Exploitation -- and worse -- besets migrants on their journey
WASHINGTON (CNS), 15 February 2012—The prevalence of exploitation afflicting migrants on their journeys across borders may be rising. Jane Bloom, an American who works as a liaison officer for the International Catholic Migration Commission at its Geneva headquarters, told a story of exploitation during a Feb. 13 panel discussion on migration, "Causes and Consequences of Migration," at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
A worker for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, according to Bloom, "was dismayed when he interviewed Haitian refugees, and every single solitary woman he had talked to had been raped."
Bloom's tale was borne out by a participant at the ministry gathering from Ohio, who said that in his own interviews with immigrants in southwest Ohio, each one had been subjected to either "exploitation, extortion or rape."
The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, may have been a contributing factor for some Mexicans heading to the United States, because it has meant the loss of livelihoods for many, but the story is more complex than that, according to Mary DeLorey, Catholic Relief Services' regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Violence is a principal concern, she said. "There's more attention to the amount of guns that are flowing into Mexico. Mexico has very strong gun-control laws. We do not."
One reason for the increasing violence is the flow of drugs north from Mexico, and DeLorey said no solution has been found to ease the demand for drugs.
The drugs flow so easily because of widespread corruption within the Mexican government, she added. The government did a wholesale firing of one police force, DeLorey said, but "they became the Zetas (drug cartel), and one group they've targets are migrants."
"The very act of migration makes people more vulnerable to exploitation," Bloom said.
One phenomenon not witnessed until last year, she said, was a wholesale flight of refugees from Libya during that country's revolution that finally overthrew President Moammar Gadhafi. He was captured Oct. 20 and died later the same day.
Of the 780,000 people who fled, 350,000 -- or close to 45 percent -- were nationals of other countries, Bloom said. That made it more difficult for refugee service groups to provide the needed help. But the U.N. gave temporary protected status to all refugees to give aid workers time to sort things out.
There are 1,200 refugees from Libya missing and presumed dead; of refugees who fled by sea, 10 percent are likewise missing and presumed dead.
"Refugees become detainees or torture survivors," bloom said. "Children get separated from their parents."
Another emerging migration issue is the mail-order bride, many of them still in their teens, according to Bloom.
"You would call them economic refugees," Bloom said of the estimated the hundreds of thousands of women who have left their home country to face an uncertain future going to a new land and marrying a man they have never met. Of this group, 10 percent, she estimated, are under age 18.
In South Korea alone, there have been 200,000 such marriages between South Korean men and Vietnamese women. In South Korea, Bloom said, "they are legally called 'excludable aliens.' If they divorce their husbands, they are not entitled to citizenship or benefits. Even when married, they may be subject to beatings and abuse," she added.