Playing the trafficking card

“NATO Will Send Ships to Aegean Sea to Deter Human Trafficking” reported The New York Times recently (Feb. 11, 2016). The title is just the latest attempt to re-brand human smugglers into more insidious “traffickers”. But redefining the flight of refugees into Europe as “trafficking” only muddles the debate and can certainly not justify sending naval warships into Mediterranean waters.

We usually associate the word “trafficking” with the plight of migrant women forced into prostitution by violent gangs of men who then lock them up in seedy brothels. So how did Syrian war refugees, desperate to escape war in their home countries, ready to pay a smuggler for a place in a rubber raft, become the kind of “trafficking victims” that we need to save with warships? Indeed, the term “victims of trafficking” is now being used to designate both these groups by the EU Council of Ministers.

Drowning Mothers

Refugees are drowning trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea… and most of them are women
AFP Photo/Aris Messinis
AFP Photo/Aris Messinis

No image of the current refugee crisis was more horrific than that of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who lay dead on a Turkish beach, a victim of drowning trying to reach Europe. But Aylan had a mother, and she drowned, too. We have no photo of her, no story. We heard of Aylan and his distraugt father. But the drowned mother was hardly newsworthy.

Is the key to happiness a daughter in Europe?

While Europe worries about ’trafficking’, Thai villages are still building their hopes on women’s migration and labour in Europe.
Sommai, Basit, Kae & Mong in the film ‘Love on Delivery’ (2007)

The day Dak left her village in Isaan, she picked up her in-laws’ radio and got on the bus to Nakhon Ratchasima.

Dak was 33 years old, her husband was a labour migrant in Saudi Arabia but drank the money away and sent none for her. Dak earned money as a day labourer and supported her four children, parents in law, her own parents and her terminally ill sister.

Becky is Dead

skaermbillede-2016-09-24-kl-16-30-48In some ways Becky’s life became a little blueprint of the situation in the world. She is not the first of the migrants I have worked with who have died and will most likely not be the last. Becky was 28 years old.

Rest in Peace, Becky. You will always be in my heart.« it said on a Facebook page a couple of weeks ago.

I often receive Facebook messages and posts, text messages and calls from the female migrants I have interviewed during my research on migration and trafficking from Nigeria and Thailand to Europe.