World Refugee Day should not ignore trafficking issue

June 20, 2015 is World Refugee Day.  

My newspaper had an article  about World Refugee Day credited to USA Today.  What that article said needs to be recapped here.   The interrelationship of refugees and trafficking will quickly become clear.  So hear me out whether your interest is in refugees or trafficking.  I will explain why they are so closely interrelated.

First, the number of people forced to fee their homes because of conflict or persecution reached a record high in 2014. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR – actual name is UN High Commissioner for Refugees) reports that a “staggering 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced in 2014.” The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is Antonio Guterres, and he said,

The situation is likely to get worse.”  And, “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement, as well as the response required, is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.

understanding trafficking refugees are heroes too

Refugee camps have much in common with prisons.

In 2014 only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their homes.  That means that millions more remain somewhere in a sort of limbo I suppose.  Some of them are on the move.  You can be sure it is the word “trafficking” that will be used. Big news stories largely in 2015 (not 2014) tell the parallel stories of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and Muslim  Rohingya refugees in the South China Sea.

The vast majority of the reports related to World Refugee Day is related to refugees from war.  This is not surprising since war has changed.  WWI and WWII each had millions of casualties, but not many refugees.  Why?  Huge armies fought nose to nose.  The wounded went home when it was over.

Modern wars are different.  They are often fights to rearrange borders reassigned after WWII but now based on religion or nationalism.  This means that it is far more common for the winners to drive away those who have made their homes where they were no longer safe.  Wars are no longer conducted by military professionals fighting face to face.  Wars are as likely to be conducted by conscriptd children and women hiding vests of explosives.

While the story of Word Refugee Dat says little about other refugees there is more to say.  Refugees are not limited to those driven across a national line in a war zone.  There are internal refugees too.  Nepal is a good example.  Earthquakes destroyed thousands of homes.  People live in tents now and they too are refugees.

The same applies to people displaced by drought, flood, and other severe weather conditions.  These are known to be increasing due to global warming.  Unfortunately our dependence on extraction industries – coal, oil, and gas – means they have us under their control.  CO2 pouring into the air, instead of remaining in the ground, continues to raise global temperatures.  This too is a reason for huge increases in global refugees.

What does this have to do with trafficking?

Throughout this blog I say, “trafficking is a symptom of migration issues.”  

The United States can get on its white horse and rally countries from all over the world to attack traffickers and rescue “girls” – always “girls” – and they will only make this issue worse!  Yes, worse!   This is an extreme criminal justice understanding of this issue.

Trafficking is a symptom of migration issues.  51.5 million refugees in a camp or on their own have to do something, to  go somewhere, and to seek opportunity.  Academics say migration cannot be denied.  There is a huge churn of people on the move.  The American pressure on new laws attacking trafficking will be seen like the Dutch boy with his finger in the damn, a fruitless effort in the face of a growing mass of people desperate for an opportunity.

Into this void people will try to help – usually at a price.  As the United States focuses almost exclusively on a criminal justice as their way of understanding trafficking – as they do – this simply makes a better market for smugglers and traffickers.  Without the risk of increased law enforcement there is little reason for smugglers to charge extremely high prices.  The prices reflect the risk in any illegal venture.

Many people around the world with a different way of understanding trafficking will consider the traffickers to be the ones who are rescuing them.   The United States, through their Trafficking in Persons program, wants to “rescue” people from traffickers, but it is the trafficker who are seen as the rescuers offering a path to an opportunity to a refugee family are a displaced farmers daughter.  When the United States used their trafficking laws – forced onto other countries under threat of sanctions – they are seen as the imperialist closing doors to an opportunity to desperate people.

Of course America thinks it is doing the right thing.  The wealthiest and strongest military power doesn’t make mistakes like that, or do they?  Need I say “weapons of mass destruction.” to make a very serious point?

The answer to the issue of trafficking is to consider civil rights and migration aspects of the problem.  On one side of a border there are jobs going unfilled.  On the other side of the same border are idle, desperate people.  American policy and their new trafficking laws keep these borders closed to that imbalance.  Nationalism,  racial and religious prejudice, and simple fear of others keep that imbalance in tact too.  These are the issues that must be attacked.

It is this attitude, the spread of American culture, that explains international trafficking trends.

Like global warming, those who attack trafficking in a world with  59.5 million refugees, are making a choice to do the wrong things when they should know better.

Yes, trafficking also has small numbers, relatively speaking, of abused young girls and some aspects of labor that some compare to slavery.  But that is the short view.  Good people want to help abused people in other countries whether they are welcomed there or not.

The bigger issue this blog is interested in is that trafficking is a symptom of migration issues.  We know there is a lot more smuggling then trafficking, but trafficking seems to be the only word that we use anymore.  We need to roll back the craziness, the exaggeration rife throughout the rescue industry opposed to trafficking, and see it for what it is.

The UN predictions are that we will exceed a world population of 8 billion people by 2050, but that is the conservative estimate.  The UN high estimate is 10.5 billion people in 2050.  If we don’t get over this misplaced fear of trafficking by then millions of us will surely be both up to our asses in water, since global warming is also being denied, and living  in a tent somewhere hoping to work a few days on a farm in exchange for food.

The richest 1% will be just fine in their guarded enclaves.  My grandson will be in his upper 40s in 2050.  What about your children or grandchildren?  Do you have reason now to, first, get serious about global warming?  And, second, can you find time to think about this trafficking baloney differently than we do and start behaving like we have a serious population/migration issue we are mishandling?

And that is the intersection of refugees and trafficking.


I just read an amazing book.  Lots of others also say it is very, very important, but it is about climate change, not trafficking.



That has never stopped me before so – READ THIS BOOK !  The title is accurate.  Other reviewers say the same.

“This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein.  

As I say above there are dual issues of population growth/migration but also an earth that is in big trouble.

Actually the earth is not in as much trouble as we are.  We are seemingly engineering our own extinction, but the earth will go on without us.  The continued burning of carbon based fuels – coal, oil, gas – has very likely reached a tipping point where there is little we can do to change our fate in ways that make a short range difference.  Severe weather events are already becoming more common.  Huge amounts of ice are melting at the poles.  This is not an issue for our greatgreatgrandchildren to be concerned about.

This is our issue and we are dropping the ball.  We are severely damaging the only planet we have. 

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