MEXICO CITY, Jul 19 2021 (IPS) – In June, the Department of Homeland Security made a critical announcement. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 15 national and local agencies and civilian organizations conducted a simultaneous major binational operation to find missing children inside and outside the United States.
They called it “Operation Lost Souls”. Its objective was to find girls and boys who were missing and possibly deceived or kidnapped by sexual exploitation gangs.
The secret operation lasted a week. And the result announced by Special Agent Erik Breitzke surprised even the organizers: 24 minors were recovered and, among them, three were located in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The report of the operation does not explain the condition in which the minors were found. Still, it is not difficult to infer why they were in Ciudad Juarez: the United Nations, the International Police, and the Mexican Congress have warned that this border city is a well-known destination for sex tourism.
In 1993, that Mexican city became infamous worldwide due to a phenomenon known as “Las muertas de Juarez,” where hundreds of femicides were discovered under the suspicion that the victims had been recruited for sexual slavery.
More than 28 years later, Ciudad Juarez is still a city known for its tolerance of prostitution, its glittering brothels with hidden girls, and its streets run by pimps and mafias that are tied to the porn industry. It is a pedophile’s paradise.
There is an explanation for that: in Ciudad Juárez, as in many others cities worldwide, the fight against human trafficking has the wrong approach — the police often harass those who are prostituted, not the clients. But there is a growing global movement calling for doing the opposite.
That movement is also trending in Mexico and is inspired by the French law enacted on April 13, 2016, which prohibits any sexual act that has been agreed upon in exchange for money.
It’s a simple but substantial change: to protect human rights, the law should not go against people trapped in prostitution but against clients. In other words, the authorities must attack the most powerful link in the chain, not the most vulnerable.
To this end, it is necessary to stop the criminalization of those trapped in prostitution and, instead, create incentives for their exit from the sex trade.
For example, designing self-employment programs, granting tax benefits for those who wish to leave prostitution, including them in a protected witness program with benefits, issuing temporary residence permits for foreigners who could not get a job because of their immigration status, among other measures.
To reach the goal of lowering sexual trafficking and exploitation, the law needs to strongly target the demand that perpetuates these crimes. The penalties for “client exploiters” need to be strengthened.
To prosecute them more effectively, mexican activists are asking their government to imitate what the French police does by removing the burden of proof of the solicitation from the victim’s shoulders.
The French law has been a successful model, according to the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International): it has curbed the investment of traffickers, discouraged clients, provided dignified outlets for the most vulnerable, and swept away the dangers of the tolerated clandestinely.
This model has also proved that pimps are less likely to “invest” in a country with such hard measures against them. Because they see themselves as genuine businessmen, these progressive laws such as the Swedish and French laws that have strong penalties for sex buyers are simply not good for business.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in the General recommendation No. 38 (2020) on human trafficking, encourages this new movement and calls on countries around the world to enforce it, especially in a pandemic context.
“The need to address the demand that fosters sexual exploitation is significant in the context of digital technology, which exposes potential victims to an increased risk of being trafficked,” alerts the General recommendation.
This global movement walks hand in hand with others that have shaken the world, such as #MeToo or the worldwide protests against inequality.
It’s the voice of millions around the world, Mexicans included: never again a city where sex buyers are seen as mere clients and traffickers are treated as businessmen.
To raise awareness among Mexican lawmakers, we will implement from July 26 to August 6 the worldwide campaign #10Days and #VsTrafficking hand in hand with several international organizations that will encourage new activists to stand against exploitative clients and put an end to the suffering of every lost soul in the world.
We are millions convinced of a revolutionary idea: abolishing prostitution does not limit sexual freedom, instead it motivates the sexual freedom that is needed in the world. The one that does not depend on money.
The author is a human rights activist who opened the first shelter for girls and teenagers rescued from sexual commercial exploitation in Mexico. She has published five books on preventing human trafficking; she is the elected Representative of GSN Global Sustainability Network in Latin America.
PARIS, Jun 10 2021 (IPS) – In the last 20 years, disasters affected over 4 billion people. At global level we witness on average one sweeping disaster a day, the majority of which are floods and storms. From the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change, calamities are taking new shapes and sizes, infiltrating every dimension of society. From the emotional to the political, how do we deal with disasters? How can we create a whole-of-society approach to disaster risk reduction?
“Today, we are all actors and victims of crises. How can we better understand and learn to cope with them? These practical tools allow us to discover the stakes, the exemplary actions and their effects, through simple definitions and concrete testimonies experienced by civil society,” says Karine Meaux, Emergency manager at Fondation de France.
“Building resilient communities in the face of natural and man-made hazards has never been more important. While disasters don’t discriminate, policies do. Together we can act and put pressure on decision-makers to promote a holistic approach to disaster prevention and reduction and truly people-centred policies,” says Sarah Strack, Director of Forus.
Civil society at the forefront of disaster management
From resilient communities in Nepal, to conflicts in Mali and peace processes in Colombia, the toolkit presents six approaches to disaster risk reduction gleaned from case studies compiled across the civil society ecosystem. The toolkit looks at various topics from capacity building, to local knowledge, resource mobilisation, partnerships with governments and long-term sustainable development and livelihood resilience, ensuring that communities ‘bounce forward’ after a disaster.
Credit: Bibbi Abruzzini
Specifically, the toolkit aims to clarify the crucial role frontline civil society organisations play in reducing the impacts of disasters in the midst of an expanding and intensifying global risk landscape. Bridging governments, communities and experts is the only way we can tackle the multiple ways disasters affect local and social processes such as education, migration, food security and peace. If civil society is not free to operate – or even exist – our collective capacity to deal with disasters and create long-term resilience is hampered.
“You have countries [in the region] in which civil society is not even allowed to exist. This reality changed a lot after the Arab Spring, with countries living in a terrible crisis, with military conflicts, where the role of civil society now is not only to struggle for their existence, but also to provide the population with basic needs and humanitarian interventions,” says Ziad Abdel Samad, Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND).
Everyday disasters and inequalities
Robert Ninyesiga, from UNNGOF, the national civil society organisation platform in Uganda, argues that in most cases, “more effort has been put towards disaster response while neglecting the disaster prevention aspect”.
This therefore calls for continuous intentional awareness and capacity building as regards to disaster prevention and this can only be effectively achieved if sustainable partnerships between central governments, local governments, civil society organisations, media and citizens are strengthened.
Shock events, high-impact disasters, such as conflicts, earthquakes or tsunamis are just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath this layer there are an increasingly high number of “everyday disasters” affecting people around the globe. Localised, small scale, and slow onset disasters are often “invisible” – far from the spotlight. Those at low incomes are the most vulnerable and find themselves at the periphery of infrastructures, response systems and media attention.
For instance, in addition to being often exposed to intensive disasters such as floods and storms, residents in urban slums across Bangladesh are suffering much more than other communities since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Credit: Bibbi Abruzzini
“Most slum dwellers are daily wage earners, but they are not able to earn money. They are not able to maintain social distance, because in one room 4-5 members are living. Many people are using a shared bathroom. It’s very difficult to maintain hygiene. There is not enough space to sit or sleep at home while maintaining sufficient distance. Due to lack of money, many slum dwellers have only one or two meals a day. Violence and sexual harassment are increasing in the community due to cramped conditions. Children are not attending school,” explains the Participatory Development Action Programme (PDAP) which works in the slums of Dhaka .
These pressures add to regular “everyday” challenges of air pollution and garbage management, flooding, water-logged land, and poor quality water.
Local knowledge and Resilient Future
Civil society organisations often fill a tremendous gap and find themselves at the forefront of prevention and emergency efforts. The localisation of responses and partnerships are absolutely crucial to understand the needs of communities in pre and post-disaster scenarios.
In Honduras, civil society has created community-led interventions, to prioritise local plans of action across the country.
“Honduras, and Central America more in general, have been hit in the last 10 years by an intensification of disasters, most of them linked to climate change. Our role in helping communities to adapt to climate change and to deal with disasters, is in terms of capacity building, humanitarian assistance and advocacy by creating links between local, national, regional and global levels,” says Jose Ramon Avila from ASONOG, the national platform of civil society organisations in Honduras.
The intense and cascading nature of risks, such as seen in the cases of Covid-19 and climate change, represent a serious threat to the achievement of a sustainable and resilient future. Growing experience over the last three decades has revealed that disasters and development are closely linked. Ignoring the impact of disasters makes it more difficult to pursue sustainable development.
“Sustainable development can only be achieved when local risk is fully understood. Critical to understanding and assessing the complex threats and risks, challenges and opportunities faced by communities most at risk, is the need to partner with those people. This practical toolkit provides valuable insights and examples from GNDR members and others on how this can be achieved,” says Bijay Kumar, Executive Director, Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR)
It has also been found that much of the negative impact on sustainable livelihoods comes not from large, ‘intensive’ disasters, but from many smaller, ‘everyday’ disasters. It has become crucial to address intensive and everyday disasters and to integrate our responses with overall work to pursue sustainable development.
We need to ask ourselves this question: can we build new bridges of solidarity between civil society, communities and governments? Can we prevent and anticipate disasters? Our future is not disaster-free; to build resilient communities it is crucial to nurture strong roots for our society to flourish.
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 22 2021 (IPS) – On February 1st, 2021 the military of Myanmar overthrew the country’s democratic government in a coup d’etat followed by arresting more than 40 government officials including Aung San Suu Kyi. The military declared a year-long state of emergency under the rule of it’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Troops took over the streets, a night-time curfew has been put into force. Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across Myanmar, in what is seen as the biggest street protests in more than a decade. The anti-coup demonstrators are undeterred by police attacks and increasing violence from the security forces.
According to this list, the military has arrested multiple members of civil society, including activists, writers, musicians, filmmakers. Monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said “more than 384 people have been detained, in a wave of mostly night-time arrests”.
The first known casualty of the coup, Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing died on February 9 when a police officer opened fire with live ammunition, hitting her in the head while she was protesting in Naypyidaw. Two more protestors were killed in the city of Mandalay, marking Myanmmar’s bloodiest day since the military seized power. Myanmar’s minority community fears renewed violence after the military coup.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres condemned the use of deadly violence in Myanmar, “The use of lethal force, intimidation & harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable. Everyone has a right to peaceful assembly. I call on all parties to respect election results and return to civilian rule,” António Guterres said.
The military in Myanmar alleges that the recent landslide election win by Aung San Suu Kyi was marred by fraud. Following the coup, the military has already announced replacements for a number of ministers.
Witnesses in Mandalay reported seeing soldiers from the 33rd Light Infantry Division, which led the deadly campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in 2017. The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Tom Andrews said, “The 33rd Light Infantry Division was reportedly involved in the lethal attacks in Mandalay today – the same division responsible for mass atrocity crimes against the Rohingya in 2017. A dangerous escalation by the junta in what appears to be a war against the people of Myanmar.”
“The very idea of Aung San Suu Kyi taking the trip to Hague at the end of 2019 to defend the actions of the military spoke volume about who she is as a person, and where she stands in her understanding of how democratic transition in Myanmar should progress,” says Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya Social Justice Activist to IPS News.
“We have had three coups so far since 1962, and that memory still lives very deeply with a lot of Myanmar citizens. The pain and hurt that comes with it still reminds them of the glory that the country could never actually achieve.
“We have lived under a military regime for decades, without unifying, without taking to the streets, and making it known to the world that we reject this unconstitutional ceasing of power. The citizens are out on the streets because they will not have another chance at this, people are done with the fact that they will have to live under a culture of impunity where the military is untouched,” says Yasmin.
Rights group Human Rights Watch in its report, Myanmar, Sanctions, and Human Rightssaid, “it supports the use of certain types of sanctions – including targeted sanctions and travel bans, and restrictions on military, trade, financial, economic, and other relations – as a means to condemn situations involving grave widespread human rights abuses or humanitarian law violations, to assert pressure to end those abuses, to hold those responsible to account, and as a means to deter other parties from becoming complicit in abuses.”
“We are calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a global arms embargo. Separately, the UN General Assembly can also endorse individual governments or regional organizations imposing unilateral sanctions on Myanmar’s military, something the General Assembly has done in the past (e.g., during South Africa during apartheid.), the report stated.
International rights defenders have expressed concerns over grave human rights violations in Myanmar following the Feb. 1 military coup. “What we are witnessing in Myanmar didn’t just suddenly happen. You cannot leave the perpetrators of grave crimes under international law on the loose and then act surprised when they trample human rights again,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy Sherine Tadros.
“It was already ingrained in us Rohingyas to be intimidated, to fear the military, to fear authority, because that has always been the tactics used on us. The same kind of tactics we see now – the psychological warfare, night raids, shooting of people, arbitrary arrest, restrictions of movements – all of the things that the protestors are dealing with right now have been used on every single ethinic community and the Rohingyas,” says Yasmin.
It’s been thirty-three years since the uprising in 1988 in Myanmar against the military dictatorship, also known as the 8-8-88 Movement. The armed forces continued to rule until 2011, when a new government began a return to civilian rule. The military’s current threat to revoke the constitution only revealed the fact that it is willing to overturn any political – democratic system when its interests are threatened.
“Without a real change and reform within Myanmar to the very foundation to rip off the military power because they have infested different parts of the country that makes Myanmar what it is, without doing that there is no democracy that could take place,” says Yasmin.
The author is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.
Batara slum in a Dhaka suburb. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS
ROME, Nov 26 2020 (IPS) – The recent meeting of the G20 – scheduled to take place in Riyadh but held virtually due to the Coronavirus pandemic – has been an eloquent example of how the world is drifting, in a crisis of leadership.
It was, in a sense, a showcase. Everybody had to accept the view that the host of the meeting, the ailing King Salman of Saudi Arabia, was accompanied on TV screens by his apparent heir, Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who is clearly the mastermind of the brutal assassination, dismembering and disappearance of the body of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mohamed bin Salman got away with it, also because of the support of Donald Trump who, in his video intervention said, among other pearls, that nobody in US history had done as much as he had for the environment (like when he said that nobody since Abraham Lincoln had done as much as he had for black Americans). After that, Trump promptly left for his golf course, and ignored the debate.
Raison d’état, realpolitik, diplomatic constraints have always been part of history. The fact that the G20 was virtual, can partly hide a fact: that politicians now accept the most preposterous statements without blinking, because everything has become acceptable and legitimate. In Saudi Arabia, Prince bin Salman is highly popular and in the US, those who live in the parallel world of Trumpland follow blindly.
Biden will have a very difficult life. At least one-third of Americans believe that a massive fraud has deprived their idol of the presidency. He has a Supreme Court staffed by his nominee. And unless the Democrats win the two seats for the Senate in Georgia on January 5th, it will remain in the hands of Mitch McConnell, who will block every single Biden project that needs Senate approval.
Add to this a Trump permanent electoral campaign during the next four years, probably with his own TV channel, and it is difficult to predict that Biden’s vice-president, a woman and black, will repeat his feat in 2024.
There are plenty of solutions if there was only political will. For instance, Oxfam estimates that just an increase of 0.5% over ten years on the taxes paid by 1% of the richest (a negligible increase) would suffice to create 117 million jobs in strategic sectors like health, education, and assistance to the elderly
I apologise for this diversion. The real goal of this article is to show the stunning lack of responsibility of the leaders who met virtually, and besides making totally ritual declarations about the pandemic and climate change, when faced with the issue of the impact of Covid-19 on the poor of the world, simply decided to extend the moratorium on the interest of the external debt of the poorest countries for another year. This is a debt which, in many cases, has been amply repaid with the payment of cumulative interests.
Now, it is certainly difficult to believe that the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, India, China and Canada, and the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Union – leaving aside the United States – ignore the impacting data on the increase of poverty provided by all the international organisations.
The creation of the G7 and the G20 has been the most visible attempt of the great powers to displace substantial debates and decisions from the United Nations. It was certainly not due to lack of information that they ignored the appeal of the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, who implored action in his intervention against the unfolding drama of the poor of all over the world, which is nullifying all progress achieved in the last two decades.
The data that the G20 ignored all converge on two conclusions: the impact of the Covid-19 virus is stronger than expected, and it will bring about a global social imbalance that will have a lasting impact on several millions of people – in fact, about 300 million people.
This comes on top of an already dire situation. According to the World Bank, 720 million people will be living in extreme poverty (less than 1.90 dollars a day). Of those, 114 million are the direct result of Covid-19: that is 9.4% of the world’s population. According to the UN World Food Programme, more than 265 million are already starving, and many will die. And according to the International Labour Organization 200 million will lose their job.
Let us not forget that half of the world’s population – 3.2 billion people – live on less than 5.50 dollars a day. These are in the global South, as well as those in rich countries who are close to the conditions of the poor countries. The scale of this condition is much greater than we normally think. In the United States, according to the US Census Bureau, 11.1% of the population (49 million people) can be classified as poor; but Covid-19 will probably add another 8 million people.
A staggering 16.1 million children live in food precarity, while more than 47 million citizens depend on food banks. The National Center on Family Homelessness estimates that in 2013, 2.5 million US children experienced some form of homelessness. Finally, the US Health Affairs journal affirms that in 2016, the United States had the largest rate of children mortality in the 20 countries belonging to the OECD, while according to the US Census Bureau, life expectation has shrunk by three years.
In Europe thanks to a culture of welfare (absent in the US), things are going somewhat better. Eurostat estimates that in 2017, 11.8 million people lived in a household “at risk of poverty or social exclusion”. And Save the Children estimates that 28% of those under 18 are at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
We do not have estimates of the impact of Covid-19 in Europe, but the European Union estimates that poverty may increase by 47% if the pandemic lasts until next summer. This excludes the impact of the expected third wave in the winter of 2021. Caritas Italy estimates that at the end of the year there will be at least one million more poor children.
The leaders of the G20 cannot ignore that in April UNCTAD issued an alert: we need to find at least 2.5 billion dollars to attenuate the coming social crisis. They cannot ignore that the ILO has stated that in the poorest countries of the world, like Haiti, Ethiopia or Malawi, the average income of informal workers has fallen by 82%.
They cannot ignore the political consequences of this social crisis, and how Covid-19 is putting a brake on the world economy. But the poor, for many reasons, is not a priority in political choices. Suffice it to note that in the EU’s unprecedented and brilliant Recovery Plan for Europe there are no special provisions for the poor. They are part of the general population, and of those who have suffered because of Covid-19: people working in the tourism sector, in restaurants bar, in shops, and so on.
Yet, we have all the data to know that they suffer specific problems, problems that differ from those of who have lost their jobs. Structural poverty is a cage which does not let out those who are inside it. We have no space here to analyse why poverty needs a specific action. There are tons of studies on the subject, on the relations between poverty and education, poverty and democracy, poverty and social movements, and the list goes on.
What we want to stress is that there are plenty of solutions if there was only political will. For instance, Oxfam estimates that just an increase of 0.5% over ten years on the taxes paid by 1% of the richest (a negligible increase) would suffice to create 117 million jobs in strategic sectors like health, education, and assistance to the elderly.
Repatriating 10% of the capital hidden in fiscal paradises would obtain the same result. But we have been following Ronald Reagan’s mantra that the poor bring poverty and the rich bring wealth, so the rich should be left to create wealth. This may seem like a joke, but the OECD indicates that the average taxation on companies fell from 28% in 2000 to 20.6% in 2020.
This occurred despite the rise of the wealth of large companies, which has been accompanied by a notable decline of the middle class, not to speak of workers and the proliferation of precarious and informal jobs. According to the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, between March 18 and June 4, the wealth of the richest Americans increased by 19.1% – a monumental 565 million dollars. Now, the richest Americans own 3.5 billion dollars.
Just 10% of that would be enough to bail out the 46.2 million fellow citizens who ask for unemployment subsidies. Another solution would be to reduce subsidies to the fossil industry, which the International Institute for Renewable Energy estimates at 3.1 trillion dollars – 19 times those for renewables – in spite of the imminent climatic tragedy.
The same imbalance is happening with the pandemic. It is clear that until vaccination becomes universal, Covid-19 is here to stay. It recognises no borders and global problems cannot have an assorted collection of local answers.
Yet, to date, pharmaceutical companies have received 13.1 billion dollars to develop a vaccine: a fantastic business, as they will now make more money on the market, with their costs already having been paid by governments. A central discussion would be whether markets should make profit on common goods like water, air and humans, but we have no space for this debate.
This aside, the situation today is that again according to Oxfam, the rich countries have 13.5%of the world population, Yet they have bought in advance 51% of the doses that pharmaceutical companies will produce – in 2021, 86.5 % of the world will have to make do with the remaining 49%. A consortium of public and private enterprises, COVAX, has been established to deal with the most fragile parts of the world population. Over 185 countries are involved, but it is still very far from gathering the necessary funds.
What is the lesson we can draw from this incomplete analysis? That we are far from having a political class able to face global issues. On the contrary, nationalism and xenophobia are on their way back. The attitude of nationalist leaders to Covid-19 has been similar to that for the threat of climate change: it is a left-wing idea from globalists. So, wearing a mask has become a political declaration.
Trump lost re-election in a great measure due to his attitude on the virus. We can only have a dim hope that this lesson will have some impact. When it comes to the poor, the terms social justice and solidarity are out of fashion, but we are creating imbalances and tensions that we will probably pay dearly for. The French Revolution was not done by a political party, but by an impoverished Third State, or the poor, who revolted against the nobility and the clergy. That is a lesson that the richest 1% would do well not to forget.
Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.
Nidhi Nagabhatla is Principal Researcher, Water Security at the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, funded by the Government of Canada and hosted by McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada
Padma River Basin, Bangladesh Credit: Nidhi Nagabhatla
HAMILTON, Canada, Jun 8 2020 (IPS) – Do migrants willingly choose to flee their homes, or is migration the only option available?
There is no clear, one-size-fits-all explanation for a decision to migrate — a choice that will be made today by many people worldwide, and by an ever-rising number in years to come because of a lack of access to water, climate disasters, a health crisis and other problems.
Data are scarce on the multiple causes, or “push factors,” limiting our understanding of migration. What we can say, though, is that context is everything.
UN University researchers and others far beyond have been looking for direct and indirect links between migration and the water crisis, which has different faces — unsafe water in many places, chronic flooding or drought in others.
The challenge is separating those push factors from the social, economic, and political conditions that contribute to the multi-dimensional realities of vulnerable migrant populations, all of them simply striving for dignity, safety, stability, and sustainably in their lives.
A new report, ‘Water and Migration: A Global Overview,’ (https://bit.ly/3gxDgE7) from UNU’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, offers insights into water and migration interlinkages, and suggests how to tackle existing gaps and needs.
Its information can be understood easily by stakeholders and proposes ideas for better informed migration-related policymaking, including a three-dimensional framework applicable by scholars and planners at multiple scales and in various settings.
The Report also describes some discomforting patterns and trends, among them:
• By 2050, a combination of water and climate-driven problems and conflicts will force 1 billion people to migrate, not by choice but as their only option; • Links to the climate change and water crises are becoming more evident in a dominant trend: rural-urban migration; • That said, there is a severe lack of quantitative information and understanding re. direct and indirect water and climate-related drivers of migration, limiting effective management options at local, national, regional, and global scales • Global agreements, institutions, and policies on migration are concerned mostly with response mechanisms. Needed is a balanced approach that addresses water, climate, and other environmental drivers of migration • Unregulated migration can lead to rapid, unplanned, and unsustainable settlements and urbanization, causing pressure on water demand and increasing the health risks and burdens for migrants as well as hosting states and communities • Migration should be formally recognized as an adaptation strategy for water and climate crises. While it is viewed as a ‘problem,’ in fact it forms part of a ‘solution’ • Migration reflects the systemic inequalities and social justice issues pertaining to water rights and climate change adaptation. Lack of access to water, bad water quality, and a lack of support for those impacted by extreme water-related situations constitute barriers to a sustainable future for humankind.
Case studies in the report provide concrete examples of the migration consequences in water and climate troubled situations:
• The shrinking of Lake Chad in Africa and the Aral Sea in Central Asia • The saga of Honduran refugees • The rapid urbanization of the Nile delta, and • The plight of island nations facing both rising seas and more frequent, more intense extreme weather events.
In addition, the added health burdens imposed on people and communities by water pollution and contamination create vicious cycles of poverty, inequality and forced mobility.
While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda does not include an explicit migration target, its mitigation should be considered in the context of SDGs that aim to strengthen capacities related to water, gender, climate, and institutions. These issues resonate even as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent news stories have chronicled the plight of desperate migrant workers trapped in the COVID-19 crisis in India, and of displaced people in refugee camps where social distancing is unachievable, as is access to soap and water, the most basic preventive measure against the disease.
Even at this moment, with the world fixated on the pandemic crisis, we cannot afford to put migration’s long-term causes on the back burner.
While the cost of responses may cause concerns, the cost of no decisions will certainly surpass that. There may be no clear, simple solution but having up-to-date evidence and data will surely help.
On World Environment Day ( https://bit.ly/3dnKkks) last week (June 5), we were all encouraged to consider human interdependencies with nature.
Let us also acknowledge that water and climate-related disasters, ecological degradation and other environmental burdens causes economic, health and wellbeing disparities for migrants and populations living in vulnerable settings.
Considered essential to the U.S. economy, as Donald Trump himself now acknowledges, Mexico’s seasonal farmworkers are exposed to the coronavirus pandemic as they work in U.S. fields, which exacerbates violations of their rights, such as wage theft, fraud, and other abuses. CREDIT: Courtesy of MHP Salud
MEXICO CITY, Apr 21 2020 (IPS) – As the high season for agricultural labour in the United States approaches, tens of thousands of migrant workers from Mexico are getting ready to head to the fields in their northern neighbour to carry out the work that ensures that food makes it to people’s tables.
But the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, of which the U.S. has become the world’s largest source of infection, threatens to worsen the already precarious conditions in which these workers plant, harvest, process and move fruits and vegetables in the U.S.
Exposed to illegal charges for visa, transport and accommodation costs, labour exploitation, lack of access to basic services and unhealthy housing, Mexican seasonal workers driven from their homes by poverty must also now brave the risk of contagion.
Evy Peña, director of communications and development at the non-governmental Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Migrant Rights Centre – CDM), told IPS from the city of Monterrey that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating violations of the rights of migrant workers.
“Temporary visa programmes are rife with abuse, from the moment workers are recruited in their communities. They suffer fraud, they are offered jobs that don’t even exist in the United States. It’s a perverse system in which recruiters and employers have all the control. There are systemic flaws that will become more evident now,” the activist said.
In 1943, the United States created H2 visas for unskilled foreign workers, and in the 1980s it established H-2A categories for farm workers and H-2B categories for other work, such as landscaping, construction and hotel staff.
In 2019, Washington, which had already declared them “essential” to the economy, granted 191,171 H-2A and 73,557 H-2B visas to Mexican workers, and by January and February of this year had issued 27, 058 and 6,238, respectively.
Two emergencies converge
Now, the two countries are negotiating to send thousands of farmworkers within or outside of the H2 programme, starting this month, to ensure this year’s harvest in the U.S. The Mexican government has polled experts to determine the viability of the plan, IPS learned.
The migrant workers would come from Michoacan, Oaxaca, Zacatecas and the border states. The plan would put leftist President Andres Manuel López Obrador in good standing with his right-wing counterpart, Donald Trump; generate employment for rural workers in the midst of an economic crisis; and boost remittances to rural areas.
For his part, Trump, forced by a greater need for rural workers in the face of the pandemic and under pressure from agriculture, abandoned his anti-immigrant policy and on Apr. 1 even issued a call for the arrival of Mexican migrant workers.
“We want them to come in,” he said. “They’ve been there for years and years, and I’ve given the commitment to the farmers: They’re going to continue to come.”
U.S. authorities can extend H-2A visas for up to one year and the maximum period of stay is three years. After that, the holder must remain outside U.S. territory for at least three months to qualify for re-entry with the same permit.
On Apr. 15, Washington announced temporary changes allowing workers to switch employers and to stay longer than three years.
A Mexican migrant worker works at a vineyard in California, one of the U.S. states most dependent on seasonal labour from Mexico in agriculture, and which has now urged President Donald Trump to facilitate the arrival of guest workers from that country so crops are not lost. CREDIT: Kau Sirenio/En el Camino
The most numerous jobs are in fruit harvesting, general agricultural work such as planting and harvesting, and on tobacco plantations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Migrant workers traditionally come from Mexican agricultural and border states and their main destinations are agricultural areas where there is a temporary or permanent shortage of labourers.
Jeremy McLean, policy and advocacy manager for the New York-based non-governmental organisation Justice in Motion, expressed concern about the conditions in which migrants work.
The way the system works, “it’s not going to be easy to follow recommendations for social distancing. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to come and won’t be able to follow these recommendations, and they will put themselves at risk. It could spell another wave of infection and transmission,” he warned IPS.
“This population group has no health services and no medical insurance. If they fall ill in a remote area, what help can they get?” he said from New York.
On Mar. 26, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico reported that it would process without a personal interview the applications of those whose visas had expired in the previous two years or who had not received them in that time, under pressure from U.S. agribusiness.
Trapped with no way out
The migrant workers’ odyssey begins in Mexico, where they are recruited by individual contractors – workers or former workers of a U.S. employer, fellow workers, relatives or friends, in their hometowns – or by private U.S. agencies.
Although article 28 of Mexico’s Federal Labour Law, in force since 1970 and overhauled in 2019, regulates the provision of services by workers hired within Mexico for work abroad, it is not enforced.
It requires that contracts be registered with the labour authorities and that a bond be deposited to guarantee compliance. It also holds the foreign contractor responsible for the costs of transport, repatriation, food for the worker and immigration, as well as the payment of full wages, compensation for occupational hazards and access to adequate housing.
In addition, it states that Mexican workers are entitled to social security benefits for foreigners in the country where they are offering their services.
Although the Mexican government could enforce article 28 of the law in order to safeguard the rights of migrant workers who enter and leave the United States under the visa programme, it has failed to do so.
“In Mexico there are still many gaps in the mechanisms for monitoring and inspecting recruitment. There is still fraud,” she told IPS. “How often do they inspect? How do they guarantee that things are working the way they’re supposed to?”
There are 433 registered placement agencies in the country, distributed in different states, according to data from the National Employment Service. For the transfer of labour abroad, there are nine – a small number considering the tens of thousands of visas issued in 2019.
For its part, the U.S. Department of Labor reports 239 licenced recruiters in that nation working for a handful of U.S. companies.
Data obtained by IPS indicates that Mexico’s Ministry of Labour only conducted 91 inspections in nine states from 2009 to 2019 and imposed 12 fines for a total of around 153,000 dollars. Some states with high levels of migrant workers were never visited by inspectors.
Furthermore, the records of the federal labour board do not contain any reports of violations of article 28.
Mexico is a party to the Fee-Charging Employment Agencies Convention 96 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which it violates due to non-compliance with the rights of temporary workers.
Peña stressed that there is still a gap between the U.S. and Mexico in labour protection and said workers are being left behind because of that gap.
“Countries like Mexico see temporary visas as a solution to labour migration and allow the exploitation of their citizens. The H2 programme is about labour migration and governments forget that bilateral solutions are needed,” she said.
In response to the pandemic and its risks, 37 organisations called on the U.S. government on Mar. 25 for adequate housing with quarantine facilities, safe transportation, testing for workers before they arrive in the United States, physical distancing on farms and paid treatment for those infected with COVID-19.
Blanco emphasised the lack of justice and reparation mechanisms. “The more visas issued, the greater the need for oversight. Mexico is perceived as a country of return or transit of migrants, but it should be recognised as a place of origin of temporary workers. And that is why it must comply with international labour laws,” she said.
McLean raised the need for a new U.S. law to guarantee the rights of migrant workers, who are essential to the economy, as underscored by the demand reinforced by the impact of COVID-19.
“We pushed for a law to cover all temporary visa programmes so that there would be more information, to avoid fraud and wage theft. But it is very difficult to get a commitment to immigration dialogue in the United States today,” he said.
But the ordeal that migrant workers face will not end with their work in the U.S. fields, because in October they will have to return to their hometowns, which will be even more impoverished due to the consequences of the health crisis, and with COVID-19 in all likelihood still posing a threat.