This Week in Restoring Family Links News 2/15/2016 - 2/19/2016

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 2/15/2016 - 2/19/2016

On Wednesday, the Pope completed a six-day trip to Mexico by praying at the U.S.-Mexico border in the city of Ciudad Juarez. Before celebrating mass at a fairground, the Pontifex paid a visit to the border fence to pray for those who lost their lives on the perilous journey North, alongside a giant metal cross meant to commemorate them.  In attendance were tens of thousands, many of whom crossed the border from El Paso, Texas to hear the Pope speak. 

During his homily, he called for those listening to have open hearts and recognize the exploitation that drives many to flee their homelands. "We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis" the pope stated, in reference to the thousands of migrants who "are being expelled by poverty and violence, drug trafficking and organized crime". The city of Ciudad Juarez is a pivotal crossing for those trying to reach the United States, and has recently been plagued by drug and migration-related violence. The pope offered words of inspiration to youth to avoid drug trafficking, and took a swipe at Mexico's powerful and corrupt: "the flow of capital cannot decide the flow of people".

Read More

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 1/11/16 — 11/15/16

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 1/11/16 — 11/15/16

This past Monday, long-awaited relief finally came to Madaya, a remote Syrian town on the outskirts of Damascus where more than two dozen people have starved in the past two weeks as a result of humanitarian blocking from pro-government forces. The last time Madaya received any form of aid was October 18, driving residents into such desperation that many have been trying to survive off of grass, leaves, and boiled water.   Madaya has garnered an immense international response, with many prominent figures speaking out about the state of horror there. UN Secratary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday called the use of starvation as a weapon a "war crime", and relayed reports from UN teams that the residents of Madaya were "little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk"

Read More

Fighting Colorado's Quietly-Booming Human Trafficking Trade

Story by Cassie Schoon, Volunteer, Denver, Colorado

Picturesque, rugged Jefferson County is known for many things, like cutting-edge science education at the Colorado School of Mines, the iconic Coors Brewing Company and charming, tucked-away mountain towns like Evergreen and Genesee. But Denver County's western neighbor is also home to a sinister and surprising distinction: the county serves as a regional hub for underage sex trafficking. Although Kristen Harness first became interested in advocating for victims of sexual exploitation on a mission trip to the Red Light District of Pattaya, Thailand, she came home to Colorado to find that the presence of an underage sex trade was not a problem unique to Southeast Asia's developing economies.

“Like a lot of people, the first place I was exposed to trafficking was overseas, I didn't even realize that it was happening here, at the same time, in the US, specifically in Colorado,” she said. “Over the years, I realized, I don't have to move to India or Thailand [to fight trafficking], there's a plenty of work to be done here in Colorado. Denver is ranked no. 4 out of the top six cities in the United States in terms of the revenue that sex traffickers bring in annually.”

Upon her return to the US, Harness worked with several local non-profits and missions with a goal of preventing trafficking and helping the victims of forced sex work. She eventually established her own organization, Extended Hands of Hope, to resettle young women who were trafficked. The organization offers resources like a state-licensed shelter, medical support and mental health services to teenage girls leaving the sex trade.

According to Harness, victims of sex trafficking are too often placed in either the juvenile detention center or the foster care system, neither of which are well-equipped to address the needs of this vulnerable population.

“Our main focus is immediate housing, as an alternative to jail or detention centers, then addressing those mental health issues,” she said. “70 to 90 percent of these children come from a history of sexual or violent abuse, so on top of the abuse they've experienced with trafficking, you can imagine the severity of their trauma.”

Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, is the second-fastest growing form of criminal activity in the US, with the illegal drug trade taking the top spot. An estimated 105,000 American children are exploited through prostitution or pornography each year and most children who enter the sex trade do so between the ages of 11 and 13. Due to its location at the junction of I-70 and I-25, the Denver Metro region is particularly well-situated as a “source state,” from which young people are taken and transported across state lines for prostitution and exploitation purposes. About 60 high-risk juveniles have been identified in Jefferson County alone, a majority of them children who were born and raised in the region.

According to Harness, the biggest obstacles in fighting human trafficking are a combination of ignorance of what constitutes trafficking, and the stigma culturally associated with sex workers.

“We like to point fingers at the quote-unquote prostitutes, instead of asking, why is that 15-year-old girl selling her body,” Harness said. “A lot of people believe these women want to [engage in sex trade], and they don't know, or they don't care, or they want to hear, that somebody is actually behind the scenes, controlling her actions. She may look on the outside like she wants to, but it's because she knows what's going to happen to her if she doesn't.

“Mostly, I want to make people aware that this is happening. I want to say, hey, did you know this is going on? Did you know that Jefferson County has some of the highest [numbers of] cases? My goal has always been raising that awareness,” she said.

Harness offers suggestions for those who want to join in the fight against trafficking, including knowing what to watch for, how to report activity, and how to become involved with organizations like hers who support Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking victims in the area. In addition to services provided by organizations like Extended Hands of Hope, trafficked individuals can also take advantage of services offered by the Red Cross to all displaced persons, including Restoring Family Links and, in cases of international trafficking, the protection of applicable International Humanitarian Laws.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement focuses on assisting people made vulnerable by migration, and human trafficking and exploitation in particular, whatever their legal status. The commitment includes not only material help, but also advocacy to combat discrimination against migrants and promote respect for human dignity. To find out more about these efforts, click here.

For more stories from the American Red Cross Colorado Region, please click here.

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.