refugee storiesOf the world’s population, 79.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. There are currently about 26 million refugees worldwide. Many of these individuals have been forced to flee their homes, experiencing extreme difficulty and hardship. At the peak of the 2015 European refugee crisis, headlines surrounding refugees’ stories of fleeing their home countries saturated the news. Combined with sobering photographs, these refugee stories provided the world with a glimpse into the realities of what thousands of individuals and families were experiencing and enduring. As the years have passed, this coverage has diminished, but thousands of refugees continue to flee their homes to find asylum elsewhere.

Refugee Stories in the News

One World Media, an organization supporting independent media coverage on circumstances in developing countries, advocates for continued media coverage of the European Refugee Crisis. To do so, it launched the Refugee Reporting Award. In partnership with the British Red Cross, the award encourages accurate and empathetic coverage of the state of the continuous refugee crisis.

The Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at British Red Cross, Zoë Abrams, expounds on the importance of telling refugee stories. She explains that these stories are key to breaking down misconceptions and bias surrounding refugees and migrants. Abrams further states that “the relative trickle of stories nowadays means it is easy to wrongly assume that the situation for people on the move has dramatically improved.” This, however, is far from true, as issues regarding migration have increased across the globe.

How We Tell Refugee Stories

Although it is important to compile and share refugee stories, the manner in which individuals and their stories are portrayed should be carefully considered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advises readers not to focus on refugees’ pasts, but to consider what individuals can accomplish despite what they have experienced.

The UNHCR shared the story of Shahm Maskoun, a Syrian refugee now living in France. He was finding great success in his life in Syria, but then war broke out and he was forced to flee, leaving everything behind. When Maskoun arrived in France, he had nothing and was very lonely. However, taking advantage of the support offered to refugees and migrants, he received some financial and health support. He eventually enrolled in a master’s program and then began giving back, assisting students in his classes and using his skills in internships. Reflecting on his own experiences, Maskoun says that he wants people to understand that refugees themselves aren’t the crisis, but the manner in which the media tells their stories can be problematic, insinuating they are defined by the hardships they have experienced.

The Importance of Refugee Stories

All types of refugee stories, including those highlighting the difficulties that individuals experienced while fleeing their homes and those describing the success found by refugees in other countries, have their place. A recent study shows that children need to hear refugee stories because it makes them more compassionate and empathetic, especially if refugee children are living in their communities and attending their schools.

Testing three groups of children, the results illustrated the connection between empathy and a willingness to help others. In this case, hearing the stories and experiences of the refugee children who would be joining their school class made children act accordingly with kindness and mindfulness toward their new classmates.

Compiling and telling refugee stories can be a useful tool in educating and informing the public about the state of the refugee crisis. As these stories foster empathy, it is likely that communities will remember refugees and seek to help provide them with relief and safety.

– Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Flickr

How Migrant Workers Have Been Impacted By COVID-19Over the past several months, there have been many media stories about how the ongoing pandemic has impacted the American economy, as well as many others around the world. Any reader is likely aware of how harmful the crisis has been to many working- and middle-class people in America. One group that has not received as much attention, however, are migrant workers. Not only have migrant workers been made more vulnerable than usual in the current climate, but their struggles have also intersected with poverty on a global scale.

Migrant Workers During COVID-19

What makes this situation an international crisis rather than a solely American one is remittances. Many migrant workers travel from developing nations to more wealthy ones, where they can earn more money or simply find jobs in order to support their families. These workers send part of their paycheck back home to their loved ones, many of whom live in extreme poverty. Last year alone, migrant workers across the planet sent home $554 billion. This is over three times the amount of international development aid given by wealthy nations. Importantly, remittances frequently go toward crucial essentials, like food, education and medicine.

Experts predict that COVID-19 will be one of the factors that lead to the first global increase in poverty in over 20 years. Migrant workers were already living in difficult conditions prior to the outbreak, and recent events have worsened their circumstances. Many put themselves in danger in order to travel abroad to provide for their families. Furthermore, all of the migrants in the U.S. without Social Security Numbers were ineligible for the stimulus checks sent out in early 2020. When migrant workers are unable to support their relatives back home, their families — who in many cases had to pool resources to “invest” in a family member traveling abroad — are plunged even further into poverty.

A Potential Solution

However, state legislators have the opportunity to provide leadership on how to properly support migrant workers in the U.S. during this time. In April, Massachusetts Democrats put forward Bill H.4726, or “An Act To Provide Equal Stimulus Checks to Immigrant Taxpayers” in the Massachusetts state legislature. The bill would provide financial stimulus support to undocumented taxpaying Americans. Though not all migrant workers are undocumented, this bill would serve as a policy response to the crisis that includes undocumented workers who pay taxes. 

Legislation like this, paired with an extended and expanded financial stimulus plan, would help to combat poverty at home and around the globe. No matter what someone’s immigration status is, they should be able to rest knowing that they and their families, wherever they may be, will not get sick or go hungry. Massachusetts still needs to vote on this bill, but its very existence shows that the United States is not powerless in this situation.

The Role of the US

The United States has the ability to help impoverished people in developing nations, who are suffering in numerous ways from the COVID-19 crisis. U.S. support does not just have to come in the form of international aid, as our domestic affairs impact the rest of the world. By making sure that migrant workers are included in coronavirus relief efforts, the U.S. would help reduce poverty among migrant workers and their families.

– Brendan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Domestic Workers
In high-income countries, many households rely on dual-income earnings, creating a market hungry for domestic labor to help with childcare and housekeeping. To fill these roles affordably, families rely on the low wage labor of women from developing countries. Many of these domestic workers come from the Philippines and emigrate to wealthier countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. A significant portion finds work in the United States as well, making up 15% of American domestic workers. This labor export has become extremely vital to the Philippine economy, accounting for about 9% of the country’s total GNP. Although this model has remedied economic hardships for many Filipino families, the human sacrifices of this work are undeniable. Many of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers must part with their children, endure grueling professional demands and become vulnerable to exploitation in their host countries.

Demand for Migrant Labor

While Filipino men tend to migrate for jobs in construction and transportation, women often work as caretakers and domestics. On average, the remittances of male migrants are double those of female migrants, who frequently fill lower-paying positions. However, working abroad is an opportunity accessible mostly to Filipinos with some preexisting class privilege. Some of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers leave behind high-level jobs in their native country, their skills and education making them more attractive to foreign employers. Even so, the wages at more menial jobs abroad dwarf the women’s earning potential at home.

Benefits to the Philippines

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reports that 1.2 million migrants work abroad each year and sent home $27 billion in remittances in 2014. This inflow of remittances is the third highest in the world, only ranking below India and China. When the capital from these remittances enters the national economy, families often invest in natural disaster relief, education and real estate. Exporting labor has also helped narrow the wealth gap, growing a more prosperous middle class. Nationalist rhetoric celebrates foreign labor and individuals who work abroad are praised as “new heroes.” The Philippine government even presents awards like the Model OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) Family of the Year Award to honor the sacrifices of specially dedicated migrant workers.

Personal Sacrifices and Children Left Behind

Despite the earning potential and social honor of working abroad, there is often a heavy emotional cost. Ironically, many Filipino women who leave home to provide childcare in the developed world must leave their own children behind. In the words of Manuela Peña, chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, “It is quite easy to become a successful overseas Filipino worker in terms of economic achievement, but we found out it is difficult to maintain family relations and turn (the life of a migrant worker) into success.”

Migrants frequently leave children with family members and childcare workers who do not have the means to work abroad. For workers who are undocumented in their host countries, shuffling back to the Philippines for regular visits is impossible and family separation can last for years. After returning for retirement, many workers spend their retirement caring for children of relatives who work abroad, so that the next generation of mothers and fathers might provide for their families through remittances.

Exploitation and Fair Treatment

Many of the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to scams and exploitation. Recruiters can charge exorbitant fees, employers can provide poor working conditions and workers can receive unfair payment. The Philippine government has made some infrastructural and policy changes to grapple with these issues. Protections require that employers use standardized employment contracts, cap recruitment fees at reasonable rates and ban deployment to countries with records of poor migrant treatment. In 2012, the Philippines negotiated a groundbreaking $400 monthly minimum wage for Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

NGOs like Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation, Inc. help migrants maximize their savings through entrepreneurship, providing microloans and financial literacy education. This model of social entrepreneurship stimulates local economies, promotes community development and provides a lucrative alternative to migration.

The loans that the Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation distributes range from ₱3000 to ₱1 million. Borrowers have used the loans to expand their small businesses by employing additional staff, investing in newer machinery and buying vehicles. As of the 2017 annual report, the organization held multiple training events in Davao City and Butuan City, educating participants on family rights, entrepreneurship and business management.

In Conclusion

The Philippines’ labor export model has done much to lift families to comfortable middle-class lives. Many Filipinos now have greater access to capital and education because of the remittances that family members send. However, sacrifice and family separation remain as harsh byproducts. Fortunately, the government has put regulations in place to improve fairness and quality of life for the Philippines’ migrant domestic workers.

– Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in India
The most devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in India may not be those caused by the virus itself. For the first time since India’s independence from the British crown, the already inordinate poverty rate is rising. The 69% of the nation that is on or below the poverty line are those who are at the greatest risk for infection. However, they are likely to face even more substantial damage from falling deeper into economic trouble.

The Problem

India has reported 1.24 million cases of COVID-19, but this data does not tell the full story of the country’s experience with the virus. With a population of over 1.35 billion, India actually has a lower rate of infection than the US. Many simply credit the nation’s sweltering climate to their proportionately low infection rate. While there may be some truth to this assumption, it is not a sufficient explanation. Another important factor is India’s astonishingly large poverty rate. Many of the country’s poor have little to no ability to practice social distancing, lack homes to shelter in place and do not have access to testing. The poverty-ridden sector of the population is therefore not only at great risk for infection but is also rarely accounted for in nationwide data.

The Causes

Throughout the pandemic, India has taken relatively strict action in terms of enforcing lockdown. This method has effectively impeded the spread of the virus among the wealthy, significantly contributing to the lower infection and mortality rates. With policies such as this in place, the most affluent citizens avoid crowded streets. Not only does this reality render many of the poorest members of the pre-virus workforce jobless as businesses close, but it even inhibits begging, something a great portion of the four million homeless people in India rely on for survival.

The Effects

In lieu of proper homes, virus protection and economic stability, the poorest members of society are finding new ways to try to combat their unfavorable circumstances. Slums are even more crowded than before and government-created hospitals have become the new shelter for many. Dr. Zarir Udawadia, an infectious disease specialist treating coronavirus patients in Mumbai, recognizes this problem: “How does one quarantine someone who has no home, or someone who lives cheek to jowl with ten others in a small room?”

Those especially discontented with their circumstances resort to migration, seeking to travel sometime hundreds of miles on foot in hopes of refuge. Migrants move through India in thousands, further risking infection from COVID-19 among other lethal diseases.

Who’s Helping

Although it is difficult to collect COVID-19  data in impoverished communities, there are organizations trying to combat this issue directly and provide aid to those suffering from the disease and its aftermath. For instance, Give2Asia provides funding for medical supplies for frontline workers, meals for those whose means of obtaining them are slashed by the effects of the pandemic and financial support to marginalized families.

India’s large number of people in poverty renders their numbers of infected with coronavirus inaccurate. However, the poorest sector of the nation has larger issues than the virus itself, as the nationwide lockdown takes away street vendors’ customers and, in extreme cases, the revenue of beggars. Many people resort to migration or are utilizing slums and government-created hospitals to find shelter. Though this situation is far from optimal, there are numerous organizations and frontliners that are continually combating the pandemic.

Ava Roberts
Photo: Flickr

What is the Northern Triangle?
If one ever wondered, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is a region comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This particular region experiences growing migration due to chronic violence, government corruption and economic setbacks. Approximately 265,000 people have migrated annually in recent years, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and estimates determined that this number would double in 2019. The Northern Triangle is one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere, with Honduras’, El Salvador’s and Guatemala’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita ranking at the bottom among Latin American countries. One can see these economic hardships as a direct consequence of decades of war and violence. Transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18) plague the Northern Triangle with criminal activity and corruption. In addition to these factors, agriculture setbacks due to unpredictable weather contribute to this large migration.

The Northern Triangle’s Plans

With increasing migration from the area, the Northern Triangle is cracking down on existing issues. To address economic instability, the region implemented the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity which increased production and ensured public safety. Even though El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras mostly fund the plan, the Northern Triangle has experienced limited economic growth since its implementation in 2014.

When considering the question, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is impossible not to mention corruption. To address growing corruption, each nation took a different route depending on what each one required. Officials addressed corruption quickly due to its setbacks on the economy. El Salvador caught and charged three previous presidents for embezzlement. Officials also created a plan to implement an international anti-corruption panel. In contrast, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing a group dedicated to prosecuting criminal groups. Together, they established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) which has lowered Guatemala’s homicide rate immensely. Meanwhile, Honduras set up a corruption-fighting committee and implemented various sweeping reforms in 2016.

The Future of the Northern Triangle

Since many migrants are seeking asylum in the United States, recent U.S. administrations have varied widely as far as how to approach this challenge. Under the current Trump presidency, the administration decided to increase border security. President Trump cut down on America’s foreign for Central America and is holding back on funding until the Northern Triangle fully addresses this migration issue. The number of refugees and migrants will continue to increase until governments implement policies that reduce corruption and insecurity. Without intervention and aid, the Northern Triangle will make little progress in solving the root cause of violence, fraud and poverty within its countries.

Srihita Adabala
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About the Migration Crisis at the Border
The migration crisis at the United States-Mexico border is a deep-rooted issue affecting many people in the United States, both documented and undocumented. The quantity of media coverage about the topic makes it hard to separate fact from fiction. To shed light on the different aspects of this matter, below are 10 facts about the migration crisis at the border.

10 Facts About the Migration Crisis at the Border

  1. Climate Change and Migration: Climate change is emerging as a root cause of the crisis at the border. Increasingly, people have left their homes in Central and South America due to the food insecurity, poverty and unlivable conditions that climate change has created in these regions. For example, in the highlands of Guatemala, climate change has forced residents out of their homes after unseasonal frost destroyed their crops. Climate change drives migration both directly and indirectly — flooding or drought may physically force residents away in the same way that the negative social impacts of climate change may impact a resident’s decision to leave.

  2. Unaccompanied Minors: Between October 2017 and September 2018, the United States Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 396,000 people attempting to cross the border and more than 50,000 of these people were unaccompanied minors. The data for 2019 thus far shows an increase in the number of children under the age of 18 without a legal guardian or parent in the United States apprehended at the border. While still treacherous, border policy can be more lenient on individuals under the age of 18, possibly allowing a better chance at successful immigration.

  3. History of Immigration: The first instance of the United States placing restrictions on certain immigrant groups came with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The country has since continued to limit immigrants from certain countries, including most Asian countries in 1917 and Southern, Eastern and Central European countries in 1924, leading to the current attempt to limit Central and Southern American and Mexican immigrants. U.S. immigration policy prioritizes reunification of families, value to the U.S. economy, diversity and humanitarian protection of refugees.

  4. The Northern Triangle: The Northern Triangle of Central America, comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, accounts for the leading source of migrants who are fleeing Central America. More than 90 percent of these migrants will then attempt to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. Despite attempts to bring safety and stability to the Northern Triangle, the region still has high rates of crime and poverty; Honduras and El Salvador have among the highest murder rates in the world and around 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line in Honduras and Guatemala.

  5. State of National Emergency: The migrant crisis at the border prompted President Trump to declare a national emergency in February 2019, despite opposition from the majority of citizens in the United States. Declaring a national emergency allows a president to potentially bypass Congress to achieve their desired policy or funding. The U.S. remains in a state of national emergency regarding the border despite attempts from Congress to end the measure.

  1. The $4.5 Billion Emergency Spending Bill: In July 2019, President Trump signed a bill designed to provide financial aid to the border, allocating  $4.5 billion to humanitarian assistance and security. The U.S. government first introduced this bill in response to criticism of the treatment of migrant children at the border, but the bill will also provide increased health and safety standards for all people seeking entry into the United States.

  2. The Southern Border Communities Coalition: Founded in 2011 as a response to the ongoing pressures facing border towns, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) is a diverse group of organizations, such as Frontera de Cristo (Agua Prieta, Mexico) and the Southwest Environmental Center (Las Cruces, NM), who have united to create a safer and more humane environment at the border. The SBCC comprises 60 organizations across Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. In May 2019, the SBCC released a document entitled A New Border Vision, an outline for action to improve conditions at the border.

  3. Domestic Violence and Asylum: In spite of recent attempts to limit asylum seekers, the United States will continue to offer asylum for victims of domestic violence. In 2018, then-Attorney General Sessions threatened this right, stating that the United States would reject asylum cases founded on domestic violence. While Session’s decision increased the difficulty of securing asylum on these assertions, undocumented victims of domestic violence can still be eligible.

  4. Undocumented Immigrants and Crime: Contrary to the popular narrative connecting immigrants and violence, undocumented immigrants make the communities they join safer. A 2015 study by the Cato Institute shows that documented United States-born citizens have a much higher crime conviction rate than both undocumented and documented immigrants. Arguments against immigrants often champion the association of undocumented people to violent crime, yet the facts increasingly show this association to be invalid.

  5. Why People Keep Coming: This final point is perhaps the most important of these 10 facts about the migration crisis at the border. The journey to the border is long, expensive and dangerous. Frequent instances of kidnapping, rape, assault and trafficking make getting to the southwestern border of the United States treacherous and arriving at detention facilities at the border provides a slue of difficulties and dangers as well. Undocumented migrants are not undertaking this daunting task because they want to, but rather because their circumstances force them. Their home situation has become unlivable and they seek to escape to a better life in the U.S.

These 10 facts about the migration crisis at the border show that this issue creates dangerous situations that threaten both society and human lives. To fight this problem, the public must know what is truly happening in the stretch of land that connects Mexico and the United States. 

– Elizabeth Reece Baker
Photo: Flickr

Safe and Voluntary Refugee Repatriation
Despite the constant divisive debates about whether to welcome refugees, they have protection under international law by the 1951 refugee convention, a multilateral United Nations treaty. It defines who people can consider refugees and outlines their basic rights, including access to fair and efficient asylum procedures. Despite the ever-present debates about acceptance, very little of it has actually been to talk about what happens when countries refuse asylum seekers including the problem of ensuring safe and voluntary refugee repatriation rather than returning them to dangerous situations in their home countries.

Refugees in the US

A country must ensure that refugees live in safety and dignity while it is processing their claims, and safety and dignity are also integral to voluntary repatriation. In 2020, the United States will only accept 18,000 refugees. This will be the lowest number of refugees that the U.S. resettled in a single year since 1980 when Congress created the nation’s refugee resettlement program. In light of such low acceptance rates, a national debate around safe and voluntary repatriation is crucial so that those a country turns away will have safe alternatives. Without debate, there is no clear answer to where those refugees should go, if not the United States.

Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers

People often confuse the matter even more because they use the terms “migrants,” “refugees” and “asylum seekers” interchangeably, despite very different legal meanings and obligations. Amnesty International defines an asylum seeker as an individual who is seeking international protection whose claim a host country has not yet determined. In short, a country will not recognize every asylum seeker as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker. “Migrant” is a broad term that describes anyone who moves to another country for at least one year, for any reason.

“Repatriation” is when a person returns to their country of origin, whether it is because conditions have improved and they want to go home or because their host country has refused their request for asylum. According to the U.N. Refugee Repatriation Agency, safe and voluntary refugee repatriation requires not only the commitment of the international community to safely bring displaced people home but also the cooperation of the country of origin, which has to do the difficult work of reintegration and ensuring stability and safety.

So who will be the 18,000 refugees the U.S. allows in 2020? In 2019, refugees coming to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo far outnumbered those from other countries. D.R. Congo accounted for nearly 13,000 refugees, followed by Burma (Myanmar) with about 4,900, then Ukraine (4,500), Eritrea (1,800) and Afghanistan (1,200).

Repatriation

As of November 13, 2019, a total of 1,439 individuals repatriated. ReliefWeb, an online news source for humanitarian information on global crisis and disasters, reported that approximately 14,700 refugees chose to return to their country spontaneously and by their own means. However, home countries and the international community are working together to help with safe and voluntary refugee repatriation.

The United Nations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Angolan government collaborated on organizing convoys for voluntary repatriation. Wellington Carneiro, UNHCR’s interim representative in Angola, stated that voluntary repatriation faced challenges like poor road conditions in the rainy season and the need to find suitable vehicles as a result. However, Carneiro assured that the operation, which he expected to finish by mid-December 2019, would fully guarantee the returning Angolans’ safety and dignity. While the international community’s collaborative work was a big part of the success of these trips, the Angolan government played the most important role. Paolo Balladelli, the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Angola, highlighted this when he said that “the Angolan authorities have shown their solidarity by welcoming people, including children, who were at risk of life due to serious ethnic conflicts. The conclusion of this chapter demonstrates to Africa and the world that Angola is a good example of good international practices.”

Julia Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Despite its rebranding as the “Rainbow Nation of Diversity” after the end of the segregationist apartheid regime in 1994, South Africa is still home to prejudice, hate and violence. These five facts about xenophobia in South Africa show that it is creating violence in the country, disrupting communities of refugees and other migrants. Hopefully, the government’s new action plan will help to change the sentiments of those involved in crimes against foreigners.

Foreigners in South Africa

Foreigners and migrants make up roughly 2.8 percent of South Africa’s population. The vast majority of foreign-born residents are from other African countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. After the fall of apartheid, South Africa‘s economy grew quickly. Job opportunities and relative political stability turned the country into an attractive location for many African immigrants fleeing conflict, poverty or political turmoil.

Over the past few decades, xenophobic violence against many of these immigrants in South Africa has become a common occurrence. These attacks, targeted at immigrant-owned businesses and homes, foreign nationals and refugees in South Africa. They are robbing them of their livelihoods and causing poverty and distress. Here are five facts about xenophobia in South Africa.

5 Facts about Xenophobia in South Africa

  1. Many South African citizens harbor negative attitudes toward foreigners due to fears about resource-scarcity. A survey by the Southern African Migration Project found that two-thirds of South Africans believe that African foreigners strain basic services. At least 29 percent of South Africans would like the government to prohibit immigration completely, citing crime, disease and job-stealing as justification.
  2. South Africa has a history of violent xenophobic attacks that devastate immigrant communities, divide families and cause a loss of homes and businesses. There have been attacks on foreign nationals since 2009. Foreign-owned businesses were being targeted, looted and burned. The attacks have provoked violent, nation-wide campaigns against foreigners, displacing, injuring and killing thousands. Outbreaks of violence since then, as recent as April of this year, reflect widespread anti-foreign attitudes in the country. On March 28, 2019, armed mobs of South Africans killed six foreign nationals and injured others in the city of Durban. The mob broke into the homes of foreigners and stole their belongings. Similar violent attacks have been reported in 2019. Many of the xenophobic attacks specifically targeted black foreigners, often stereotyping them as criminals, drug dealers and generally unsavory, untrustworthy individuals.
  3. Social media and political leadership may be contributing to xenophobia in South Africa. Prominent politicians, like current President Cyril Ramaphosa, have denied the existence of xenophobia. However, they relied on negative attitudes toward foreigners to drum up political support. In early 2019, Ramaphosa encouraged anti-foreign anger at a political rally by vowing to crack down on illegal migrants who enter their “townships and rural areas and set up businesses without licenses and permits.” However, the South African president recently tried to clarify this statement, condemning violent acts against foreigners and promising to protect South Africa’s immigrants. Analysts have warned against using xenophobia as a political weapon. One scholar argues that xenophobia is strengthened and sustained by the “failure of politicians, policymakers, media [and] intellectuals to problematize assumptions of similarity and differences and preconceptions of peoples and cultures.” Some argue that these assumptions produce inequalities and violence by enforcing narrow and exclusionary ideas of national identity.
  4. Several organizations are involved in the fight against xenophobia in South Africa. Lawyers for Human Rights has been working with vulnerable populations in South Africa for more than 35 years. It provides free legal services to both South Africans and foreign-born residents. The organization participated in the People’s March against Xenophobia in 2015. The African Diaspora Forum provides support to foreign nationals in South Africa by encouraging dialogue among South African-born citizens and immigrants in order to build trust and understanding. It also functions as a watch-dog organization, challenging xenophobic statements made by public officials and working to tear down discriminatory public policies.
  5. In March 2019, the South African government launched a National Action Plan to address xenophobic violence and other injustices in the country. The project aims to raise awareness of the issue of xenophobia in South Africa. It hopes to increase anti-discrimination efforts like protection for victims and legal counsel. However, skeptics accused the plan of missing a key part of the problem; the program has no plan to hold accountable those who have committed acts of xenophobic violence.

Xenophobia in South Africa is perpetuating violence and poverty. Many scholars and human rights activists agree that the government should be increasing its efforts to reduce xenophobia in South Africa to protect the physical and economic safety of all of its residents.

Nicollet Laframboise
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Central America
In 1928, the League of Nations conducted a three-year global study of sex trafficking of women and children throughout Central America, which concluded, “Latin America is the traffic market of the world.” Currently, Central America is the third-highest source of human trafficking. These 7 facts about human trafficking in Central America will explain the factors leading to this significant problem and what people are doing to combat it.

7 Facts About Human Trafficking in Central America

  1. Dangers During Migration: It is not always an easy decision to relocate one’s entire family to a new country, but rampant poverty, extreme violence and governmental corruption throughout Central America force families and children to flee for a more prosperous life elsewhere. Risky job prospects and economic opportunity abroad may tempt migrants, but the true danger of migration lies in the 2,000-mile trek from Central America to the U.S. On this journey, migrants are in danger of human trafficking for domestic servitude, forced labor or the sex trade. A report by UNICEF states, “These families must navigate a long, uncertain journey in which they risk being preyed upon by traffickers or other criminals.” To avoid detection by authorities, migrants and refugees take dangerous routes where they do not know their whereabouts and where others can take advantage of their invisibility.
  2. The Vulnerability of Children: Children are one of the most vulnerable populations to trafficking due to their immaturity and the ease in which others can overpower them. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), children account for three in every five victims of human trafficking, backed in large part by organized crime rings. The impact of child trafficking in Central America is far-reaching, with many risk factors leaving children susceptible. For instance, criminal gangs’ main operation is illegal adoption, which they can achieve through kidnapping and involvement of government officials. Street and orphaned children are especially vulnerable to trafficking into the sex trade, while others must work under dangerous circumstances in the agricultural and mining industries. In 2014, a report from the Department of Labor found ample evidence of the use of child labor in the production of goods throughout Central America, including bricks, coffee, gold and sugarcane.
  3. The Vulnerability of Women: Along with young children, women are another vulnerable population at high risk for trafficking, especially sexual exploitation. Traffickers traffick most females for prostitution, especially near the Guatemala-Mexico border, while they use others for stripping and pornography. These women are often irregular migrants who fall through the cracks and eventually suffer further exploitation in bars and brothels to local clientele. It can occur forcefully, with smugglers kidnapping victims or coercing them into prostitution. In other cases, women may have no other means of support, and with dependents at home, traffickers may lure them into the sex trade. Once they are involved, it is not easy to leave, as brothel owners may threaten violence or exposure if they sense that a worker is tempted to leave. Traffickers may send women internally or internationally and State Department officials have estimated that 10s of thousands of Central Americans suffer trafficking internationally each year. Large numbers of these victims come from Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
  4. Central America and Trafficking: Although human trafficking is a significant problem among Central American countries, none of them comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which establishes human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes with severe penalties. Through the TVPA, the U.S. Department of State ranks countries based on tiers, focusing on the country’s governmental efforts to comply with the TVPA standards. Mexico, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador rank as Tier 2, meaning they do not meet TVPA standards but are making significant efforts to combat human trafficking. Belize ranks as Tier 3 country, signifying it does not meet TVPA standards and are not making substantial efforts to comply.
  5. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS): The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has attempted to step in in the absence of action from Central American governments. In early 2019, the DHS developed a partnership with government officials from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation, which concentrates efforts to combat human trafficking and stem the flood of irregular migration. Other initiatives are establishing, including combatting criminal organizations and gangs, addressing the root causes of human trafficking and smuggling and developing a proposal to tighten the region’s laws regarding trafficking. After a temporary halt of foreign aid being dispersed by the U.S. to the Northern Triangle countries, the White House resumed its support for the program by releasing $143 million in October 2019 to specific targeted efforts.
  6. The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act: In July 2019, the U.S. took an additional effort to address the root causes of migration by passing the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. This bill, which New York Representative Eliot L. Engel and Texas Representative Michael McCaul announced, passed unanimously through the House of Representatives. Because of the serious challenges that drive illegal migration to the U.S. and threaten the Northern Triangle’s stability, the act proposes a five-year strategy that prioritizes anti-corruption, economic growth and development and strengthening security conditions. Additionally, the bill authorizes $577 million in foreign assistance to the region for the 2020 fiscal year.
  7. The Polaris Project: Another organization working to stop human trafficking is the Polaris Project. Polaris’ work focuses on dismantling the networks that support human trafficking and sexual exploitation while boosting the international safety net. It acknowledges that its response must include a comprehensive understanding of migration, cultural context and gender norms. Not only does it engage in active efforts to combat the root causes of human trafficking, but it also recognizes the importance of supporting survivors in rebuilding their lives after the trauma they have endured. The organization operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline as well as the BeFree Textline to connect survivors with resources and support. Also, as 26 percent of the world’s trafficking victims are children, Polaris synchronizes its efforts with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking as well as the National Network for Youth to support legislative efforts that increase protections for youth. Its combative efforts to end human trafficking by partnering with government officials and law enforcement are the crucial steps that are necessary for ending this exploitation.

The issue of human trafficking throughout Central America is a complex and nuanced one. A combination of political, cultural and socioeconomic factors contribute to a sense of desperation in Central America, forcing individuals to seek alternatives elsewhere. This environment creates a space in which traffickers can take advantage of the vulnerable. It is important that Central American countries work with one another as well as with international supports to combat human trafficking and promote a sense of safety and security within the region.

– Rachel Baum
Photo: Flickr