"RUNNING TO STAND STILL"
McAllen, Texas is the point of entry for thousands of migrants and refugees from Central America and Mexico who have been displaced from their homes by cartel and gang violence, extreme poverty, natural disasters, and climate change. They are among the most vulnerable populations in the world, and as such are natural prey for the immensely profitable human trafficking industry, whose profits are now estimated at over $150 billion a year.
These encounters are almost always violent in some way. Women, who must give up their bodies repeatedly to secure safe passage from one point in their journey to the next, suffer terribly. By the time they reach the border at McAllen, they are exhausted, and some are physically damaged, psychologically scarred, or both. The children are frightened and malnourished. Many of the men are stricken with uncertainty and grief, because they have had to flee with their sons to protect them from gangs, leaving wives and young children behind. Adding insult to injury, current U.S. policy separates many migrant children from their mothers or fathers upon arrival, causing almost instant psychological trauma whose long-term effects will manifest themselves for years to come, not to mention the fact that traffickers will snatch up these children as soon as the government “releases” them to foster care or long-term holding centers.
Cox's Bazar - Bangladesh
In Myanmar, the country bordering Bangladesh, there has been a long history of religious and ethnic tension between the Rohingya people, who are primarily Muslim, and the general population of Myanmar, who are mostly Buddhists. Segregated and despised, the Rohingya have undergone a series of police and military crackdowns for decades, forcing them to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. By far, the most severe of these crackdowns came in August 2017, causing more than 500,000 Rohingya children, women, and men to flee and seek refuge in Cox’s Bazar, on the sandy coast of Bangladesh, leaving behind burned homes, destroyed villages, and hundreds of unarmed men shot in the back.
The sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar are now an epicenter of human trafficking activity. Women who do not comply with traffickers for sex have seen their children thrown into a bonfire and burned alive before their very eyes. Thousands of children are being fed into the maw of India’s giant human trafficking industry, where a child disappears for labor exploitation or sexual slavery at the rate of ten every hour, day in and day out. Sex trafficking is particularly rampant in the Rohingya camps because the girls are beautiful, and the appetite for them insatiable. Many mothers of children trafficked for sex in Rohingya camps fear they will never see their daughters again. Tragically, most are right.
While the Rohingya crisis is immediate and ongoing, an equally great danger faces poor families throughout Bangladesh and beyond because of climate change and rapidly rising seas: Cox’s Bazar is only ten feet above sea level. These warm, rising seas are drowning villages, destroying land and crops, and creating – once again – situations where families are forced to move, daughters must be married off at an early age to protect them from traffickers, and the basic fabric of life is disrupted.
Italy and the Mediterranean Sea
Search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea epitomize the tragedy of those who have committed their lives to the final leg of a journey that will ultimately take many of their lives: an open-sea crossing in overcrowded, underpowered boats ill-equipped for the long journey from Libya to Italy or Spain, boats that will capsize with the smallest shift of its human cargo, or the unexpected nudging of a four-foot wave. Though increasingly threatened by Libyan and Italian coast guard cutters and warships, a few intrepid teams and crews, manning small ships fitted out for rescue missions, patrol the Mediterranean as best they can, ever alert to the speck of a raft on the horizon, or intelligence about a new attempt at a crossing. European shores are within view. Safety and asylum, fought so long and hard for, and costing so much, are at hand.
But are they? It is only now, sadly enough, that the tragedy begins its final act.
Those who are rescued at sea – or those who miraculously make it on their own – are remanded to four or five “hotspots”– EU-managed identification centers, such as those on the island of Lampedusa, or in the city of Taranto, a trafficker-infested industrial wasteland, on Italy’s southeastern coast.
Once “identified” – or often not – the migrants and refugees are released (typically within 72 hours). What unfolds thereafter is a pattern of marginalization and neglect that leads children into increasingly vulnerable and dangerous scenarios as they journey north, or languish in makeshift holding centers where they are, again, subject to traffickers who simply take them away. Many join Italy’s seasonal migrant labor force — in Rosarno, for instance, for orange harvesting from January to March, and eventually migrate north in search of other work.
Calais and Western France
Many refugees from the Middle East left were forced from home and set their eyes on the UK, where they have family and relatives, but after British Prime Minister Theresa May reneged on commitments to adopt an inclusionary refugee policy, many became stranded throughout the EU, and especially in Calais, which was and is a major point of entry into the UK by ferry across the English Channel.
Lack of political will, however, has resulted in an utter stagnation of movement and widespread ignorance or denial among the general public of the presence of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants living in the shadows of society without food, shelter, or protection. Again, traffickers are everywhere. Overnight, the boys disappear, never to be seen again. Astonishingly, this seems to be precisely what the French police want. While not overt, and officially denied, the law enforcement-trafficking collusion is deceitful, devious, profoundly immoral, and very real.
Libya, Tunisia, Algeria
If there is a “Heart of Darkness” in the world of modern day slavery, Libya is it. Libya is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 individuals making the deadly crossing in each of the past three years.
Most of the Africans arriving in Libya are from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Senegal, Gambia and Sudan. Almost all are smuggled into Libya by a network of criminal gangs on the promise of reaching Europe's shores. They are bought, sold, and murdered in slave markets throughout a country that has been essentially ungoverned since the fall of Muammar Gadaffi. Libya is the closest embodiment we have in the world today of a true dystopia, a dark and evil place that is essentially run by smugglers, traffickers, and criminals whose stock in trade is an endless supply of helpless children, women, and men.
The hard-to-swallow truth in all this is that the European Union, in a series of cruel and deceptive agreements, ispushing back against these asylum seekers who have been forced from their homes by the powerful forces that characterize the Africa-Europe migration megatrend: extreme poverty, war, climate change, and persecution among them. This means that Libya has essentially become a place populated by thousands of human beings withnowhere to go. The Europeans do not want them; their original homes are unlivable for a variety of reasons; and, so, they languish in Libyan hell. The brutal Libyan slave trade – and the EU’s complicity in it – is one the most shameful chapters in the history of modern human rights – a chilling example of what can happen when unbridled evil is allowed to take its course.