“I never planned to migrate, but it was my destiny.” Victims of Trafficking Start Over in Mauritania

Credit: IOM 2018/Sibylle Desjardins

By International Organization for Migration
Mauritania, Jul 30 2018 (IOM)

Since 2015 IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has been assisting victims of human trafficking in Mauritania. Sahel populations have always been very mobile, but in recent years a complex economic situation and the difficulty of finding jobs has pushed more and more people to seek jobs abroad. Unscrupulous traffickers seize on this desperation by promising men and women well-paid stable jobs away from home. Instead, these migrants wind up working under inhumane conditions for families who cannot protect their interests and do not care about their well-being. Deprivation, humiliation, hardship, restricted movement and limited communication with their families become the new norm for those who excitedly embarked on an adventure, with hopes of a brighter future.

Mouna* is a mother in her thirties. She relocated to one of the Gulf nations with help from a hiring agency that had promised her a secretary position at the ministry of foreign affairs and a monthly salary of four hundred dollars. Once she had reached her destination, she was forced to work as a maid and babysitter for a family. One day, Mouna fell ill; in order to avoid paying the hospital bills, her employer abandoned her on the streets and claimed that she had run away.

“I never planned to migrate, I never wanted to leave my children [behind], but it was my destiny,” she later said of her ordeal “Everything is written!”

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident; too many optimistic economic migrants around the world experience ordeals similar to Mouna’s every year. Misled by false promises, countless individuals find themselves trapped in critical and precarious vulnerable situations.

Credit: IOM 2018/Sibylle Desjardins

Tate, a 29 year-old mother of three, was also trapped by the promise of work. A so-called hiring agent, like many others, took advantage of economic migration inflows to develop a network. “I was sold out, exploited,” Tate recalled. “The same hiring agent asked me to help him recruit new girls. I rejected his request! Those were the darkest days of my life, and I do not wish that on anyone else.”

Rama*, 29, once met a handsome, charming man called Ali. He was a so-called hiring agent for a recruitment agency; these groups are often instrumental in convincing migrants to travel abroad for work and they charge for their job placement services. “He made me believe in Eldorado, a world that does not exist,” she said of her encounter with the man who would lead her down a dangerous path. “I found nothing but pain and illusions.”

Sometimes these journeys end well for the migrants that undertake them, so news of economic opportunities abroad often spreads via word of mouth, but there are often many rumours and uninformed claims involved. But equally often, the idea of migrating to a foreign country comes from loved ones. CTDC data show that more female victims of trafficking are recruited by their intimate partners, family, relatives, or friends than male victims. Investing in someone who will help provide for the family is a custom in many communities where trafficking is prevalent.

Nasra, a 34-year-old mother of six, never wanted to migrate, but she bowed to pressure from people around her. “I was strongly encouraged to leave,” she said. “I was homesick, and suffered racial discrimination and unfair treatment in an environment that I thought would be free of bias, free of injustice and full of opportunity.”

“Migrating was never part of my life plan, my family’s advice and my husband’s death influenced my decision,” she continued. “I had to find a way to survive and provide for my children.”

Credit: IOM 2018/Sibylle Desjardins

Unfortunately, when journeys like Nasra’s are unsuccessful and the migrants return home empty-handed — if they return at all — many of them are left helpless and abandoned by the same family members that pushed them to leave. The resulting to rejection and judgment of an unsuccessful migration attempt can make the reintegration process an uneasy or indeed impossible experience.

Most migrants spend all of their savings to leave home, and many are left without resources on their return. IOM put a reintegration programme in place to support vulnerable migrants like these. Upon their arrival in Mauritania, Mouna, Tate, Rama and Nasry were able to take part in this programme, along with 95 other women. They were given psychosocial and medical assistance through IOM’s programme, and received financial support to start income-generating activities.

Today, Rama runs a small business. She designs and creates women’s accessories and beauty products, which she supplies to wholesalers and exhibits during traditional wedding ceremonies. Her family was also a great source of support to help her regain her standing within the community. “Together with my brothers and sisters, we were able to renovate our two houses and purchase a third one,” she explained” My brother is a fisherman; with his help we are able to meet our day-to-day needs with dignity.

Credit: IOM 2018/Sibylle Desjardins

After going through difficult plights, the women are independent and can meet their family’s needs. They were able to rediscover their sense of belonging, regain respect within their societies and start supporting their own livelihoods.

Mouna runs a ladies’ shop with expanding clients and growing demand for her products. “I never thought I would be able to start-up a business on my own,” she said. “IOM helped me rebuild my confidence and I am grateful, from the depth of my heart.”

For these women, sharing their stories empowers them and helps raise awareness of human trafficking while providing resilience strategies for those who have already fallen victim to this horrible crime.

This story was written by Sibylle Desjardins, who has been at IOM Mauritania since 2017 working on communications and content creation for the mission. She also runs awareness-raising campaigns under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.

Global Economy Vulnerable a Decade After

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Ten years ago, deteriorating confidence in the value of US sub-prime mortgages threatened a liquidity crisis. The US Federal Reserve injected considerable capital into the market, but could not prevent the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC).

The 2008 meltdown exposed the extent of finance-led international economic integration, with countries more vulnerable to financial contagion and related policy ‘spillovers’ exacerbating real economic volatility. It also revealed some vulnerabilities of the post-Second World War (WW2) US-centred international financial ‘architecture’ – the Bretton Woods system – modified after its breakdown in the early 1970s.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Robert Triffin, the leading international monetary economist of his generation, had long expressed concerns about the use of a national currency as the major reserve currency. International liquidity provision using the greenback required the US to run balance-of-payments deficits, ensuring US monetary policy spillovers to the world economy while eroding confidence in the greenback.

The Bretton Woods system was under increasing strain from the late 1960s, as US President Johnson funded the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War by issuing debt, rather than through higher taxes. The system finally broke down when the Nixon administration unilaterally cancelled the US commitment to dollar (gold) convertibility in August 1971.

What emerged was a ‘non-system’ for Triffin. Since then, the US dollar, issued by fiat, has relied on the greenback’s own credibility and legitimacy to continue as de facto world currency.

Current ‘non-system’
In 1985, Triffin identified three systemic problems of the international financial ‘non-system’. First, “its fantastic inflationary proclivities, leading to world reserve increases eight times as large over a brief span of fifteen years” since the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system.

Second, “skewed investment pattern of world reserves, making the poorer and less capitalized countries of the Third World the main reserve lenders, and the richer and more capitalized industrial countries the main reserve borrowers of the system”.

Anis Chowdhury

Third, “crisis-prone propensities reflected in the amplitude” and frequency of financial crises such as the 1980s’ debt crisis causing developing countries’ ‘lost decades’. Other critics have identified further flaws.

First is the ‘recessionary bias’, due to the asymmetric burden of adjustment to payments imbalances. While deficit countries are under great pressure to adjust, especially when financing dries out during crises, surplus countries do not face corresponding pressures to correct their own imbalances.

Second is the cost of the perceived need of emerging and developing countries to ‘self-insure’ against the strong boom-bust cycles of global finance by building up large foreign exchange reserves and fiscal resources, especially after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Such precautionary measures enabled emerging market economies to undertake strong counter-cyclical measures during the GFC. But they have huge opportunity costs as such reserves are generally held as presumably safe, liquid, low-yielding assets, such as US Treasury bonds.

Hence, Triffin complained that “the richest, most developed, and most heavily capitalized country in the world should not import, but export, capital, in order to increase productive investment in poorer, less developed, and less capitalized countries… [The] international monetary system is at the root of this absurdity.”

Reform appeals
There were renewed calls for reform of global economic governance in the wake of the GFC, especially by the 2009 UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development.

Governance reform of the IMF and World Bank should ensure fairer, more equitable representation of developing countries. This should improve the accountability and credibility of the Bretton Woods institutions, enabling them to better address current financial and economic challenges in the world.

The UN also called for a “multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring”. Without a fair, legally binding, multilateral sovereign debt work-out mechanism, developing countries remain vulnerable to private creditors, including vulture funds.

There were renewed hopes for trade multilateralism and early successful completion of the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), giving developing countries better access to external markets, seen as vital for balanced global recovery and development. The promise to keep international trade open echoed G20 leaders’ unfulfilled commitment to eschew protectionism.

However, only a few of the modest promised reforms have been implemented, with limited changes in international financial governance, still dominated by G7 economies. After all, every financial crisis is followed by appeals for reforms, with complacency setting in with hints of recovery.

Less coping capability
Most developed country governments are now more heavily indebted than in 2008, when they bailed out large financial institutions, but failed to sustainably revive the world economy. Major monetary authorities do not have much policy space left after long pursuing unconventional expansionary policies.

Meanwhile, developing countries have been subject to increasing international integration, e.g., through global value chains, foreign financial institutional investments and increased short-term capital flows induced by the unconventional monetary policies of the US Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan, while debt-sustainability concerns for some are growing again.

These vulnerabilities have been compounded by growing trade protectionism, and dwindling precautionary reserve holdings of many developing economies as global trade has slowed. Even before President Trump’s election, developed countries had effectively killed the Doha Development Round, not least by opting for bilateral and plurilateral, instead of multilateral free trade deals.

Trump’s more explicit rejection of multilateralism in his efforts to eliminate major US bilateral trade deficits are now expected to further set back prospects for world economic recovery. Despite pious declarations to the contrary, most national policymakers typically turn from rhetoric about international cooperation to focus on domestic issues.

It has not been different this last time. A decade after the worst economic downturn since the 1930s’ Great Depression, the world economy remains vulnerable.

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.