Slavery is Not a Thing of the Past, It Still Exists Today Affecting Millions

Hassan Hussein, a refugee from Syria, pleads with police to allow his family into a registration centre for migrants and refugees in Preševo, southern Serbia. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

By Shannon Scribner
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 2019 (IPS)

While natural hazards like hurricanes, exacerbated by climate change, are causing people to migrate, it’s conflict, violence and persecution that have forced more than 68.5 million people from their homes today, exposing them to higher risks and increased vulnerability, especially women and children.

Vulnerable people on the move face massive risks and uncertainty to find safety and opportunity for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, in many cases they are taken advantage of and their rights ignored, forced to work in terrible conditions for little, or in some cases, no money.

Elsewhere, 120,000 people crossed the Central Mediterranean in 2017 – the migrant route with most deaths recorded in the world, and nearly 2,900 migrants recorded killed or missing on that route in the same year.

Most of them traveled on smugglers’ boats departing from Libya, Tunisia or Egypt, risking their lives in search of safety and opportunity in Italy and beyond.

The reality of the harrowing journey in search of safety in Europe came into sharp focus when three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s [initially reported as Aylan Kurdi] image made headlines when he drowned in the Mediterranean after fleeing Syria with his family.

Recently, a little refugee boy from Mali also drowned in the Mediterranean. In preparation for the ill-fated trip, he had stitched a school report to his clothes to show European authorities what a good student he was.

In the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, thousands of Central Americans are arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border, fleeing domestic and gang violence, state corruption and impunity, climate induced droughts, and economic hardship in their home countries.

We see women bearing the brunt of violence and poverty with high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, and alarming levels of femicide. It is not uncommon for a girl and her family to be targeted and even killed by gangs if she refuses to become a gang member’s sex slave.

And once at the border, children have died due to the difficult journey they are taking and as a result of medical care not being available on time.

In the US, there are countless examples of workers being exploited, many of whom are migrants. Oxfam published a report detailing how the poultry industry exploits vulnerable people who have few other options to take on the most dangerous and thankless jobs in the poultry plants.

Because of their precarious situations, most workers are afraid to speak out or do anything that might jeopardize their jobs. Oxfam reported that some workers were forced to wear adult diapers because they did not have adequate bathroom breaks.

As part of Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign, Oxfam has also worked with laborers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere for more rights and protections. In the seafood industry, workers find themselves in conditions akin to modern slavery.

Female migrant workers especially, who perform jobs like peeling the shrimps for cheap shrimp cocktail you can buy at your grocery store, are often subjected to illegal recruitment and have their travel documents and wages confiscated.

The UN and the international community do acknowledge the plight of modern slavery and the challenges migrant workers face around the world, but more needs to be done.

Unfortunately, instead of helping address and resolve the displacement crisis with thoughtful, humane policies, and a genuine sense of shared responsibility,too many leaders are using scare tactics and depicting migrants and refugees as violent criminals and terrorists, when they are in fact the ones fleeing violence and also have much to offer to their new communities.

These leaders around the globe are doing this with a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law, human rights and global norms that are meant to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.

This was demonstrated in the Trump Administration’s inhumane policies separating children from their families and in trying to deny women who are victims of domestic violence from seeking asylum in the United States.

There has been some progress to help migrants and refugees from the UN. In 2016, President Obama hosted a UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The Summit led to countries committing to a $4.5 billion increase in global humanitarian funding. Following the Summit at the UN General Assembly, 193 UN member states agreed to coordinate and cooperate to improve the global response to the migration crisis.

They agreed to do such things as ease pressures on countries that host most refugees, like Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They committed to building refugees’ self-reliance through access to education and livelihoods, expanding access to resettlement and other complementary pathways, and fostering conditions for refugees to voluntarily return home.

They also agreed to start working on a Global Compact for Refugees and a Global Compact for Migration that was recently endorsed at the end of last year.

The compacts include such things as recognition of the need for meaningful participation by refugees and host communities in decision making and commitments to uphold the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

On the downside, the compacts aren’t binding so there is no way to legally hold endorsers accountable. And, the United States retreated from its leadership role in protecting refugees and withdrew from the Global Compact on Migration.

Overall, the mass migration taking place globally presents opportunities but also huge risks for those who aren’t protected along the way or when they arrive.

Many think of slavery as a thing of the past, but it still exists today, affecting millions around the world, as people make desperate decisions for a better life.

We need more protections and more implementation of the systems we have in place to achieve a more safe and just world for everyone.

Mauritius Scores Win over Britain in Diego Garcia Decolonisation

Diego Garcia island, which hosts a United States military base in the Indian Ocean. (Photo: NASA)

By Arul Louis
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2019 (IPS)

Mauritius has scored a victory over Britain at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a case involving the decolonisation of the strategically important island of Diego Garcia that is home to a United States military base.

The ICJ said on Monday that Britain must give up to Mauritius control of the Chagos Archipelago where the Indian Ocean military base is located on the Diego Garcia island.

The opinion issued in The Hague by the court’s majority that included Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India said that the decolonisation of Mauritius “was not lawfully completed” when it attained independence because Britain carved away the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and retained control of it.

The opinion handed down by the majority of 13 judges said Britain “is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The sole dissenter was American Judge Joan E. Donoghue. Britain is not represented on the bench after it withdrew the nomination of Judge Christopher Greenwood for re-election in 2017 when he could not get a majority of the votes in the General Assembly against Bhandari.

The court gave the opinion, which is non-binding, at the request the United Nations General Assembly made in a 2017 resolution.

Vehemently opposed by the US and Britain, the resolution received the vote of 94 countries while 15 voted against it and 65 abstained.

Britain has opposed the referral to the court saying it was a bilateral matter with Mauritius and indicated it would reject it.

There is unlikely to be any challenges to the US Diego Garcia base from Mauritius, either.

“We are not asking for the dismantling of the base”, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth Mauritian said after the ICJ opinion, according the Mauritian newspaper L’Express.

It reported that he did not want to reveal the next step that his country was going to take but said he wanted Britain “to recognise the unity of Mauritius”.

Britain cut off the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 before granting it independence in 1968.

The people living on Diego Garcia were forcibly removed from there by the colonial administration and it was leased to the US, which set up its strategic Indian Ocean military base on the island.

About 50 countries gave the court written statements, some against Britain and other in support of it.

Vishnu Dutt Sharma, the Legal Adviser of the External Affairs Ministry submitted India’s statement that said that the process of decolonisation was not completed because Britain had not complied with UN resolutions for it.

In the 1970s and 1980s India had vehemently opposed the US base in Diego Garcia.

Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called the base 2,000 kilometres from India as a threat to India.

Since then the strategic environment and India’s interests have changed due the rise of China and the threats to navigation from piracy. India is now developing close defence ties with the US and toned down its rhetoric.

When the resolution to refer matter to the court was taken up at the UN in 2017, India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin said that while supporting the position of Mauritius as “a matter of principle” to uphold the process of decolonisation and the respect for sovereignty of nations, “India shares with the international community, security concerns relating to the Indian Ocean”.

Hate Speech Threatens Our Humanity

By M. Nadarajah and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
BHUBANESWAR, India and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 2019 (IPS)

Do politicians’ words matter? Since becoming US President, Donald J Trump has dismissed his opponents and others he does not like as [...] Read more »