African migrant workers: trafficked, trapped & left to die on the high seas

I wrote this post in July 2006 but the thousands of African migrant workers who have been displaced and left to die on the high seas after fleeing Libya, reminded me that this is not a new story.

I read a report yesterday that there are thousands of African and South Asian migrants amongst the displaced in Lebanon. Unlike other foreign nationals from the Middle East and the West, who have been evacuated by their respective governments, this group have largely been left to fend for themselves without money or papers. Many of them at the lowest strata of society and in a foreign land — part of the millions of Africans trafficked within the continent and beyond to Europe and the Middle East — are the most vulnerable group. It is estimated that there are some 20,000 Ethiopians as well as Nigerians, Ghanaians, Sudanese, Somalis, Sri Lankans and the largest group (90,000) Filipinos working in domestic servitude, as migrant or forced labour and the sex industry in Lebanon. The IOM has been asked to assist in helping some 10,000 migrants from these nations.

I took a closer look at trafficking across the world and discovered that every country is either a source, a transit or a destination and many are all three (only a few countries in the West are strictly destination countries serviced by the majority world). Looking at Africa specifically there are a number of common trends.

The first is that every country is involved with the possible exception of Lesotho and the Kingdom of Swaziland although “the existence of significant trafficking in persons” is suspected. Secondly the majority of countries do not even reach the “minimum standards for elimination of trafficking”. Recently there have been a number of cross country initiatives in West Africa to try to address the problem but as far as I can gather nothing has yet impacted on trafficking. Thirdly in most cases, trafficking takes place internally and generally between neighbouring countries which leads to clusters or regions of trafficking roughly as follows: West Africa, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa. Fourthly women and girls are the largest group of trafficked followed by young boys. Fifthly, most trafficking is either for sexual exploitation and forced labour followed by domestic servitude, agricultural labour, child soldiers, street vendors and begging. Finally most countries are source, transit and destination zones meaning that people are trafficked to,from and within those countries. The four main trafficking countries on the continent are Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco (source transit and destination) and Ethiopia (source only).

In Africa as elsewhere in the South, the majority poor and dispossessed subsidise the lifestyle of the minority world enabled by a system of dehumanization based on cultural, religious, ethnic and racial difference. Psychologically it is easier to oppress someone who is regarded as different and with whom you can distance yourself. In this way, Nigerian children are taken to Senegal to work in domestic servitude and Senegalese children are taken to Ghana. One ethnic group becomes forced labour or sexual slaves for another in a tit for tat series of exchanges that encompasses the whole world. Going outside one’s own community also makes it more difficult for those trafficked to escape. The further you take someone away from their home the more difficult it is for them to find their way back — trapped in distance, language, culture, bonded-debt and in the case of Lebanon abandoned in a war zone thousands of miles from home.

Source, transit and destination countries in Africa

Benin: Mainly children for sexual exploitation, forced labour. Internally and to other West African (WA) countries

Burkina Faso: Women and children for sexual exploitation, forced labour. Other WA countries and a few to Europe.

Cameroon: Women and children for sexual exploitation, forced labour (domestic servitude; tea, banana and cocoa plantations)

Chad: Mainly children for sexual exploitation, forced labour. Internally and to other WA countries, some possibly to Saudi Arabia.

Djibouti: Mainly women and children for sex mostly to neighbouring countries.

The Gambia: Women and girls for sex within the country, across the region and internationally. Also a source country for European sex tourism. Boys for forced labour.

Ghana: For sex, domestic servitude, agricultural labour. Internally and throughout WA.

Guinea: For sex and domestic servitude. Throughout WA, South Africa and to Europe (Spain, Greece)

Kenya: For sex and forced labour. Internally, the Middle East, Western Europe and a few in America. Also a transit centre for Chinese and Bangladeshi women in transit to Europe.

Liberia: Sex industry and forced labour. Mainly across WA.

Mali: Sex industry and forced labour. Across WA, Libya and Europe

Morocco: A huge centre for trafficking — gateway to Europe and the Middle East. Major source of women and young girls from rural communities for sexual exploitation in Moroccan cities, the Middle East and Europe. Migrants from SSA and Asia trying to reach Europe are caught by traffickers and sent to Europe and Middle east.

Niger: Caste based slavery, forced labour and sex industry. The first two within Niger and across the region and women and girls for the sex industry as far as Europe and the Middle East.

Nigeria: Forced labour and the sex industry. Throughout WA, Saudi Arabia and the main country for supplying Europe with women and girls for the sex industry.

Senegal: Forced labour and sex industry. Internally and across WA. Supplying women and children for the sex industry in the Middle East and Europe. A few to the US.

Sierra Leone: Similar to Senegal.

South Africa: Forced labour and the sex industry. Women and girls for sex industry within the country and also to the Europe and across Asia. A main transit centre for sex trafficking. Also receives Thai, Chinese and Eastern European women for “debt-bonded” sexual exploitation.

Togo: Forced labour and sex trade. Mostly children within the country, but also across WA and to Lebanon and Europe as domestic labour. Some women to Europe for sex industry.

Zimbabwe: Forced labour and sex trade. Children are trafficked internally for labour and sex. Women and girls traded to China, SA, Egypt for sex industry

Please sign the petition to demand accountability from NATO for the death of 61 African migrant workers fleeing from Libya