This week in Restoring Family Links 05/16/2016 – 05/20/2016

This week in Restoring Family Links 05/16/2016 – 05/20/2016

SRI LANKA: 22 of Sri Lanka’s 26 districts are still recovering from landslides, mudslides, and floods that have been occurring since the beginning of the week. This has led to the displacement of over 350,000 people. The incidents occur frequently during the monsoon season, but due to the El Nino phenomenon, the heavy rains have become more fierce “for so early in the rainy season,” with signs of continuing for weeks. On May 18, two major landslides in the Kegalle disctrict, which is about 75 miles east of the country’s capital, has caused 58 deaths and buried 220 families so far.

The Sri Lankan government has sent troops to the affected areas to rescue people trapped by the landslides. However, it is expected that the death toll will increase significantly as hopes to rescue the trapped individuals dwindle. Following the landslides were torrential rains, which caused tremendous difficulties in rescue missions and created further risks of landslides. Some of the affected places areas are inaccessible, even by helicopters.

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This Week in Restoring Family Links News 03/07/2015 - 03/13/2015

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.


Syria: This week we highlighted some of the ongoing problems facing Syrian refugees. With the war in Syria entering its fifth year, millions of displaced people continue to suffer from a lack of humanitarian aid. International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Joanne Liu, describes how her organization faces a series of political and social obstacles in providing medical services to the region. In addition to facing physical threats, Syrians are also in danger of losing part of their cultural heritage. With ISIS and other military forces continuing to operate in Syria, fighting has led to a transnational effort to protect cultural and historical artifacts that lie within the combat zone. 

Outside of Syria, the country’s neighbors also face numerous obstacles due to the massive influx of refugees requiring assistance within their borders.  As the war drags on, deeper issues outside of meeting basic living standards have arisen. With much of the adult Syrian men back at home, a large proportion of refugees are women and children. As a vulnerable population group, they have been subject to numerous challenges including forced prostitution, child labor, and religious persecution. In Turkey, for example, only 1/3 of Syrian youth are receiving a formal education – raising fears of a poorly educated generation entering the labor market.  Unless there are some radical new developments the situation will only get worse since the total number of Syrians forced out of their country could exceed 5 million by the end of the year (from roughly 4 million now).

Unaccompanied Children - Pressing obstacles and issues still exist for minors around the globe – specifically youth who have been separated from their families. In the US, research has indicated that some states are far more likely to deport unaccompanied minor migrants who have entered the country than others (i.e. 30% in Georgia vs. 9% in Florida). These differences in court processing present an interesting situation regarding federal oversight of state policies. In cases where migrant youth have obtained legal status there have already been successful stories of their acclimation into American society.

Globally, hundreds of fleeing minors have perished during treks across the Mediterranean, facing deceitful traffickers, extortionists, and the ferocity of the high seas. This week, the UN announced proposals for actions European nations should take to address their migration crises, including meeting the needs of unaccompanied children. Organizations such as Save the Children have already been mandated by respective governments to provide services to youth that land on European shores.  

International Women's Day-  This past week celebrated International Women’s Day, with Restoring Family Links giving a special shout out to current and former female activists.  This week, a group of women announced plans to walk across the demilitarization zone between the Koreas in a call for peace and “to help unite Korean families tragically separated by an artificial man-made division.” In addition, we highlighted the ongoing sociopolitical struggle in much of South East Asia – Burma in particular – where Zin Mar Aung, a female rights activist who has spent 11 years in prison for protesting government policies, continues to promote democracy and increased female agency within the region. We also honored Clara Barton, a powerful social agent and founder of the American Red Cross in her quest to alleviate human suffering and promote principles that affirm the intrinsic value of every person within society.

The Vital Difference between Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling

The US Border Patrol maintains permanent checkpoints to detect human smuggling. Eduardo Barraza/Demotix. All Rights Reserved.

The US Border Patrol maintains permanent checkpoints to detect human smuggling. Eduardo Barraza/Demotix. All Rights Reserved.

Story by Sarah Pierce, Human Trafficking Search, Program Manager

What is the difference between migrant smuggling and human trafficking? As these distinct phenomena each get more media attention their definitions get more confused, with dangerous policy implications.

This year there has been a sharp increase of attention on the issue of migrant smuggling. The crisis of unaccompanied Central American youth at the southern U.S. border and the continued crisis of ‘boat people’ in the Mediterranean and off the coast of Australia have drawn attention to the increased use of human smugglers. Yet as attention to smuggling increases, both media and policy outlets are confusing the term smuggling with trafficking, resulting in dangerous policy implications.

The United Nations defines migrant smuggling as the “procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.” It is illegally moving people across border, usually at their request. Smuggling migrants is reportedly a $7 billion industry, with estimates that millions of individuals employed smugglers each year.

On the other hand, human trafficking is characterized by exploiting another human being. The UN definition of human trafficking includes the recruiting, transporting, or harboring of people by means of threat, coercion, or fraud for the purpose of exploitation. That exploitation can come in many different forms, including sexual exploitation, forced slavery, slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.

The distinction between migrant smuggling and human trafficking is relatively new. In 1994 the International Organization for Migration defined human trafficking as including an illegal crossing of an international border, voluntary movement, and financial gain for the trafficker, which is nearly the modern definition of migrant smuggling. By the end of the 1990s however the definition appeared much more like the definition we see today. In 2003 the definition was cemented by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

There are some important legal distinctions between human trafficking and migrant smuggling that are frequently overlooked. The most important and hard to distinguish is consent. Migrants consent to being smuggled and their relationship with the smuggler stops once they have reached their destination. As defined under the law, victims of human trafficking do not always consent to the end result of the transaction, even if at times they do, and even if they do originally agree to a new job, a new location, or to being smuggled. The initial consent becomes legally irrelevant to the crime once the trafficker has used threat, coercion, or fraud to exploit the victim.

Also frequently confused is the concept of movement. Smugglers always move migrants across national borders. Human trafficking does not necessarily involve international movement. In fact, the UNODC estimates that approximately one quarter of human trafficking victims are exploited within their country of origin.

Being conscious of the legal differences between human trafficking and migrant smuggling is important precisely because they overlap so much: any policies which affect one will affect the other.

The legal distinction is even more important when you look at the rights and treatment of the victims of human trafficking. Migrant smuggling, depending on how it is executed, can be a victimless crime. In human trafficking there is always a victim. Thus confusing human trafficking with migrant smuggling could leave victims without necessary rehabilitation services and reparations. Fair or not, the majority of countries’ immigration laws treat undocumented immigrants very differently than human trafficking victims.

Conversely, to conflate all migrant smuggling with human trafficking not only finds victims where there might not be any, but it also allows for unlawful or irregular migration to be rhetorically subsumed under a crime which everyone agrees should be eradicated. This is perhaps the major problem – confusion can allow politicians to dodge politically contentious issues and fail to protect migrants, by hiding behind a "combat trafficking" stance.

None of the above is meant to diminish the suffering endured by migrants who are smuggled. According to the International Organization for Migration, 40,000 smuggled migrants have died since 2000. This itself points to the overarching danger of borders. And there is no doubt that the issue of consent versus coercion is gray and muddled. One instance of migrant smuggling could turn into human trafficking and back into migrant smuggling as situations and demands from smugglers change. But it’s important to understand that these are different types of crimes, and thus the policy approach to and consequences of them must be different. Human smuggling is a crime in as much as it constitutes an illegal border crossing. But it is not innately a crime against people or an abridgement of their human rights. This can never be said of human trafficking.

To borrow terms from Anne T. Galleghar’s book, human trafficking can be understood as an “inherently exploitative” practice while migrant smuggling is “only incidentally exploitative.” As interrelated and young as these terms may be, this vital distinction requires that the crimes be treated distinctly. Failure to do so may result in a mischaracterized crime, or worse, a mischaracterized victim.

This article was originally published in “Beyond Slavery and Trafficking” on openDemocracy.