3 May 2007 Edition

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International : The misery of human trafficking

Modern Day Slavery

On 26 March, at least 29 people died after being forced at knifepoint to jump from a boat into the sea off the coast of Yemen. The dead were migrants who had paid traffickers to get them to Europe. Instead, the traffickers betrayed them and forced them into the sea and certain death.
Every day, out of sight of the wealthy developed world, that scene will be replayed in one form or another. For a majority of the world’s people, living conditions are so desperate that they will risk death to get to Europe or the US.
Some will make it. But most of those trafficked or smuggled will be stopped and sent back, or will die in their effort to create a better life for their children, to give them what we take for granted.
The history of human trafficking is a history of sadness and despair. There are no happy endings. Those who are trafficked are the victims of poverty and lack of opportunity in their own countries and feel they have no other option. But once they put themselves at the mercy of the traffickers their situation resembles that of latter-day slaves – often sold off to the highest bidder, into a form of bondage, or simply disposed of at sea when all potential ‘value’ has been extracted from them.
The ‘lucky’ minority who make it to the rich West will face a life of drudgery in low-wage, unsafe jobs, always vulnerable, always exploited. Yet the economy of any modern, wealthy society would collapse without them: in restaurants, shops and bars, in factories and fields. Officially, they don’t exist. Unofficially, their presence ensures that all others can enjoy luxury, comfort and non-stop service.
The UN and other experts estimate the total market value of illicit human trafficking at $32 billion per annum. Approximately $10 billion of that sum is derived from the initial ‘sale’ of individuals, with the remainder representing the estimated profits from activities or goods produced by the victims of this barbaric practice.
On the same day that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees made public the effective murder of the 29 Somali and Ethiopians off the coast of Yemen, along with the disappearance of a further 71 people, the UN launched a campaign to highlight the problem of human trafficking.
It describes the problem as having grown to epidemic proportions over the past decade, as the gap between the developed and non-developed worlds grows into a chasm.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of trafficking among potential victims and, crucially, among those who buy services or products that rely on slave labour. The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking – as the campaign is called – brings together a raft of UN agencies and NGOs. The campaign will culminate in Vienna with an International Conference against Human Trafficking in November 2007.
Modern-day slavery affects millions of people around the world. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that persons from 127 countries are being exploited in 137 nations.
“Slavery is a booming international trade, less obvious than two hundred years ago for sure, but all around us,” according to Antonio Costa, Executive Director of the UNODC.
“Perhaps we simply prefer to close our eyes to it, as many law-abiding citizens buy the products and the services produced on the cheap by slaves.
“In Europe there may be sex-related exploitation, while in other parts of the world there may be camel jockeys, children forced to dive for pearls or oysters, people beaten like modern slaves, women forced to work in quarries.”
According to a recent UNODC report, major sources of trafficked persons include Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. In Europe, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy are the most common destinations.
At any given time, some 2.5 million people throughout the world are the victims of human trafficking. The UN Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons, in effect since December 2003, makes human trafficking a crime. The Protocol has been signed and ratified by more than 110 countries, yet the participating governments and their criminal justice systems have not acted to curb the practice. Few criminals are convicted, and most victims never receive help. On the contrary, it is most often the innocent victim that is punished for trying to secure a better future.

 

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