Tag Archives: migrants

The Costs of Barbed Wire

image from wikipedia

People smugglers make about $35 billion a year worldwide and are driving the tragedy of migrants who die trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told Reuters.  Increasing numbers of desperate migrants fleeing from Africa and elsewhere due to conflicts and humanitarian crises are dying as they attempt to reach Europe via Libya, coaxed to do so by smugglers as they wait in detention centres.

The death toll of people crossing the Mediterranean has reached 1,700 so far this year before the summer when many more make the journey, compared to 3,700 for all of 2015 and 5,000 last year, said IOM head William Lacy Swing.

“Let’s be careful because those are the people we know died, how many other bodies are submerged in the Mediterranean or buried in the sands of the Sahara?” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference on migration.

People smuggling now represents the third-largest business for international criminals, after gun and drug trafficking, he said.Libya is a major point of departure for migrants from Africa, where lawlessness is spreading six years after the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi and migrants say conditions at government-run migrant centres are terrible…

Lacy Swing stressed that…”We know historically migration has always been overwhelmingly positive.”

Excerpts from Migrant crisis worth $35 billion a year to people smugglers. Reuters, June 2, 2017

The Mass Graves in the Desert

Growing numbers of African migrants passing through Libya are traded in what they call slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation, according to the UN migration agency.

West African migrants interviewed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recounted being bought and sold in garages and car parks in the southern city of Sabha, one of Libya’s main migrant smuggling hubs. Migrants are traded for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months, Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM Libya mission, told journalists in Geneva.

The IOM said it spoke to a Senegalese migrant who was held in a Libyan’s private house in Sabha with about 100 others. They were beaten as they called their families to ask for money for their captors. He was then bought by another Libyan, who set a new price for his release. Some migrants who cannot pay their captors are reportedly killed or left to starve to death and when migrants die or are released, others are purchased to replace them, the IOM said. Migrants are buried without identification, with families back home uncertain of their fate.

“What we know is migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, said in a statement. “We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”  Libya is the main gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the crossing in each of the past three years.

So far this year an estimated 26,886 migrants have crossed to Italy, over 7,000 more than during the same period in 2016. More than 600 are known to have died at sea, while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the desert.

Excerpts from: Migrants traded in Libyan “slave markets” – claimReuters, Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2016

Pacific Islands and their Big Brothers: from decarbonization to detention centers

naurau dentention center for asylum seekers. image from wikipedia

Australia and New Zealand have never found it easy to corral Pacific-island leaders into supporting their initiatives. It is getting harder….[The Pacific Island Forum (PIF) was held in September 2015].  It was attended by both Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, and New Zealand’s, John Key. They were probably relieved not to be joined by Frank Bainimarama, the former military commander who led a coup in Fiji in 2006. Fiji was suspended from the forum in 2009, but readmitted after Mr Bainimarama won a general elections in 2014. Some of his officials attended, but he himself is boycotting PIF meetings until the forum is reformed—and Australia and New Zealand are expelled. Other Pacific nations are less strident. But they too want to reshape the PIF’s agenda, particularly on climate change.

Mr Bainimarama has launched a rival group, the Pacific Island Development Forum, which held its third annual meeting in Fiji from September 2nd to 4th, 2015. The resultant communiqué endorsed the goal of keeping global average temperatures no more than 1.5˚Celsius above pre-industrial levels (the existing goal agreed among developed countries is 2˚). It is part of a strategy of “deep decarbonisation” that Mr Bainimarama hopes to take to the UN’s climate-change conference to be held in Paris in December. Tony De Brum, the Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, says Australia’s proposed 26-28% cut in emissions from 2005 levels is far too low to stop the atoll states from disappearing beneath the waves. He wants much bolder targets. Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, said that island leaders might ask Australia to leave the PIF; or they might stage a walkout if it refuses to sign up to the 1.5˚ target.

Australia’s moral authority in the region has been dented. It has cut its foreign-aid budget and disbanded its specialised aid agency, AusAID, with greater aid emphasis now on Australia’s commercial interests. And the shunting of Australia’s unwanted refugees to “Offshore Processing Centres” on Nauru and in PNG has looked mean-minded, despite sweeteners such as refurbished hospitals, roads and local jobs for the host countries.

On tiny Nauru, with a population of only 10,000, the refugee centres have supplanted phosphates as the biggest source of earnings. Electoral self-interest means no politician dares oppose the centres. Nauru’s politics are troubled. An authoritarian government, led by Baron Waqa, has removed most opposition MPs from parliament. One MP, Roland Kun, has had his passport seized and been prevented from rejoining his family in New Zealand. The Australian government has refrained from criticising its island ally. But, in a rare Pacific-policy split with Australia, New Zealand suspended its aid to Nauru’s judicial sector in early September 2015.

Unlike Nauru, Papua New Guinea, which, with 7.2m people is the largest Pacific Island state, has other sources of foreign exchange, including a $19 billion ExxonMobil liquefied-natural-gas project. But PNG’s politicians are more likely to turn on the unpopular detention centre on Manus island. Relations with Australia are often frosty. In July 2015 the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, announced a ban on foreign (mostly Australian) consultants. Then PNG stopped Australian vegetable imports.

New donors, such as Indonesia and, most noticeably, China, are offering money to the island states. So island leaders have greater leeway to pursue independent foreign policies.

Excerpts from The Pacific Islands Forum: Australasia feels the heat, Economist, Sept. 12, 2015, at 39.

Unloved and Exploited: Migrant Workers

Origin of migrant workers in Qatar, Amnesty International

In September 2013 reports of the abuse of Nepalese migrants working on stadiums for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar, and the deaths of at least 44 of them, appeared in the Guardian, a British newspaper. The Nepalese government’s first response was to recall its ambassador to Qatar: the Guardian had quoted her describing the Gulf state as an “open jail”. Shortly afterwards, Nepalese and Qatari officials held a joint press conference in Doha at which they insisted Nepalese workers were “safe and fully respected”. Reports to the contrary were false and driven by “inappropriate targets and agendas”.

According to Martin Ruhs of Oxford University, the Nepalese government’s apparent lack of concern can be explained by looking at the interests of those involved. For all the mistreatment, Nepalese workers earn far more in Qatar than they could at home. Remittances make up a quarter of Nepalese GDP. If the Nepalese government were to insist that rules protecting migrant workers in Qatar should be enforced, Qatari employers might look for workers elsewhere.

In Gulf states and Singapore, where migrants have few rights on paper, the foreign workforce is huge: 94% of workers in Qatar were born abroad. Sweden and Norway, where migrants can use public services, claim welfare benefits and bring in dependents, admit relatively few purely economic migrants.

This trade-off is visible even within the European Union, where the recent accession of 12 relatively poor eastern European countries has sparked a debate about migrants’ rights to welfare. In January David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, clashed with his Oxford contemporary, Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister. Mr Cameron wants to be able to exclude recently arrived European immigrants from welfare and public housing. “If Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn’t it also pay their benefits?” Mr Sikorski responded….

A UN convention on migrant workers’ rights which came into force in 2003 has been ratified by only 47 countries, most of which are net senders of migrants.

The abuse of migrants: And still they come, Economist,  Apr. 19, at 54

Migrants in a Gated World

map of niger

The bodies of 92 people, almost all women and children, have been found in the Sahara desert. Rescuers said the people had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down during their attempt to reach Algeria from Niger…The group was discovered after survivors reached Arlit on foot. Local experts said that the people were victims of human trafficking and were believed to have died two weeks ago as they tried to walk 12 miles in scorching sun to reach a well after the lorry they were travelling in broke down leaving them stranded.  Sources in Niger said that the group, who began their perilous journey across the desert in late September, was comprised of local people from Zinder, the second largest city in southern Niger, close to the border with Nigeria.

One security expert stressed that the group were not economic migrants but victims of trafficking.  Moussa Akfar, a security expert based in Niamey, Niger’s capital, said: “This was in fact a case of poor people and children who were being trafficked to Algeria. There is an inquiry underway but we know that this was trafficking because economic migrants go to Libya – in Libya you find people of all nationalities, from Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries, heading to Europe.  “In this case all the victims were Nigerien from Zinder, and they were being trafficked. The questions that have to be asked now is how officials on road checkpoints did not alert the authorities about this group. There is endemic corruption at work.”..

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been rocked by repeated food crises in recent years. Last year Save the Children termed Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother amid its warnings that continuing poverty levels were driving people to undertake life-threatening journeys to higher income nations.  While many in Niger said that the October deaths were linked to trafficking, Algeria being the intended destination, Rhissa Feltou, the mayor of Arlit, said the group could have been trying to reach Europe.

Excerpt, Niger migrants died from thirst, after stranding in Sahara desert, Guardian, Oct. 31, 2011