imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘trafficking’ Category

Sep 22,2008

The brutal practice  of the British continues to this day in the tea plantations of India in terms of sourcing labour. You will remember, if you had the right kind of teacher, that the Brits tried all the tricks of the trade to generate a proletariat for the tea gardens. In the end, and adopting the lessons from sugar, rubber and indigo,  they settled for migrant labour from other parts of India. This allowed the Brits to impose the relations of production that suited them.

Migrant labour is still good for exploitation to this day. And sadly trafficked child labour also.

Not less than 10,000 people, mostly children are trafficked into the Northeast with a good number smuggled in from Bangladesh, Nepal and other South East Asian countries, surveys by NGOs reveal.

Most of those trafficked are then engaged as cheap labour in coal mines of Meghalaya, tea gardens in Assam and prostitution.

Aug 29,2008

Are you like me fed up of hearing about the “American Dream” and seeing Barack Obama’s face everywhere? Are you sick to the teeth of hearing american commentators squawking “BRRAAAAAACK” all over the show?  Sick isn’t it all this fanfare? Remember the turn out for him in Berlin earlier in the summer? I mean what the hell? He is simply a bloody opposition politician for god’s sake.

Anyway, the excessive media noise is useful when it comes to burying real news stories. And yesterday there was a real belter of a story which should remind everyone of the shape and colour of the so-called American Deam. A law suit has been filed in Los Angeles

One of America’s biggest military contractors (KBR- once a Halliburton subsidiary)  is being sued by a Nepali labourer and the families of a dozen other employees who say they were taken against their will to work in Iraq. All but one of the Nepalese workers were subsequently kidnapped and murdered….

The 12 Nepalis were seized by a group calling itself the Army of Ansar al-Sunna. The men were taken hostage on 20 August 2004 and shortly afterwards the kidnappers released a video of one being beheaded and the other 11 shot.

Many Bangladeshis were similarly tricked and made to work in Iraq. I posted a story earlier.

Aug 24,2008


I was in Berlin last month for my yearly dose of Curry Wurst. And whilst at a concert I came across some MTV literature called “MTV Exit.”

I finally had the opportunity to visit the Exit web site. The site is about trafficking and features three films about trafficking in 3 different parts of the world. Bangladesh is covered in the South Asia section. Introduced by Lara Dutta the film tells of a teenager trafficked from Bangladesh to work in domestic servitude in Calcutta. Angelina Jolie presents the horror stories from Europe and Lucy Liu about the far east. The site is very informative and the documentary films (sadly of very low resolution and irritating MTV style editing) serve as a good introduction to the issue


Apr 23,2008

Trafficked Workers

“My agent promised me a job in Dubai as a caterer,” said Mohammad Ashraful, 36. “But he seized my passport from a Dubai hotel and forced me to go to Iraq,” he told Reuters.

Sadly the story is not as rosy as the title suggests:

As Bangladesh closed its embassy in Iraq in 2003, the undocumented Bangladeshi workers could not collect duplicate passports to return home.

Mar 15,2008

Comic Relief Khulna

Khulna street children. “Countless Bangladeshi girls are being sold into prostitution in India”
Last night I was watching Comic Relief ( an annual charity fund raising initiative) with my wife and son. We like Top Gear comic shenanigans and that is why we were watching it. Suddenly one of the “charity  causes” was aired. Most of you know my views on middle-class charity things…and I was about to hit the un-green standby button when a picture of a Dhaka slum appeared on the screen. ÂThe focus of the report was on street children and prostitution in Bangladesh. I decided to watch. Even though these video reports always end cheerfully and with hope, what was shown was very disturbing. My eight year old son was shooting me glances all the time to see my reaction and waiting for an explanation. He has been exposed to a lot over the years and takes a keen interest in the subject matter of the documentaries I am involved in ( which of course contain very difficult themes). I didn’t say anything last night…what could I say? And this morning when he comes downstairs  he will see the Independent and will find more of the same on his way to the concise crossword puzzle. Here is a very “difficult” article by the Independent’s respected Johann Hari about Bangladeshi sex slaves.

This is the story of the 21st century’s trade in slave-children. My journey into their underworld took place where its alleys and brothels are most dense - Asia, where the United Nations calculates 1 million children are being traded every day. It took me to places I did not think existed, today, now. To a dungeon in the lawless Bangladeshi borderlands where children are padlocked and prison-barred in transit to Indian brothels; to an iron whore-house where grown women have spent their entire lives being raped; to a clinic that treat syphilitic 11-year-olds.

Read the rest of it HERE 

Dec 15,2007

We are human; We want human rights.

That is the thundering title of a play by a theatre group working with the intersex (hijra) community of Bangladesh. The play was written and directed by Subhas Biswas Shuvo and performed by Rongberong theatre group. The objective was to create greater awareness of the marginilisation this community faces in mainstream society. READ MORE HERE. You will note the presence of heavyweight politician A Noor (noted in the text of the report). Yet in what capacity was he there? I hope as a human being, as an actor and as a politician (and not Hasina underling).

A friend of mine - a film editor - wants to do a short doc on this community. He is collecting information currently. Any help from any experts out there would be greatly appreciated. Get in touch with me.

Our subject matter overlaps a little. I have started finding out about prostitution in the context of rickshaw drivers and their lives. A very brave woman film-maker and I are hoping to explore and see if we can get anywhere with this subject. Its not a ride in the park this. He he..I couldn’t resist the pun there. She ( and I will reveal her name shortly) has already made some headway in getting herself accepted by the rickshaw drivers. I am impressed by the small NGOs and activists who are doing the hard slog, unrecognised and poorly supported. Anyway, here is an interesting article about the sustainability of prostitution by Md. Khairul Alam.

….In some countries, including Bangladesh, presence of prostitution and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is systematically denied, being considered a taboo by the majority of the society. There is no official record of the prevalence of residence base & fleeting sex workers in Bangladesh. Lack of any reliable records of the underground sex industry makes the data shaky. Sex workers in Bangladesh are suffering from unavailability of medical services and knowledge about STIs. Social stigmatization stops these resource-deprived women from seeking proper medical care.

Sigma Huda

Jul 8,2007

Sigma Huda

She was on a list I drew up of people I had to interview at the earliest possible opportunity concerning migrant labour and trafficking. Sadly for her, she was also on another list. A list of suspected corrupt individuals drawn up by the caretaker government. And it seems I will have to hang on a bit before I will get the chance to talk to her because she has been jailed.

A UN Special Rapporteur, among other things, she was perhaps the most prominent of activists concerning the trafficking of women. I am not competent to say what impact her work has had but clearly many foreign organisations valued her work. Indeed here is a somewhat desperate press statement released by Janice Raymond (pdf file), Co-Executive Director, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International in protest at Sigma’s treatment. It is written as if Sigma herself dictated it, and gives a time line of events concerning Huda and her family’s recent troubles. I would have thought it would have been more prudent and effective if the tone was more measured. Still there it is. Judge for yourself. I put it up because, as I say, it seems to give Huda’s perspective. Something you won’t find in the press. Nor indeed in Adhunika blog which had her as a “hero” until the “suspect list” was published when they promptly removed her name - as if she never existed or did all the things they had previously eulogised! I should make it clear I neither support nor oppose her jail sentence. My interest in her is narrow and lies elsewhere - that I failed to interview her about her work!

Weeping in the Sahara

Oct 9,2006

I find stories about migrant workers intrinsically sad. I am not referring to the grim and harrowing tales one so often encounters in the media. No I refer to the socio-economic processes which uproot and which give no choice but to leave behind everything one calls home and everything familiar and loved, and entrust one’s life to some labour tout and set sail for god knows what.

Of course, the grim tales have become a motif of our times . It was at a talk by Prof Paul Rogers when I first heard about a very prescient film which showed a great march of africans to north africa only to be met on the other side of the Med. by a huge european security force on Spanish soil. Anyone know it? The film must have been made in the 1980s. And so it is interesting to find this story in India enews about the migration of Asians to Spain via Africa, and the dangers they encounter.

When Morocco deported migrants to the desert following massive attempts by Africans to enter the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta last year, the deportees included dozens of Asians, some of whom Spanish reporters found exhausted and weeping in the Sahara. ‘I sold my land to move to Europe,’ explained Mohammed Arif Hoshain, 23, from Bangladesh. ‘I paid and was flown through Qatar to Casablanca but I was cheated. I went to Moroccan police to ask to be taken back to my country, but they beat me and took me to the desert.’

You will notice if you read the full story that Morocco points the finger at the Gulf states. Trafficking along with bonded labour and other forms of coercion are rife. And that is where Sigma Huda , Bangladesh’s foremost activist on these issues, is headed to “investigate various forms of trafficking including prostitution, forced labour, sexual slavery and bonded labour.”

Aug 13,2006

Difficult, dirty and dangerous is what 3D stands for - in case you were thinking that it was some kind of digital stuff…

Illegal immigrant workers in Korea number upto 180,000 and include Bangladeshis. Abuse and exploitation is commonplace, and new legislation may curb some of these excesses but at the same time create other problems.

John (not his real name) came to Korea from Bangladesh six years ago. Today, he works at a small textile mill in Ssangmun-dong in northern Seoul. He works 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

“My workload is much larger compared with regular Korean workers,” he told The Korea Herald. “The troubling thing is that I get paid far less than them as well.

Read the article HERE. This story echoes the news which broke earlier this year about the trafficking and exploitation of Bangladeshi and other workers in Jordan.

Jul 10,2006

Ambassador to Bahrain
One is so used to hearing about ineffectual diplomats in Bangladeshi embassies all over the world that it is a welcome surprise to hear that there might be exceptions. Ruhul Amin seems to be one. Here is an ambassador to a gulf state who has voiced his concern about the health and safety of Bangladeshi workers in the state of Bahrain, and spoken directly of the conditions they face in many Bahraini companies:worked to the point of exhaustion, beatings and injuries resulting in death.

In addition he has set up an open house and free clinic where workers can come and get basic medical assistance. The open house has clearly enhanced the emabssy’s understanding of the problems affecting Bangladeshi workers in Bahrain where “worrying death rates” amongst Bangladeshi workers have recently been noticed. Even then Nurul Amin says that it is very difficult for workers to come to the clinic because they are required to work seven days a week. They can only get away for an hour or so, and then there is the question of having money to get to the embassy given Bahrain’s poor public transport system.

Amin has also had to deal with trafficking:

We had a few cases of workers who are victims of trafficking, victims of dishonest employers, who issued a work permit and after one or two months of the workers’ arrival they (employers) closed down their “fake company”, throwing the workers onto the streets.

The workers then are branded illegal, the employers sometimes destroy their passports, sometimes even they don’t give them their passports and they have no employment. They have become so called free visa workers. And when you are illegal, you have no papers, and are easy to exploit.

Some are working only for food and are not paid salary.

We have listened to them but the company which recruited them does not exist, where do we go?

We advised them to go back to Bangladesh, but they have come here after spending almost BD2,000 - that means they have sold their land, they have borrowed money. Now, when they go back, lenders will demand money. They are fugitives from their country and slaves in this country.

Jun 28,2006

Sometimes the staggering backwardness of Arab societies is mind boggling. One reads weird things and one is simply left speechless. No, I am not about to launch into an anti-american tirade disguised as an anti-arab tirade. In this post my axe-grinding and teeth gnashing has nothing to do with my usual favourite topic of Arabs being lackeys of the US. The Kuwait Times today reports that the United Arab Emirates has sent home more than 1,000 smuggled child jockeys. These children had been trafficked from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other places. This is what I read in Wikipedia about child camel jockeys:

Child camel jockeys are often sexually and physically abused; most are physically and mentally stunted, as they are deliberately starved to prevent weight gain. According to a documentary by the American television channel HBO and the Ansar Burney Trust [2], many of the children are only fed two biscuits a day with water. Others are forced to wear metal helmets in the scorching heat of the desert so they bleed through their noses and lose weight that way.

Forced to work up to 18 hours a day, those children who fall asleep are punished with electric shocks while those who disobey orders are tied in chains and beaten.

Uncle Sam has apparently been concerned about camel racing and children for years. As recently as August last year it issued a fact sheet about the victims of camel racing. Despite the influence the US wields in these states, it has not been able to make much headway it seems. Tnis is an extract from the US State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2006:

Qatar is a destination country for men and women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines, and Indonesia who migrate willingly, but are subsequently trafficked into involuntary servitude as domestic workers and laborers. The problem of trafficking of foreign children for camel jockey servitude in Qatar — which has been highlighted in previous Reports — was thoroughly addressed by Government of Qatar action over the last year, though independent confirmation of the problem’s complete elimination is not yet available.

The US has admonished Bangladesh in the past for failing to adequately fight international trafficking. In 2004 the US blacklisted Bangladesh and moved it from Tier 2 to Tier 3 category of blacklisting ( = countries not making significant efforts). In that report it noted that Bangladeshi boys (as young as four) are trafficked into the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and forced to work as camel jockeys and beggars. Women and children from rural areas in Bangladesh are trafficked to urban centers for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic work.

May 3,2006

The New York Times today has an article on working conditions in factories in Jordan which produce garments for Wal-Mart: 20 hour days, withheld payments and physical violence. And its no surprise to find Bangladeshi workers at the receiving end of all of this.

The important thing to note is the way bangladeshi workers are used in Jordan is tantamount to human trafficking: workers are given false job promises, their passports are taken from them and they are tied to the jobs given to them and and are unable to leave. Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee ( US based) described his experience :

These are the worst conditions I’ve ever seen.You have people working 48 hours straight. You have workers who were stripped of their passports, who don’t have ID cards that allow them to go out on the street. If they’re stopped, they can be imprisoned or deported, so they’re trapped, often held under conditions of involuntary servitude.

Earlier this year I talked with a worker who had returned to Dhaka after two years or so in Jordan including a stint in prison. Read my blog post about him HERE.