At the start of July 2015, plans were announced for Britain to spend more than 300 million pounds in international aid, which is targeted towards Syria and the Sahel Region of Africa and includes countries such as South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. The money is supposed to help stabilize the lives of people in those regions in order to relieve the Mediterranean migrant crisis by reducing the influx of migrants traveling to the European Union, especially to Italy and Greece.

As the Washington Post states, migrants flee from their home countries to Europe because of poverty, civil war, violence and political instability. The largest number of migrants by boats are Syrians, who are attempting to flee from a civil war which has left over 200,000 dead and more than 4 million displaced. The second greatest number of refugees comes from Eritrea, which is suffering from economic issues, a repressive government and forced conscription. A large number of migrants also come from Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

As of May 2015, the U.N. estimated that over 60,000 migrants crossed over the Mediterranean Sea since the start of 2015, and another 1,800 died during the crossing.

The journey across the Mediterranean by boat is very perilous, and migrants cross because they have no other choice. They normally pay a smuggler who forces them into an old and unreliable boat (sometimes at gunpoint) and often leaves the boat halfway across the Mediterranean, relying on rescue teams from Italy and other E.U. countries to get the migrants safely to shore.

Some blame the rescue teams for the influx of immigrants. While it is true that large numbers of people attempt the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in order to migrate into Europe — there were 220,000 unauthorized immigrants in Europe in 2014 — the rescue teams are not to blame for the large numbers of people attempting the crossing. Since Italy shut down its Mare Nostrum rescue program last October, numbers of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean remained about the same. However, the death toll jumped dramatically. From January to April 2014, only 96 died while crossing the Mediterranean, compared to 1,500 during the first four months of 2015.

Nevertheless, some are still convinced that rescue teams are responsible for the higher number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and the situation has led to the rise of the far-right in Europe, especially in Italy and France, where levels of anti-immigrant rhetoric are high.

In reality, migrants only try to cross the Mediterranean because they do not have another choice. As one migrant put it, “We are between hell and the deep blue sea.”

Britain hopes that the money it is adding to the international aid budget will help lower the number of migrants by increasing political stability in regions that are suffering. However, even if Britain’s plan works, it is still unsure what will happen to those who have already migrated to Europe. There were plans to relocate 40,000 Italian and Greek refugees to other parts of Europe, but those plans appear to have stalled due to anti-immigrant sentiments.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Express, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Independent, The Atlantic
Photo: The Guardian

The European Union has proposed a new law to address Europe’s growing migration crisis after months of criticism and accusations of inaction. For several years, migrants have been making the dangerous journey from Africa, Asia and the Middle East across the Mediterranean into Europe. Thousands drown along the way.

The situation has become particularly bad this year as conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have sent more migrants seeking asylum. A record 1,800 people have died trying to make the crossing since the beginning of the year. Italy, Malta and Greece, the primary landing points, are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees.

The European Commission has proposed a new quota system to house the refugees across Europe. It requires EU members to accept a certain number of refugees based on their population, GDP, unemployment rate and current number of asylum applications. The Commission is also exploring ways to crack down on traffickers and assist migrants in making the crossing safely.

Under EU law, asylum seekers are legally entitled to remain in Europe. Economic migrants are not, but this rule has been loosely enforced and many are allowed to stay anyway. The European Commission is also working to improve cooperation with countries of origin to improve deportation procedures for those who do not qualify for asylum to avoid taking in too many people.

The new proposals have proven controversial, particularly the quota system. Critics say the EU is attempting to force countries already struggling with a large influx of immigrants to take in even more. There are fears the law could lead to an anti-immigrant backlash and boost public support for parties on the far-right.

Several EU governments have publicly voiced opposition to the law. The United Kingdom has been the most vocal opponent of the plan, but since it has an opt out clause as part of its agreement with the EU, the quota system will most likely not apply to it. Several eastern and central European countries have also voiced their opposition, including Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The U.K. Tory government also opposes the measures aimed at tackling human trafficking and helping immigrants across the Mediterranean, saying it will just encourage more to make the journey.

But many other European governments are in favor, including Germany, Italy, Greece and Austria. France has sent mixed messages, with some high ranking officials expressing support and others expressing opposition, but most expect it to vote in favor of the law. Since most of the large EU members back it, the law is expected to pass. It remains to be seen how it will be implemented and whether it will adequately address the problem.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: BBC, France24, New York Times, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Workers in Shanghai
Standing on a bustling street in Shanghai, it is hard to ignore the feeling of constant movement and intensity. The mantra seems to be: keep moving and keep progressing. And at both the individual and state level there is an insatiable desire to be the best.

But at what price? The pace of development in China is incredibly impressive and yet, despite the new and efficient subways, trains, and buildings, a contrast of wealth still exists.

As a whole, China has been on the forefront of poverty reduction in the last couple of decades, raising nearly 300 million people out of poverty. However, it is not hard to find the instances of impoverishment that still exist even in some of the most developed cities, like Shanghai.

The population of Shanghai in 2013 was 23.9 million, making it the largest and most populous city proper in the entire world.  Furthermore, it has experienced double digit growth nearly every year since 1992, falling below double digits only temporarily during the 2008-2009 recession.

According to the 2010 census, more than 39 percent of Shanghai’s residents are migrant workers who have flocked to the city from the nearby provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Henan seeking better economic opportunities. These migrant workers in Shanghai, who have made up the largest percentage of the city’s growth in the past few years, often live in the poorest conditions.

As development has increased in China, upwards of 250 million people have left the countryside for the east coast in the hopes of finding more lucrative work. Migrant laborers often work in labor, construction, factories as well as the service sector. Their wages tend to be lower than those of Shanghai residents and their living conditions incredibly poor. Just down the street from the newest high apartments and office buildings, it is not unusual to see old neighborhoods crowded with huts full of migrant laborers.

It’s important to note that poverty for migrant laborers is relative. In China, poverty and inequality differ dramatically in different parts of the country. Many laborers, who migrate to Shanghai for work, come from even poorer rural villages. While their wages are low, the income is often still better than what could be made back home.

Despite this, without a Shanghai hukou, a registration card that is used to classify where individuals are from, migrants are unable to live in subsidized housing, access basic health care and unemployment benefits, or enroll their children in local schools.

Marginalized and discriminated against, the poorest of Shanghai struggle to find social acceptance as well as economic security in their new lives. Yet, these migrant workers are the drivers of China’s tremendous economic growth. If this growth continues, the people of Shanghai will have to find a way to better accommodate their ever-evolving workforce. One of the biggest obstacles Shanghai faces is housing. Real estate prices are extremely high, leaving many people with low wages unable to purchase or rent homes.

Addressing this issue, as well as reforming the hukou system to allow for migrant workers to access health, education and other public services, will help further reduce the poverty and inequality that persists in Shanghai and China as a whole. It is easy to let the gleaming towers and trendy streets distract from the reality that most of Shanghai’s current population is still very much struggling to move beyond impoverishment.

Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Poverties, China Perspectives, World Population Review, Nyuzai Shanghai, WSWS
Photo: The Globe and Mail

migrant children

The U.S. government announced on August 4 that it would be closing three separate emergency shelters designed to house the rapid influx of unaccompanied migrant children arriving from Central America. The shelters, run by Health and Human Services (HHS) and located on military bases, are planning on closing due to waning numbers of children crossing the border and an increasing capacity at other, more permanent shelters.

One shelter at Fort Still in Oklahoma closed on August 8, with the other two shelters located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas and Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme, California set to close in the next two to eight weeks.

The migrant children were being held at the bases thanks to a 2008 law dictating that any unaccompanied children from countries not bordering the U.S. must be handed over to HHS within 72 hours of being apprehended. It has been estimated that around 7,700 children had been housed at the three bases, with the average stay lasting 35 days.

Most of the children are originally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, but have come from other Central American countries. The majority of those living at the shelters have found themselves fleeing their home countries due to an increased instability in the region. This lack of safety is largely due to a combination of increased gang violence and deeply entrenched levels of extreme poverty. However, it is impossible to attribute one particular cause to the massive increase in children attempting to enter the U.S.

Unaccompanied migrant children crossing the U.S. border hit a peak during June when it was estimated that as many as 2,000 children were crossing per week, but the amount has since tapered off. The last estimate was around 500 per week in Mid-July. An estimate from the Obama administration say that a total amount of child immigrants could hit 90,000 by September.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: New York Times, PBS, BBC
Photo: Raw Story


Recently, conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have resulted in an influx of unwanted migrants into Europe. Thousands have found their way into the continent looking for a better life, but after they arrive, they often find themselves unwelcome.

Leaving their native countries affected by war and violence, they come to Europe in hopes of a better future. For many, their lives end before they are even able to experience the bleak future many migrants find themselves thrown into.

Traffickers and criminal gangs take advantage of migrants by charging exorbitant rates to be shoved and crammed onto boats. Hundreds of migrants lose their lives at sea. The overcrowding on boats combined with dangerous weather often ends in tragedy.

Although the loss of life has been reduced by rescue operations, the U.N. estimates that over 170 people have lost their lives from the beginning of this year to May while attempting to reach Europe.

While the majority of the migrants are men, the increased number of migrants has brought more women and children to Europe. On May 20, Italy rescued approximately 500 migrants, 100 of which were children.

Italy in particular has felt the pressure of migration. Over 62,000 migrants have arrived in Italy this year. Calls for aid from other countries to help manage the situation have largely gone unheeded. Slovenia offered one ship to help last year.

Bureaucrats in European countries receiving all these migrants struggle to process the requests for asylum or refugee status. Almost 435,000 people applied for asylum in Europe last year.

Increasing migrant numbers has caused right-wing political parties to make real gains in European elections and consequently, anti-immigration policies have been put into place and the borders of the European countries have tightened.

Unwanted migrants are left wandering Europe and left wondering if the destruction they left behind is any different from their experiences in Europe. Once discovered huddled in camps, migrants are forced to disband on any number of charges and are forced to find another place to rest.

The European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, is pushing for a change in Europe’s approach to the situation. She is calling for a plan to resettle “refugees directly from the camps outside the EU” and to open new legal channels so that refugees can come legally.

Until a larger joint effort is made to handle the migrants, the issue will continue to fester and radicalize politicians in Europe. The increased levels of migration have caused tensions between the European countries and made a larger effort unlikely. Ultimately, as European countries individually attempt to solve the refugee issue, unwanted migrants suffer as they leave one desolate place for another.

— William Ying 

Sources: Aljazeera 1, Aljazeera 2, LA Times, NPR, The New York Times, Reuters, The Verge
Photo: Deutsche Welle

A Human Rights Watch report reveals that traveling employers often abuse their migrant workers in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the government tends to neglect the abuses and has thus far made it harder for the workers to escape the prison-like conditions.

According to the report’s press release, migrant workers face a range of abuses such as “confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days and very low wages or non-payment of wages.”

In 2012, the U.K., despite being challenged by UN experts and NGOs, terminated the migrant workers’ right to change their employers upon their arrival from a different country.

Before traveling to the U.K., under the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, domestic workers are required to have been employed by their employer for no less than a year. The visa also limits the employer and the migrant worker to a temporary visit.

“The most serious consequence of the new tied visa for migrant domestic workers is that if they leave their employ they become undocumented,” the report explains. “As a result, domestic workers who have escaped for abusive conditions can be afraid to approach the police out of fear of being deported from the U.K.”

Similar abuses such as the ones occurring in the U.K. take place in the Gulf under the “kafala” system.

According to Graham Peebles, director of the Create Trust, “The draconian Kafala sponsorship system, (which grants ownership of migrants to their sponsor), together with poor or non-existent labour laws, endemic racism and gender prejudice, creates an environment in which extreme mistreatment has become commonplace in the oil-rich kingdom.”

Although the U.K. government was criticized for doing little to stop the practice of kafala within its borders, HRW suggested it could still act to prevent further abuses.

For example, many abusive employers also serve as diplomats who are given immunity due to their profession. On the other hand, one possible course of action that could be taken involves waiving the immunity given to them when they commit crimes against the migrant workers.

As for the U.K. parliament, HRW suggests that the institution should pass legislation that criminalizes the confiscation of the workers’ passports.

While the government decides what to do next, diplomats who already practice kafala in their own countries are given the impression that they can continue to abuse their migrant workers while traveling in the U.K.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Flickr

The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic has decided to strip thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship, causing unruly behavior both inside and outside the country.

Latin American human rights groups are speaking out against the ruling and citing international and regional human rights models, believing the ruling to be fundamentally racist and inhuman, according to Al Jazeera.

Not only is the ruling causing issues in the Dominican Republic, but there have even been protests in New York City.  New Yorkers are, furthermore, not supportive of the annulment of citizenship of anyone born in the country to noncitizens after 1929. The New York Times reports that this decision is applicable to many as 200,000 people, mostly of Haitian decent.

Many have said that the ruling emphasized a history of racial prejudice in the country against not only Haitians, but their descendants as well.

Edward Paulino, assistant professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, who is Dominican-American, explains that, “Anything that’s seen as a criticism is seen as treasonous.”

Several years ago, two United Nations human rights experts described in a report a “profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination” against Haitians in particular, throughout the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has fought with criticism for its treatment of Haitian migrants and this ruling has brought shame upon people within the country as well as internationally. The residents are already struggling with poverty and social exclusion and it is not beneficial in any way for them to be denounced.

Throughout the ruling the United States has signed an agreement worth 184 million to improve citizen safety and promote economic growth according to Dominican Today. The agreement accompanies the new strategy by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that is working to provide assistance to support the growth of small Dominican business and get them out of extreme poverty.

The businesses are primarily in the rural sector and USAID assists them by identifying new market opportunities.  They are also providing training and technology transfers to help such businesses produce quality products and services.

Despite this assistance, people throughout the Dominican Republic are focused on the issue of citizenship. There are tens of thousands of lives hanging in the balance and inaction is no longer an option. They are working to get out of poverty and the issue surrounding citizenship is distracting from finding the correct solutions.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: Al Jazeera, New York Times, Dominican Today
Photo: Crowd Voice

Evander Holyfield, former world heavyweight boxing champion, is taking on an even greater role in helping displaced communities of the Syrian refugee crisis.

On November 13, Holyfield announced that he would be working to aid the alleviation cause for an estimated of 6,500 refugees fleeing from the war-torn Syrian nation, those of whom have settled in Bulgaria. During the announcement, Holyfield noted, “Somebody helped me and that gives me the opportunity to help someone else.”

The refugee crisis that has taken shape out of the Syrian civil war has become staggering. It’s estimated that 9 million Syrians have been displaced out of a population of 23 million.  Syrians are settling in nearby countries such as Jordan and Turkey, most of where large camps have drawn the majority of foreign assistance — muting attention for the relatively small amount that has ended up in Bulgaria.

Holyfield and the Global Village Champions Foundation, the organization where he works as a Goodwill Ambassador, hope to raise awareness and deliver support for these refugees. To future add to the impact of celebrities bridging successful traction to raise awareness, the head of the Global Village Champions Foundation is musician, Yank Barry, from the 1960s band “The Kingsmen.”

The pairing might seem odd, but they are united in their hope to make the lives of the Syrian refugees at least somewhat easier.  In an interview with CNN, Holyfield stated, “at some point in time, when you leave this earth… they’ll say: What did you do for the least of them?”

Yank Barry may not be as well known in modern pop culture, but he has been actively philanthropic in recent years.  Barry founded the Global Village with Mohammed Ali in 1995, and they worked together until Holyfield took Ali’s place within the organization in 2012.  Since the founding of the organization, it has sent out 900 million meals to the needy around the globe and, according to Barry, including “5,000 tons of food to (Syrian) camps” since last year.

During the 1990s, Holyfield’s biggest worries were Mike Tyson’s left hook and how he would retake a heavyweight championship belt that he ended up winning five separate times.  Now, he has taken it upon himself to help the world community that he once entertained.  While recent reports have claimed that Holyfield has not retained the fortune he accumulated over the course of his boxing career, his reputable standing as a celebrity can still help causes for those that never had the opportunities he did.

While the help from private foundations like the Global Village is welcomed and inspiring for others to emulate, the global community still has plenty of work to do.  The UN says that the number of Syrian refugees registered in various EU countries ranks over 62,000 with more likely to come.  With so many of them looking for ways to get by, the hungry continue to appreciate the influencers like those in the U.S. for the help that such refugee communities could barely survive without.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Fox News, CNN, Huffington Post
Photo: Vintage 3D

Syrians have recently become the highest population of refugees on the planet at nearly 2.4 million people strong. The UN has, in fact, labeled the Syrian refugee crisis as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history.” However, media throughout the world is strangely quiet about their monumental struggle.

In nearly every host country that Syrian refugees have been forced to flee into, they have been met with indifference, hatred or open hostility. Many have even chosen to go back to their Syrian homeland despite the overwhelming violence, deciding it best, if die they must, to die in their homeland. The international community has also been negligent to their needs while the aid that is being given lags far behind what the dire situation calls for.

This is only part of their plight, so why is there such silence in the media considering the scale of the issue? A simple reason may be reflective of the refugees’ inability to articulate for themselves; according to Nancy Baron, a UN psychologist who provides mental health to Syrian refugees in Egypt, “the Syrians don’t have a voice.”

Rattled by warfare and hostility in a foreign land, Syrian refugees are doing their best simply to stay alive. Most find it hard to talk about what they have been through, and even if they did want to talk, few (if any) are willing to listen. The international community seems to still be trying to figure out exactly what is going on in Syria. Most are eager for the peace talks scheduled for January 22 to begin both as a respite from the civil warfare as well as for a chance to hear both sides of the story and garner a better picture of the situation.

Furthermore, a great deal of the problem with attaining media coverage involves the lack of proper reportage. This dearth is caused by several issues, not least of which is the difficulty of finding a ‘fixer,’ a person who can provide interviewees, translations and safe passages to areas of interest. Due to this scarcity, many media outlets are forced to use the same fixers, and therefore have less to report, leading to empty and sometimes sensationalized news stories.

Moreover, if international media continues to be reticent in interceding on behalf of the Syrians, media outlets within host countries may become anxious to condemn the new Syrian presence. In Egypt, for example, TV presenters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have accused Syrians of undermining their country’s well-being and have threatened violence upon the refugees.

Compelling stories have helped the United States and other countries rally on behalf of refugees in the past. There are stories waiting to be told, stories that need to be told. Hopefully, for the sake of millions of innocent lives, they will be.

– Jordan Schunk

Sources: FIDH, The Interpreter, Reuters
Photo: Religious Action Center