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Eritrean Refugees
Refugees are fleeing Sub-Saharan Africa’s poverty in search for job opportunities, political freedoms and basic human rights. The sad reality of this situation is many of these opportunities are few and far in-between, and their lives rarely improve above the dire situation they were leaving.

Eritrea is one of the nations many have been fleeing from. Isayais Aferwerki, the despotic dictator who’s ruled Eritrea since its 1994 independence from Ethiopia, is a main reason. The nation is home to rampant poverty, media repression and political oppression. Adult-aged males are regularly conscripted into military service with no definite end-date, and the President was quoted as saying the nation was not ready for free elections for at least another 20-30 years. The constitution has been suspended and Eritrea remains single-party state, with opposition political groups regularly rounded up and jailed.

Around 200,000 Eritreans have left the nation in search of freedom, but it has resulted in a human rights crisis. Eritreans regularly flee to Sudan, Egypt and Israel only to be subjected to discrimination, and in some cases, have fallen into human trafficking. Israel has prevented refugees from entering by building a fence, which has resulted in asylum seekers slowing “to a trickle” of their original amount.

Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the crisis in early February stating that “refugees are commonly kidnapped, and their families extorted to pay for their release.” Those who manage to avoid kidnapping are usually deported back. HRW has focused on the culpability of Egyptian and Sudanese officials in the kidnapping crisis. The allegation has been made that corrupt officials have been benefiting financially from the situation and are actively cooperating with kidnappers.

Physicians for Human Rights released a damning report on the conditions many Eritrean refugees face on the trek to asylum. The imprisonment rate of those interviewed was around 59%, while 52% claimed they were violently abused at some point on their way to the Sinai Peninsula. Slave camps are prevalent in Egypt. In El-Arish, there are camps reported throughout the area, populated with “slave traders” who “demand ransoms” for the release of African refugees.

The report detailed that many of these refugees were tricked through “promises of being led to Israel” but rather held against their will, while other’s detailed “severe abuse.” Twenty percent of those interviewed also described witnessing murders. Israel can be considered culpable in this situation. With the building of the fence, the average of 1,500 refugees gaining asylum each month decreased to only 25 entering “between January and April 2013.”

Israel has also mounted a political campaign to defend their actions, decrying the Eritrean refugees as a “threat to Israeli society.” The public response to these accusations helped allow the government to enact stricter immigration legislation, allowing for slave traders to flourish in the wake.

The Anti-Infiltration Law was passed in January of 2012 by the Israeli Legislature of Knesset, and allowed the Israeli Government to detain any people found crossing the border. The law even prevents many of these refugees from receiving a speedy trail, allowing the Israeli state to detain undocumented immigrants for “minimum of three years.” If a undocumented immigrant is from a state considered belligerent to Israel, such as Sudan, they can be “detained indefinitely.”

It was a crushing defeat for many Africans in search of a new life free of oppression. With no options, many still flee, but they may not find the salvation they are in search of.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: Turkish Weekly, US State Department, Haaretz, The Voice, Sudan Tribune, DW, Physicians for Human Rights, Haaretz

stop the traffik
Phil Lane was working at a day center for vulnerable children in Mumbai that offered refuge for those living in slums or on the platforms of a nearby train station when he first witnessed the all-too-common realities of human trafficking. He was concerned when a 7-year-old and 9-year-old brother and sister who lived near the day center and had been attending with their parents for months suddenly stopped coming. Phil found the father to ask if they were alright, and was told that the two children had been sold to a man who offered them work for about 20 dollars.

The children were never seen again, a terrible but common reality for many in the area. Deeply affected by what he saw, he joined efforts with several global United Kingdom organizations who wanted to work together to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade, and Stop the Traffik was born.

Trafficking is the practice of buying and selling people against their will to be transported into slavery for sexual exploitation, forced begging or labor, for removal of organs or sacrificial worship, or as child brides, domestic workers or into circuses or sweat shops. It is often violent, and victims suffer physical abuse and threats to themselves and their families as means of coercion and control by their traffickers. Alarmingly, it is also the fastest growing global crime. At any given moment, 9.1 million men, women, and children are trafficked.

Stop the Traffik is a London-based international organization comprised of individuals, communities and organizations dedicated to stopping human trafficking. The organization has about 45,000 members in countries all over the world; it partners with the U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) to take both local and global action.

Stop the Traffik initially began as a two-year initiative to accomplish two goals. The first goal was to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade by hosting a Freedom Day on March 25, 2007. The second goal was to make a worldwide declaration to present to the U.N. to prevent the sale of people, to protect victims of trafficking and to prosecute the traffickers.

When the declaration garnered over 1.5 million signatures, it was clear that the two-year campaign had the support to grow into an independent organization. Stop the Traffik founder Steve Chalke became a U.N. advisor on Community Action Against Trafficking.

Today, the organization is a growing global movement that seeks to educate and inform activists to make a difference in their communities around the world. Stop the Traffik works with individuals and organizations to address human trafficking on both a local and global level.

Locally, Stop the Traffik seeks to make trafficking more difficult by educating communities to know what trafficking is and how to identify it, how to protect themselves and others from trafficking and how to respond to trafficking.

Globally, Stop the Traffik runs campaigns to push decision makers to exert their influence to prevent trafficking, to build a worldwide movement by reaching out to new people and to gather information to develop up to date systems to rival the traffickers’ network.

Stop the Traffik’s success at building a movement seems largely due to its inclusive approach. The organization offers everyday people the chance to become activists by learning about the issues of trafficking and pledging time and effort to the cause. The website offers tips on how to raise funds for the organization and showcases many current campaigns that people can participate in.

Visit Stop the Traffik to donate or find out how to join the fight against human trafficking.

– Sarah Morrison

Sources: Stop the Traffik, Viralnovelty.com, PR Newswire
Photo: Stop the Traffik Commercial

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR

philippines_human_trafficking
New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith and his congressional team traveled to the Philippines earlier this week to meet with victims, aid workers and government officials in the regions hit by Super Typhoon Hayian.  The U.S. government has spent $50 million in emergency aid to the Philippines, providing much needed food, water and emergency medical care. However Smith says that rising human trafficking in the Philippines is also a major issue. The Philippines is a large source for both sex and labor human trafficking. The poor are especially vulnerable to human trafficking in the aftermath of natural disasters when they have lost their homes as well as their communities and are looking for a way out.

Congressman Ed Royce hosted a house committee on foreign affairs hearing in Fullerton California on November 27, 2013.  One of the speakers was Angela Guanzon, who traveled to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2006 in hopes of a better life. “I worked 18 hour days and had to sleep on the floor in a hallway,” Guanzon said. “My co-workers and I were threatened if we tried to escape.”

Human trafficking is what the State Department, law enforcement officials and NGOs are calling “modern day slavery.” Following narcotics, it is the second most profitable criminal enterprise worldwide and the Philippines has the second largest victim population. Many poverty stricken Filipino women leave their families in the hope supporting them from abroad.

Approximately 1 million Filipino men and women migrate each year, currently there are 10 million Filipinos living abroad. Many of these workers are subject to forced labor and harsh conditions, not just in the U.S., but in Asia and the Middle East as well.  Women who work in domestic positions often suffer violence, sexual abuse and rape. Traffickers use local recruiters in villages and urban centers who often pretend to be representatives of government sponsored employment agencies.  Furthermore, victims are required to pay “recruitment fees” that leave the workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage and prostitution.

Many Filipinos live in poverty and are often swayed by recruiters who offer work and a better life. Furthermore, the vast majority of victims are also women and girls; 300,000-400,000 are women and 60,000 -100,00 are children; over 80% are females under the age of 18.

To combat this, the Philippines government created the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and has made minor improvements since then. For example, it increased funding to the anti-trafficking agency from $230,000 to $1.5 million and went from eight full time staff members to 37. They were also able to repatriate 514 Filipinos from Syria in the winter of 2012, 90% of whom were trafficked. Even with an upgraded version of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, much work still needs to be done in the Philippines and in the U.S. to ensure that women and the poor in the Philippines are not vulnerable to modern day slavery.

– Lisa Toole

Sources: CNN, NJ.com, ABS CBN, HumanTrafficking.org
Photo: The Guardian

asian_flat_boats_on_river_market
Despite recent governmental actions to curb modern day slavery in Myanmar, human trafficking remains a common practice throughout the country.

Human trafficking takes on various forms within Myanmar, including forced labor, the use of child soldiers for the Myanmar government, and sex trafficking and prostitution. The most common countries of trade include Thailand, China, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. China and Thailand stand out as the two countries with the greatest volume of human trafficking with Myanmar, often with people sent to work in fishing villages, mines, and factories or as a prostitute or a bride.

Myanmar has been traced as both a source country for producing modern day slaves and a destination country to receive illegal slaves. Internally, the country has struggled with forced labor and military recruitment of child soldiers. According to 2011 data from the U.S. Department of State, 92 percent of families in Myanmar’s Chin State had at least one family member forced into serving the government without pay. The government recruits thousands of its citizens into forced labor, requiring them to work in infrastructure development, agriculture and, most commonly, the military. While exact numbers are unknown, thousands of these workers and soldiers are reported to be children with the youngest on record being only 11 years. The government forces the Burmese people into these situations with economic and physical threats, often targeting ethnic minorities.

The primary cause of trafficking in Myanmar traces back to the often-criticized military regime government itself. With the government’s blatant abuse of human rights and use of child soldiers, it is only natural for the Burmese people to follow their government’s lead and turn to human trafficking as a means of generating income. Furthermore, the government fails to recognize smaller ethnic minorities as citizens, which leaves them easy targets for traffickers.

Despite these problems, Myanmar officials claim they are committed to fighting this crime. Current governmental plans to address these problems include focusing on victims, building partnerships between government and civil society, and producing results in taking actions against known human traffickers. While the government pledges to increase arrests and prison sentences to address the trafficking problems, widespread government corruption remains an obstacle to progress in putting criminals away.

As of August 1, the United States and Myanmar governments convened to work on a U.S.-Myanmar Trafficking in Persons dialogue to address the issues the country has been facing. While the country faces many challenges in fighting this issue, in particular with regard to government corruption and economic strife, officials remain hopeful that Myanmar is headed in the right direction to curbing the flow of human trafficking within its borders. The test of time will demonstrate how serious the Myanmar government is in creating this change.

– Allison Meade

Sources: Human Trafficking , Republic of the Union of Myanmar , Knoxville Daily Sun

work-in-freedom-slavery-prevention
On July 15, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the International Labour Organisation, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine announced the launch of a new slavery prevention program entitled “Work in Freedom.” This project includes a 9.75 million GBP commitment (over 15 million USD) with the purpose of protecting females in South Asia from labor trafficking.

Human trafficking stands out as a growing global issue, with approximately 21 million global citizens forced into labor or prostitution around the world. The majority of modern day slaves find themselves tricked into becoming part of one of these millions of trafficked people. Traffickers target very poor and often remote areas promising to help people find jobs, when in reality they are forced into slavery. The United Nations deemed human trafficking the third-largest global criminal industry.

The plan is to target the most heavily travelled human trafficking routes with access to South Asia, focusing on Bangladesh, Nepal, and some Gulf States. The Work in Freedom Project also plans to provide 50,000 women with technical skills and training to only help them find employment, and to enable them to recognize a trafficker’s ploys and secure legal work contracts guaranteeing proper wages.An additional 30,000 women will receive education to help them learn their rights and find employment as part of the Work in Freedom Project.

Other focuses of Britain’s international support involve child labor. The plan includes keeping girls under 16 years old in school and teaching women to recognize ‘recruitment fees’ and other unethical charges traffickers place as a burden on families in their ‘recruitment’ schemes.

The Work in Freedom Project also hopes to build momentum in governments, employer, and labor unions to cooperate in addressing the issues associated with human trafficking. It calls for employers in the private sector to step up their regulation to prevent hiring trafficked workers.

Work in Freedom demonstrates the United Kingdom’s commitment to international aid. Their new five year program tackles one of modern society’s biggest issues and provides assistance for thousands of women without a voice by giving them education, the power to stand up for themselves, and economic opportunities.

– Allison Meade

Sources: U.K. Government Press Release, Health Canal International Labor Organization
Photo: [email protected]

apne-aap-women-worldwide
22 women from Mumbai’s red light district who had a vision of a world where no woman can be bought or sold joined together to form Apne Aap. In its founding stages, Apne Aap provided women a safe place to meet, mend clothing, sleep, and receive mail. Throughout the years, it has grown into an influential organization that now provides self-empowerment programs to women and girls trapped in prostitution in Bihar, Delhi, and West Bengal.

Sadly, all of the founding members have passed away from hunger, suicide, and AIDS related complications, serving as an important reminder of the need to empower women in India. Today, Apne Aap provides women and girls safe places to access education, improve their livelihood options and receive legal rights training. The organization reaches more than 15,000 women and girls and is continuing to fight to keep women and girls from being treated as commodities.

Apne Aap is working to increase choices for at-risk girls and women. The organization follows two Ghandhian principles perpetuating resisting violence to the self and others and upliftment of prostituted girls and women.

The leader of Apne Aap, Ruchira Gupta, has led a career focused on highlighting the link between human trafficking and prostitution laws. She also lobbies policy makers to shift the blame from the victims to the perpetrators. Gupta has achieved international acclaim for her humanitarian work and was awarded the 2009 Clinton Global Citizen Award and the Abolitionist Award at the U.K. House of Lords as well as an Emmy for her documentary titled “The Selling of Innocents,” which inspired the creation of Apne Aap. Gupta has widely challenged the belief that slavery and prostitution are inevitable.

Gupta works vigorously to change Indian trafficking laws. She wants to see the Indian anti-trafficking law known as ITPA be amended and to focus more heavily on the responsibility of the perpetrators and not the girls and women. She advocates for enhanced prosecution of traffickers, procurers, pimps, brother owners, managers, and other groups responsible for the proliferation of human and sex trafficking in India. Gupta’s work and the work of Apne Aap provide meaningful and invaluable services to women and girls trapped in the prostitution industry in India.

– Caitlin Zusy 
Source: Apne Aap, Ruchira Gupta
Photo: Change Her World