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Refugees Face Slavery and Human Trafficking
Zaid is 14 year old boy, who has seen years of fighting in his home country. His father sat him down and gave him a mission that can help him and his family resolve their terrible situation.
Zaid’s father knows the family has to leave or they will be subject to living under an idolised military junta, torture or even death. His younger brother could be conscripted into an evil army. His sister could be forced into marriage at the age of 12 or worse become a sex slave within the junta. Zaid’s father tells him that he has to make a journey to the West. In the West he will find safety. He will find people, who are willing to help him and his family. He will be able to bring his family out of the war zone. Zaid doesn’t want to go, but he knows as the oldest son, he has to be strong and help his family. He would probably die in his county anyway, so what real choice does he have.
How widespread is the problem
The UN have reported that 65.3 million people are refugees, asylum seekers or displaced. This is a population larger than the UK. The 2016 global slavery index, funded by Forrest’s Walk Free Foundation, says 45.8 million people are trapped in some form of slavery. This is similar to the population of Spain. However you look at the numbers, they are large, have reached record levels and are increasing due to greater levels of conflict and persecution in the world. Many of these people are at risk. EU authorities registered 15,846 victims of human trafficking in 2013-14, including 2,375 children.
The authors of an EU report on human trafficking believe the numbers are much higher. In a report on Syrian refugees in Lebanon by The Freedom Fund, one NGO is cited as stating that 60-70% of Syrian children are working rather than in school. The United Nations Children’s Fund says that more than half of Turkey’s 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees are children and 80% of them are not in school.
The numbers are large and growing. As the EU and Western Nations dither on a current, dire and escalating problem, the prospects of stemming the rise in refugee numbers and as a consequence the number of people trafficked are grim. Richer countries in problem regions seem to have turned their backs on the refugee problem, but continue to fight for advantages that simply exacerbate the situation.
Zaid’s journey is long and arduous. It contains many dangers, which Zaid is unaware of. His mother tells him to be careful; that there are many unscrupulous people out there and not to trust anyone. He is given most of the family’s money, what little there is, to make the journey. He will guard it with his life.
Zaid makes it over to Turkey, where he finds refugees everywhere. Hope seems lost. If all these people can’t find their way to Europe, then how will he He spent a lot of the money he was given to bribe border guards to get this far. He needs to work, so he looks for whatever he can find. Desperate, he finds work in a sweatshop. He works 14 hours a day to make a meagre wage. Only enough to keep him in food and water, but no more. He talks to the other children in the factory. Some have horrific stories; others don’t want to speak about their ordeals. Most likely those are the ones who were sexually molested. He wonders if he will be able to travel any further.
Why are children targeted
An EU working document cited by The Guardian states “organised crime groups choose to traffic children as they are easy to recruit and quick to replace, they can also keep under their control child victims relatively cheaply and discreetly”. Children are easier to manipulate, discard and are highly profitable. The Guardian article goes on to state “trafficked children aged between six months and 10 years are bought and sold for sums ranging from €4,000 (£3,000) to €8,000, although amounts of up to €40,000 have been reported in some cases”.
Zaid starts to eat less so he can save at least a little each day to help him on his onward journey. He hasn’t forgotten his family, but he doesn’t have a way to contact them, or find out if they are still alive. The little he saves, he keeps in his shoe. He has no shelter to speak of, so he has to keep his valuables including cash with him at all times.
After a few weeks, the sweatshop owner sees Zaid taking a note from his wages to put in his shoe. He calls the boy over. Startled, Zaid goes over to the owner, who asks him if he would like some water. The owner says he appreciates Zaid’s works hard, and wanted to make sure he was OK. After the water, the owner says he has to pay for the drink, but Zaid refused. The owner expected this, and beat Zaid. He took his shoe and found the money that Zaid had been storing, and said that this was now his as part payment for the drink. Zaid was now to repay the remaining debt with his work. Zaid had fallen into servitude.
How can the slave masters live with themselves
A recent article in the Mail Online exposed a factory owner, Abu Zakour, who uses Syrian children to work in a military uniform sweatshop that sells camouflage to ISIS. The article explains that children “unable to go to school and desperate for money on the Turkish border … work 12 hour days for £10”. This is deplorable and nothing can excuse this work.
Abu Zakour is originally from Aleppo, stone island indigo stone washed regular tapered fit denim jeans but moved to Raqqa as his city was being destroyed through constant shelling. After ISIS created issues for him in Raqqa, he moved across the border to Turkey where he set up his sweatshop. In Raqqa he also had children working for him as “ISIS wanted children going to Shariah schools, but no one sent their children because there was a lot of bombing”. He sees no issues with child labour as he states “their parents want them to earn money, so what can [he] do ” His objective is to work and make money considering he “made far more money with the military clothes than the civilian clothes”. “It doesn’t matter where [his] customers are from”, he simply wants “to sell [his] clothes, and make a living”.
From a slave master’s point of view, he is simply making a living and providing job opportunities. They make the best of the circumstance in which they live. Using entrepreneurial ideals, they explain away the evils of their trade. This point of view can never be accepted as an explanation for either how these people produce their products or with whom these people trade.
One day Zaid saw that the owner had become careless. He left his office door unlocked and had gone for a smoke at the back. Zaid took his chance to go into the office to see what he could find. The other boys told him not to. They were afraid of what the owner would do if he found out, but Zaid ignored their warnings. Zaid found the bottom draw of the desk was locked. He decided it was all or nothing, so found a metal ruler, one that was used to beat him and the other children occasionally, and used it as a lever to pry open the drawer. He saw a small money clip, which had enough money for Zaid to get away. He took it, and waited until the owner came back through the back door. He had little time to prepare. It was all instinct really. The owner came through, and Zaid caught him by surprise. He broke a bottle over his head and ran out the door. Before the owner came to, Zaid had bolted and got away.
Why worry about things that happen far away
It is easy to ignore refugee issues and human trafficking as foreign problems unlikely to affect Western Nations, or at least cast them as problems that can be stopped at the borders. However, we have seen from the increase in asylum seekers in the EU, of which there were 1.3 million in 2015, the problem has now become an issue for European countries. With people willing to risk their lives on a hope of a better life, escaping war and persecution, it is difficult to imagine that EU border rules will deter these people. Throughout their journey, these people and especially the lone children are at risk of human trafficking.
Months later, Zaid found himself in Calais. It had been a difficult journey. He was careful not to be caught out as he was in Turkey, but the days and weeks of walking with little food was taking its toll. He was not himself. He felt years older, and his youthful demeanour had hardened. After all he had been through, there was no way he was going to go back. Now he distrusted the Europeans also. He saw that a few wanted to help, but most just wanted him to go back to his home country and suffer in silence. He had no reason to be silent any longer.
During his travels, Zaid learnt more about Europe from other refugees he had met along the way. He decided that England was the best place for him and his family. Once he got to the English Channel he saw he had one more challenge at the UK border, but he had faced many along the way so he was not daunted. Zaid continues to find a way across and believes that one day he will. This has become his dream, so he will not settle for asylum in other countries.