter, they receive medical checks, health treatment, psychological counseling and basic education.

Additionally, a clinical psychologist inspects the victims to identify the ill-treatment that they have experienced which informs the creation of a personalized plan for rehabilitation. Next, the children attend school or undertake an apprenticeship with the necessary supplies. Otherwise, if they are fortunate enough, they go back home to their parents.

The children who return to their parents get to fulfill the fundamental right of all the children in this world: to grow up with a family. The authorities organize a background test and a compatibility test to ensure that the caretakers are suitable before handing over the child.

The development of the kids –in the family environment, school and apprenticeship– receives monitoring over a period of 2.5 years to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. Further, watchdog groups and surveillance teams have merged to prevent re-trafficking of children. Parents also receive livelihood assistance upon the homecoming of the children.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) educates the locals, national government officials, and the traffickers about the appalling effects of human-trafficking on a child. Further, it raises awareness on the issue and encourages a shift in the mindset of the people.

Accomplishments

With these wonderful initiatives and generous donations by people and organizations from all over the world, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with its partner NGOs, has been able to help victims of human trafficking in small ways.

As of now, IOM has rescued 732 trafficked children in Ghana and rehabilitated and reintegrated them into their respective communities. Additionally, of these children, 690 have been able to attend school with 20 graduating high school. Moreover, 10 have completed apprenticeships and are supporting themselves now, while 191 children have been able to reintegrate due to the sponsorship of private donors.

Beyond the apparent benefits to child victims of human trafficking, IOM has aided in other ways as well. In fact, it has granted education regarding trafficking to 130 communities and 48,533 community members. It has also benefitted 468 parents/guardians of trafficked children with micro-business assistance.

Finally, IOM has offered training to 50 social workers in the rehabilitation of child and adult victims of trafficking. It has also provided technical assistance in capacity-building on human trafficking issues to 150 government officials from the Police, Immigration, Naval and Judicial Services.

Government Support

The Government of Ghana introduced several policies, legislation and programs to address the main grounds of human trafficking. Consequently, to set up an all-inclusive approach, the government devised the Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), providing a robust authorized framework to prevent human trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators and protect the victims.

The government of Ghana and the NGOs have had a modest impact in curbing the enormity of human trafficking by implementing preventive strategies. The government successfully established a capable board and conducting training sessions for law enforcement, immigration officials and the citizenry. Despite the best efforts to eradicate human trafficking and persecute domestic and international offenders, the number of human trafficking cases remains disappointingly high.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

border campsThe United States’ Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, better known as “Remain in Mexico,” is a policy that requires those seeking asylum within the United States entering from the southern border to wait outside of the United States in Mexico while their cases are reviewed by immigration judges. Since its implementation in January 2016, this policy has led to the build-up of camps of asylum seekers around Mexico. These U.S.-Mexico border camps are ridden with crime, disease and other dangers.

Rampant Crime in US-Mexico Border Camps

The NGO, Human Rights First, has reported more than 1,314 cases of rape, kidnapping, murder, torture and other violent crimes against migrants forced to return to Mexico. Of those cases, 318 have been kidnappings or attempted kidnappings of children. Rampant police corruption in border cities means nothing is done to protect migrants. Crimes including extortion, assault and sexual harassment have all been reported against members of the Mexican police. These reports come from individual interviews held by Human Rights First in order to determine the scale of crime within migrant camps. Given that about 55,000 individuals have been returned to Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols program, the organization believes that those 1,314 cases are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violent crime in U.S.-Mexico border camps.

The Dangers of Mexican Regions

The United States Department of State periodically releases travel advisories on countries and regions throughout the world to warn citizens of dangers they may face when traveling there. This includes the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Matamoros, a hotspot for gathering migrants awaiting entrance into the United States. Thousands of migrants, returned to Mexico by immigration officials to await their trials, live in tented border camps in a place that the United States considers dangerous. This has led to scrutiny by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for endangering asylum seekers by sending them to places that the United States admits are dangerous.

Vulnerable Populations in Camps

Despite the fact that vulnerable populations are supposed to be exempt from the “Remain in Mexico” program, many individuals that should not have been sent back have shown up in U.S.-Mexico Border camps. The period from the programs start through June 2019 saw 13 pregnant women and 4,780 children sent to await their trials in Mexico according to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch also reports that people genuinely afraid of returning to Mexico, including kidnapping and assault victims, have been denied exemption from the Migrant Protection Protocols program and were sent back across the border anyway. Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Human Rights First and others, have all found that people including the disabled, the young, the sick and members of the LGBTQ+ community, have all been sent back to Mexico despite qualifying for an exemption from the policy.

Unsanitary Conditions Spread Disease

The unsanitary conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border have led to diseases spreading among migrants. Reportedly, there is little clean water and migrants often bathe in the Rio Grande River, which is known for containing E. coli, other bacteria and human feces. Few cases of COVID-19 have been officially recorded. However, with border camps’ proximity to COVID-19 hotspots both in the U.S. and Mexico, there is likely an abundance of unknown cases.

NGOs Assist Migrants

Immigration to the United States has basically come to a complete standstill as the border between the two countries has remained closed throughout the course of the pandemic. Because of this, NGOs have gone into border camps in order to assist those in need. The UNHRC has set up hand-washing stations and isolation areas in some migrant camps. It has also provided cash relief to migrants who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. Other organizations like Global Response Management and  Doctors Without Borders have provided medical assistance by building medical centers, distributing PPE and providing medical treatment for those infected with COVID-19.

The United States Migrant Protection Protocols, or the “Remain in Mexico” policy, has without a doubt led to an increase in concerns for the health and safety of people along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the already slow asylum process to a standstill, poverty and disease has spread throughout these camps. However, NGOs like the UNHRC have been stepping up and providing assistance to those most in need.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr