Human Trafficking in GabonGabon is a Central African nation with an abundance of culture, wildlife and landscapes. However, the country faces a range of challenges, including its continuous and worsening struggle with human trafficking. Gabon finds itself in a challenging predicament as it has become a popular location for human trafficking, especially child trafficking. Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga, Gabon’s social affairs director-general, even referred to Goban as an Eldorado for human trafficking.

There has been a steady decadence in the severity of human trafficking in Gabon. The nation has witnessed unrestrained and swiftly burgeoning growth of trafficking with no rigorous systemic mechanisms to tackle the issue.

Between 2003 and 2010, there were no trafficking-related convictions in Gabon, while the nation has downgraded to a Tier 2 Watch List in the U.S. Department of State’s 2022 report.

The Reality of Gabon’s Human Trafficking

Gabon has become a popular transitory or final destination for human trafficking victims of West and Central Africa. Gabon both receives and sources trafficked people. Those who end up trafficked often by force become street vendors, transportation assistants, mechanics, fishermen, domestic servants, illicit gold miners, wildlife trafficking or sex workers, according to the Department of State.

The state of human trafficking in Gabon is due to its inadequate systems to prevent and address the issue at hand. A glaring indicator of this absence of systemic instruments is the nation’s inability to adopt an anti-trafficking national action plan (NAP) for the third consecutive year. To compound the issue, the federal government has neglected to create a functioning anti-trafficking coordination system within the national inter-ministerial commission.

Moreover, the lack of national coordination has also made data collection and usage immensely more complicated, thereby hindering the ability to properly understand, investigate and prosecute. For instance, the Gabonese authorities claim to have begun 10 human trafficking-related investigations, while there were zero in 2020 and only three in 2019, according to the Department of State.

Corruption and Collusion

To aggravate the situation, there have been persistent accusations and a scarcity of inquiries for governmental corruption and collusion in human trafficking. Experts have alleged that there has been intentional postponement or dismissal of trafficking cases that bribed judges cause. The Department of State suggests that while the government contends that delays stem from legal inadequacies and the absence of knowledge, the lack of concrete action against corruption accusations foments concerns.

Furthermore, Gabon’s existing anti-trafficking programs and committees lack transparency and commitment. The government has not disclosed the funding for the nation’s anti-trafficking programs and the government’s interministerial committee against trafficking has not convened since 2019. There is a discouraging aura of depreciation and inconsequence to solving these heinous crimes.

Gabon’s Poverty and Human Trafficking

In the shadows of human trafficking in Gabon lies a root catalyst of systemic inequalities and disparities. Poverty renders certain groups significantly more susceptible to exploitation and possible trafficking. Conflict, lack of access to professional and educational opportunities and mass displacement all have poverty as a central element that leaves individuals especially vulnerable.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo emphasizes how poverty, some traditional Western African and domestic work’s high demand in high Gabonese society are the foundation for the nation’s human trafficking issues. The dire conditions people face in extreme poverty leave them desperate and more likely to accept risky jobs or sell their daughters into marriage. Traffickers meticulously scout potential victims who live in a cycle of poverty, miseducation, unemployment, desperation and violence.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

While the concerns and shortcomings of Gabon’s handling of its human trafficking situation, the national government and international institutions have made genuine efforts to tackle the issue.

One of the institutions that has been playing a vital role in the fight against human trafficking is the International Organization for Migration (IOM). IOM assists the Gabonese government in managing migration-related issues, emphasizing mixed population movements, migration governance and migration flows.

The return and reintegration of migrants, including minors in reception centers and adult migrants, is a crucial component of IOM’s activity in Gabon. IOM helped 143 migrants, the majority of whom were trafficking victims, return safely and integrate into their communities in 2020 and 2021 alone.

In addition, IOM Gabon works to advance the goals outlined in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The organization helps to ensure that migration is secure, effectively managed and advantageous for both migrants and the societies they join by cooperating with this global endeavor.

Future Hopes

Gabon is in dire need of action and attitudinal change in order to properly solve trafficking in its nation. “I am confident that Gabon can become a model for other countries in the region and beyond in the fight against trafficking,” said Joy Ngozi Ezeilo

With the appropriate mechanisms in place that strengthen prevention, ensuring the protection and reintegration of victims, paired with the support of international organizations, there is a genuine possibility of amending human trafficking in Gabon and creating a brighter future for its people.

– Agustín Pino
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Boats in the MediterraneanThere has been an increase in the number of migrant boats fording the Mediterranean Sea. Since January 2023 to February 2023, over 13,000 migrants have arrived in Italy via boat. Many of the migrants are coming from countries in North Africa due to the continuous economic and political instability. However, the journey is quite treacherous and one of the deadliest routes. Over 20,000 migrants have either perished or never been recovered since 2014. Over 200 have died or disappeared just this year.

Who Migrates

The majority of migrants are coming from the north and subregions of Africa but migrants from the Middle East and Western Asia have also increased since 2022. Young adult men make up a majority of migrants but in 2019, 40 percent of those coming in on migrant boats are women and children.

In 2020, an estimated 12.3 million migrants, about 4.4% of the international migrant population, were from Northern Africa. They often flee political instability caused by conflict and economic and environmental conditions, such as desertification in the Saharan region. Europe is the nation 48 percent of migrants from North Africa choose as the ideal emigration destination. Migrants from other regions also choose Europe for a multitude of reasons.

The Dangers

The Missing Migrants Project (MMP) has estimated that over 26,000 migrants have either died or gone missing since 2014 on their journey across the Mediterranean. Around 600 migrants are either dead or missing in just April of 2023.

There are different routes that migrant boats take across the Mediterranean, but all of them face dangerous sea and weather conditions over a long journey. The central route, which crosses from North Africa to Italy and Malta, is the deadliest path in the world, with more than 12,000 remains being found in this channel. The western and eastern routes are less deadly but still face hazardous conditions.

The route is dangerous outside of the crossing, with many migrants from North Africa having to cross the dry and dangerous Sahara desert before they even start to ford the Mediterranean Sea. Migrants have to be wary of criminals and authorities from both their home countries and their destination countries.

Migrants continue to face struggles and danger even after reaching their destination. Border fences in Spain have caused many deaths as migrants attempt to scale them. Even when migrants get to Europe there are no promises of relief and many succumb to ailments due to lack of health care.

The Experience with Danger

Europe is the closest and most accessible region via migrant boats despite the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. It is also a wealthy region with relative political stability, and these qualities enable migrants to find jobs more easily.

Additionally, European countries provide benefits to asylum seekers and refugees because the Geneva Convention recognizes asylum as a right. They seek the EU because of the “open borders and freedom of movement” abilities.

Those on migrant boats are also subject to rescue privileges with a better chance of gaining asylum because of the dangerous conditions at sea. However, this has caused an increase in dangerous sea missions, as migrants would purposefully sink their boats in an attempt to get attract rescue efforts.

The Reaction

Migrants must pass through southern European countries such as Greece, Italy and Turkey where they live on the streets. These countries are often more hesitant about the number of migrants because of the massive amounts of numbers they receive.

Italian governments have tried to slow down their intake of migrant boats by signing a deal with the Libyan government to “combat… irregular migration [and] human trafficking and strengthen… border security.” However, this caused an increase in refugees stuck in detention camps, where they face dangerous conditions and even torture.

Malta has also been dealing with an influx of asylum seekers and refugees. They have refused to help a migrant boat with 400 immigrants on board despite the fact that the boat was “adrift and taking on water.”

Northern European countries and other entities have criticized both Malta’s and Italy’s responses to the increase in migrant boats. However, the southern European countries are at the forefront. They deal with hundreds of migrants showing up at their beaches, where they live on the streets until they “head to more prosperous” countries.

What Is Being Done

The droves of migrant boats landing on the coasts of southern Europe have caused the European Commission and other organizations to update their protocols on immigration.

The European Commission proposed a “package of seven pieces of legislation” in 2016 to accommodate for the increased number of immigrants entering the EU. The legislation would create a “fair and humane asylum policy.” So far, five of the seven pieces have been passed and more policies have been proposed.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has set up the Missing Migrants Project to track the number of missing and dead migrants from the Mediterranean crossings. The IOM and MMP work in policy guidance and strategy for countries that deal with an influx of migrants. The IOM has worked to safely return 1.7 million immigrants to their respective home nations since 1979 and has helped 67 countries with the development fund.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working in over 20 locations to protect and aid refugees and provide “shelter, food, water and medical care” to those who arrive in Europe.

– Kathryn Kendrick
Photo: Flickr

military robotsResearchers have recently discovered that military-designed robots have the ability to save lives. Humanitarian assistance through robots can help tackle poverty and provide support to those in need on land, air and sea. These robots are especially important in impoverished, war-ridden areas. Overall, robotic resources can help tackle crises that would otherwise be dangerous, deadly or impossible for humans to enter.

Terrestrial Robots

Terrestrial military robots, also called throwable robots, serve as life-saving engines on land. The robots work by entering confined spaces, searching through debris and disposing of bombs and hazardous waste. Throwable robots are light, easily transportable objects that are shock-resistant and often remote-controlled. The robots are designed to enter tight spaces and transmit live audio and video to users. Footage from throwable robots can help rescue teams locate people who are trapped in confined spaces and monitor their wellbeing until the civilians reach safety. Currently, more than 550 U.S. law enforcement agencies and military units use throwable robots to assist in their missions and help preserve human life.

Bomb squads also use military robots to locate, defuse, detonate and dispose of bombs. Occasionally, bomb squads deploy throwable robots before bomb disposal robots to inspect the scene and search for potential bombs. Amid war and natural disasters, terrestrial military robots can offer ample humanitarian assistance. The military robots can douse fires, enter small spaces and search through rubble without experiencing the harm of smoke, dust or extreme heat. The future of terrestrial robots is promising as recent innovations of better sensors and robust agility will elevate the technology to the next level.

Aerial Robots

Aerial military robots impact people’s quality of life in areas hit badly by natural disasters. One example illustrates drones transporting humanitarian aid and collecting data to assist in natural disaster recovery. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) started using aerial robots in 2012 to measure the extent of displacement and physical damage from natural disasters in Haiti. Furthermore, the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières have used aerial robots to deliver medical supplies to Papua New Guinea and Bhutan.

Aerial robots can also assist in search and rescue efforts in a similar way to terrestrial robots. In war and disaster zones, aerial robots can quickly locate people in need of medical assistance. Drones are often faster and more affordable than other modes of transportation. In many circumstances, drones can capture higher quality data better than humans, for instance, detailed aerial view photographs of flood zones and refugee camps. Aerial robots can also protect humans from entering dangerous situations. Alongside terrestrial robots and bomb disposal robots, drones can scope out potential explosives and identify the best strategy for removing the explosives.

Maritime Robots

Nicknamed “robotic lifeguards,” maritime military robots can save lives at sea. In 2016, a fast-swimming maritime robot named Emily saved more than 240 refugees from drowning on the coast of Greece. Maritime robots have the potential to endure extreme temperatures and are not vulnerable to exhaustion, allowing these robots the capability to become highly effective lifeguards in the future. Additionally, maritime robots are significantly faster than human swimmers. With this ability, robots can use heat sensors to quickly locate people underwater. In shipwrecks or other sea accidents, maritime robots can carry several people to shore. Maritime robots are still relatively rare, but as they become more popular, the robots can be especially effective in places like the Mediterranean Sea where refugees are frequently at risk of drowning.

Overall, robotics technology has the potential to transform disaster and crises relief efforts. Able to withstand vulnerabilities that humans cannot, these robots illustrate the increasingly important role of technology in rescue, relief and aid endeavors.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr