Back to Front Page

Laws are not enough, we should all fight human trafficking

Laws are not enough, we should all fight human trafficking

By Fetsum Berhane 03-31-16

Human trafficking, which is mainly (currently) the smuggling of economic migrants across deserts and oceans with a false promise of a better life, usually ends up in the loss of dignity if not lives of the migrants. This global phenomenon is affecting every continent and every country in the world. Ethiopia, which is still one of the poorest nations in the world and also found in a strategic location to travel to Europe, is also one of the affected.

According to reports, nearly or more than 90,000 migrants mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia were smuggled into Yemen in 2014. Ethiopia is a country of origin and transit to three migration routes in Africa -Northern, Southern and Eastern.

Migrants face inconceivable misfortunes such as abductions, mistreatment, starvation and dehydration on route, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, restriction of movements and unpaid labor at destination.

In Yemen, which is the preferred destination for East African migrants, an Ethiopian woman is worth USD 2000 at a property market. In the country experiencing the worst civil war, a woman is traded, exchanged and her organs harvested upon death. If she have children, they will be a slave in the 19th century fashion. This is abhorrent for any civilized human at this day and age.

The international media is awash with similar stories of the return of tens of thousands of migrants and on how "illegal" Ethiopian migrants are treated in the Middle East. The torrent of horror stories and injustices inflected upon them is disconcerting to say the least.

But still the media continued to treat the issue as an issue of labor migration gone awry instead of a case of human slavery subtly condoned governments in the gulf and also a problem that emanates from a flawed value system on human lives in Middle Eastern societies.

All these were happening for long, even though on a lesser scale to the current crisis. However, the deportation of nearly 200,000 (yes, five zeros) Ethiopians from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia two years ago was a turning point for Ethiopia. The event propelled the government of Ethiopia to take the issue seriously as it labeled human trafficking national emergency.

Government Response to the Crisis

The government of Ethiopia was focused on this global and national crisis since then. Public awareness campaigns, police raids on suspected traffickers, travel bans to hostile gulf destinations and reforming the criminal law to boost sentencing laws against traffickers were some of the many measures taken in the past few years.

The reintegration of returnees and the media focus on awareness programs on the dangers awaiting illegal migrants were the tasks given prominence then. Banning of travels to countries with no legal arrangement with Ethiopia followed. The negotiations on the establishment of better consular services in the host countries in the Middle East and conducts of bi-lateral agreements between Ethiopia and the host countries in the handling of migrants were also a step forward.

Recently, the Ethiopian parliament passed a comprehensive legislation against the crimes of Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling. The government of Ethiopia joined with UNODC - ROEA (United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime - Regional Office in Eastern Africa) draft the new law. The U.N. agency provided technical support to the joint team formed across ministries that was responsible for drawing up the new text ensuring the incorporation of international Protocols on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants that supplement the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The new law stiffened the punishments, and emphasized prevention and regional cooperation in order to make combating it more effective. The law laid the foundations for better protection to trafficking victims and vulnerable migrants. It has provisions that foresee assistance to victims as well as the creation of a Victim Fund. So far, with the support of the EU and State Department of the U.S., up to 70 judges, prosecutors and police investigators have received special training on the law and implementation.

Absent in all these were opposition parties. While there are few advocating for the welfare of migrants with respect to state policies, most were seen trying to exploit the disaster of Ethiopian migrants to score political points. This is not unexpected in politics even though one might expect a constructive approach in which they may score points by doing better public awareness campaigning than the government. I wonder they care better if most migrants werenít from marginal part of society such as the underprivileged, the uneducated, and the vulnerable.

Big Room for Progress

After all this progress, there is still much more left to do. The media lacks the information on the level of corruption between the bureaucracy and private businessmen dealing with illegal migration. The existence of underground illegal brokers and why total closure was not successful for law enforcement needs to be studied.

On the other hand there is still a deficit of awareness among the population. People still donít know what they should do when they suspect human trafficking activities in their neighborhood. There is no widely known anonymous reporting mechanisms that encourages people to cooperate with law enforcement.

The main aggravating factors such as family pressure, unemployment, the cultural deficit on women rights (sexual harassment, equal pay and early marriage) are still intact and requires an aggressive cross-sectorial campaign.

The prosecution of internal trafficking cases should be escalated and the tolerance of society and law enforcement towards Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage, domestic violence should be corrected. The focus on poverty reduction should also give more attention towards higher unemployment of rural women so that these women not get enticed or coerced into illegal migration.

The issue is not easy to tackle. It takes the setting-up of multiple thronged policies and actions. Community and religious leaders, different local and traditional social institutions, micro-finance institutions, the media and law enforcement have to act in sync to make a significant change to the situation.


Back to Front Page