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Monday, April 4, 2016

Migrants get little help Expatriate workers find labour wings hardly active

Belal Hossain Biplob

Bangladeshi migrant workers often don't get expected services from the labour wings of the country's foreign missions despite the fact that they send home remittance of around $14 billion a year.
In most cases, officials and staffs at the wings are unresponsive to the needs of the workers abroad, a number of migrant workers and rights activists told The Daily Star yesterday.
The government is spending crores of taka from migrant welfare funds to meet the expenses of these officials and staffs, many of whom don't perform their duties properly, they alleged. 
Besides, migrant workers sometimes lose their jobs and even face deportation from different countries for lack of coordination among officials, according to them.
The expatriate workers portrayed a sorry state of migrant workers abroad, as Bangladesh like all other countries around the world observed the International Migrants Day yesterday.
“We face difficulties in getting wages regularly and medical services at our workplaces. When we inform officials [at labour wings] about it, many of them don't take these issues seriously,” said Md Shahjahan, a migrant worker at a manufacturing plant in Malaysia.
Besides, the officials sometimes make delay in providing services such as issuing passports or travel permits, he told this correspondent.
Ambia Khatun, who works in Oman, said she has been requesting the labour wing officials there to help her switch her current job. But she is yet to get any help from them.
Migration experts say many officials at the labour offices abroad are not well trained or motivated to solve the problems of migrant workers.
“Our government and officials always show excuses for failing to provide services to migrants. But the fact is that the officials are not sincere in serving the migrants,” said Shipa Hafiza, director (gender, justice, diversity and migration) of Brac.
If migrant workers face any crisis in the destination countries, many staffs at the labour offices there don't help them, she observed.
Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of Warbe Development Foundation, said female migrants are the worst sufferers in the destination countries, but the government officials rarely approach them.
It is essential to appoint more female staffs at labour wings abroad. This will help female migrants get quick services if they face any problem, he said.
Bangladeshi Ovibashi Mohila Sramik Association Director Sumaiya Islam alleged that many officials don't try to understand the workers' problems while some others misbehave with them.
“They [officials] apparently forget that their expenses are met with the hard-earned money of these migrants,” she said.
However, officials at the labour wings abroad refuted the allegations.
“We face difficulties regarding undocumented migrant workers. But we try to help them in every way we can. We issue travel permits for them and also give them legal help,” said Sayedul Islam, labour counsellor at Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
Contacted, Expatriates' Welfare Minister Nurul Islam said they have been increasing manpower at the labour offices abroad to give migrants better service.
“We have sent officials to serve the migrants, not to exploit them. If anybody complains to us that an official is not providing services, we will take action against the official,” he told this correspondent last night.
Meanwhile, many government and non-government organisations held a wide range of programmes -- from rallies to seminars -- to mark the International Migrants Day.
The expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry organised a day-long programme at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital.
Brac, the world's largest development organisation, was given a special honour there for its mass awareness campaign on safe migration.

LGRD Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, Expatriates' Welfare Minister Nurul Islam and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, among others, were present.

Source:  The Daily Star, 19 December 2015

Ensure Better Governance for Safe Migration

Md. Harun-Or-Rashid

Bangladesh is one of the key labour-sending countries of the world. Each year a large number of people migrate overseas for both long and short-term employment from Bangladesh. The remittances they send have been rapidly growing, contributing significantly to economic growth and substantially improving the nation's balance of payments position. In spite of such contributions of Bangladeshi migrant workers, the migration process here is still a major area of concern. The extremely long and complicated migration process, high costs of migration, resulting debts incurred by migrants prior to departure and unscrupulous migration agencies are glaring examples of this. Reports of inhumane working conditions, unfair employment practices and breaches of migrants' human rights are common in local media, as are inadequate responses to these situations from the government. The poor treatment that Bangladeshi migrant workers are subjected to while abroad and their lack of protection by the Bangladesh government are causes for severe concern.
At the broadest level, there are many international instruments which guarantee all migrant workers, irrespective of their status, their entitlements to universally accepted human rights. Among them, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) is considered as the core convention. Bangladesh signed it in 1998 and ratified it on August 24, 2011. However, a quick stocktaking of the impact of these existing conventions and standards reveals that overall the world map of signatories documents a great disparity between signing countries, where migrants tend to originate, and non-signatories, where migrants tend to work. This lack of commitment can be seen as one indicator of governance failure. Nationally, till 2013, the central piece of legislation relating directly to migration in Bangladesh was the Emigration Ordinance 1982. In October 2013, the government enacted a new law titled Employment and Migrants Act 2013, in order to conform with the ICRMW and other international labour and human rights conventions and treaties ratified by Bangladesh. In terms of legal mechanisms, it is evident that there have been substantial improvements in the national and international legal framework for labour migrants, whereas the implementation of these is extremely problematic. The process actually plays out with the intervention of illegal middlemen and interference from multiple sources. They act as subcontractors and agents, using illegal payments to insert chosen groups of workers into contention for job selection. Thus, workers are not neutrally selected and processed from the job seeker's lists maintained by BOESL, BMET and other reputable agencies, but through contacts, process manipulation and influence mongering. Corruption and influence mongering exist at almost every operational level of the migrant's recruitment, administrative and departure process.
As per existing legislation, the state should not only regulate the institutional framework of labour migration, but also monitor the process and arbitrating grievances. The most common offences are related to collecting far higher service charges than permitted under law. Bangladeshi migrants often pay double the amount paid by their counterparts in neighbouring countries for the migration process, due to the severe lack of implementation of policies and legislation and an absence of monitoring. In other cases, ruthless agents send workers without proper work permissions resulting in workers stranded upon arrival. Many malpractices are related to wages; workers are often forced to agree to wages that are below that specified in their contracts and in many cases, wages are not only lower than specified in the contract, but even lower than the minimum wage of the country they are working in. Contract   substitution by employers is a widespread phenomenon. In this case, instead of being able to work in the jobs they were promised, workers are forced to sign a second contract upon arrival. This usually means lower wages and terrible living and/or working conditions. Very often migrant passports and documentations are  not  handed to the workers,  until  the day or point of their departure, making it difficult for  the  workers  to  ensure the correct paperwork or visa provisions. In several instances, a considerable number of workers try to leave their 'new' jobs  and seek alternate employment. Through networks of Bangladeshi workers who are already working in the host country,  some migrants manage to obtain jobs  with better terms and conditions. However, by leaving the jobs for which they had obtained visas, they risk becoming undocumented workers, vulnerable to many additional forms of exploitation. A huge issue is that there is a wage differential according to the worker's nationality of origin that works against them, with Bangladeshi migrant workers often  ending up at the bottom of the scale. Two  reasons are generally given for this: the first is that they are generally unskilled compared to migrants from other countries and the second is the Bangladesh  government's failure in effectively bargaining with destination country governments. Along with general mistreatment, there are serious concerns regarding the safety of migrant workers. Most of the jobs taken up by Bangladeshi migrant workers are classified as '3D', i.e. dirty, difficult and dangerous. Apart from that, working conditions for Bangladeshi migrants are often appallingly bad. In addition to difficult working conditions, female migrant workers face additional abuse.
Given that most countries 'hosting' Bangladeshi migrant workers have not ratified international instruments of worker protection including the ICRMW, bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding (MoU) are important instruments through which the protection of rights of migrants can be ensured. Successive Bangladeshi governments have sent high-level delegations to various labour receiving states to negotiate such agreements. However, there is a general reticence on part of labour destination countries to sign any bilateral agreement and MoU that are legally binding. Given that sending countries like Bangladesh are in the weaker position in negotiations such as these and cannot dictate terms to their liking, the minimum that the government of Bangladesh could do is develop a minimum set of standards for sending labourers on conditions under which migrant labourers have to work.
From an international perspective, good governance needs to safeguard the interests of the labour force vis-à-vis the host state and employers. If the latter are reluctant to adhere to the regulatory framework, there need to be mechanisms from the side of both sending and receiving countries to penalise these companies. Counselling and legal services need to be provided to migrants both at home and abroad. While there is a pressing need for a plethora of institutional and governance reform processes to take place, the most urgent governance issue is the lack of implementation of already existing legislation that seeks to make the process transparent and pro-migrant workers.
The writer is a Research Faculty at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University

Source:  The Daily Star, 18 December 2015

Desperation for a better future

Muhammad Zamir


Illegal migration winds its way through the Bay of Bengal to the Indian Ocean or pursues its own path from the North African and Levant shoreline to the south and south-eastern coasts of Europe. Death continues to cast its own shadow on this trail. This dynamics has also reflected the illegal connotations of human trafficking as desperate people from several countries in Africa, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Asia try to escape from the confines of mortal danger, poverty and uncertainty to cherished social and economic freedom. Erosion of law and order, internal conflict and lack of good governance are acting as catalytic factors in this carnage.
In the recent past, earlier on in 2015, we have watched with horror the unfolding in the print and electronic media the revelation of death camps and illegal detention centers that littered the southern jungles of Thailand and the northern coastal parameter of Malaysia. We were overcome with guilt as we received reports of large numbers of families with young children adrift in the ocean, stuck in over-crowded boats, short of drinking water and food.
Some action was taken by the United Nations, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to control the deteriorating situation by arranging urgent and emergency action aimed at rescuing these unfortunate refugees, providing them emergency shelter and then arranging the repatriation of most of them to their own countries. Legal action of sorts was also taken in Thailand and Malaysia against those found guilty in being part of this human trafficking process.
A meeting was also convened under the leadership of the United Nations, participated by countries from the affected regions in South Asia and South East Asia and representatives from developed countries. Least common denominators were identified within this matrix of illegal immigration to facilitate the creation of a security paradigm that could stop such human trafficking activity in the coastal waters as well as the high seas through cooperation between the respective Navies and Coast Guards of this affected region.
We now have the latest developments in the Mediterranean region comprising of North Africa, the Levant and parts of former Eastern Europe. The media over the last two weeks have been highlighting reports of illegal migrants trying to enter Europe through rickety boats, ramshackle steamers, containers and trucks. Despite best efforts by Navies and Coast Guard vessels from Italy, France and Greece, there have been unfortunate occurrences that have resulted in deaths from drowning or from suffocation. In this context the photograph of deceased infant Aylan Shenu trying to escape war-ravaged Syria with his parents, washed ashore on a section of the Turkish beach has grabbed attention of the world and reiterated the human aspect of the disaster.
The on-going conflict situation in Syria, Iraq, uncertainties near the Turkish border, in Jordan, in Egypt, in Yemen, Lebanon and Libya are not only creating security uncertainties but also affecting economic opportunities. This is resulting in expatriates, people of African origin seeking work in Northern Africa and Syrian refugees trying to reach safer destinations with their families. Earlier, such illegal migratory efforts did not include family members, particularly children. It is different now. Affected people are now trying to enter Europe through the crossing of the Mediterranean or overland along with their family members.
Unfortunately disasters within this dynamics are now resulting in the deaths of family members and children. The incident on 27 August off the Libyan coast near Zuwara was a case in point. Two boats carrying migrant refugee families sank resulting in the death of 24 Bangladeshis. According to the IOM at least 2373 have died this year till the end of August while trying to reach Europe from the North African shore. Those being rescued at sea and then transported to refugee shelters in Italy and Greece are being given shelter and some minimum assistance. Those below the age of twelve are however being given additional care.
This clarity in treatment of potential refugees and migrants seeking to enter Europe through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and then Hungary is however creating controversy. Land routes to Western European countries particularly Germany are attracting international attention because of the lack of uniformity in the treatment of those crossing international borders. The situation has become critical particularly because of Hungary’s interpretation of the Dublin Regulation where prospective refugees have to seek asylum at the first point of entry. Nevertheless, trains and buses from Hungary are carrying thousands of refugees to Austria and Germany.
 Austrian authorities also appear to have given up on trying applying European Union rules by filtering out refugees who had already claimed asylum in Hungary. Austrian authorities appear to have also taken a more pro-active approach and the general opinion was expressed through 20,000 people taking part in a pro-refugee rally in Vienna days after 71 refugees were found dead in a truck on an Austrian highway. The protesters marched through the streets of the Austrian capital, holding candles and banners with slogans reading "Human Rights are Borderless" and "No Person is Illegal".
The humanitarian and political crisis is now testing the survival of both Europe's open-border regime and its asylum rules. Most of the refugees arriving in Vienna's railway station are immediately racing to board trains heading on to Germany. Policemen, according to the electronic media are looking on passively, preferring not to intervene. It has also been reported that refugees have been cheering and chanting "Germany, thank you!" as they find welcome signs held up by local people at Munich Central Station.
 It may be mentioned that Germany has already taken in more asylum seekers than any other European Union country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called for the other 27 EU nations to do more to help deal with this year's influx of refugees and to provide fair and respectful treatment of people fleeing from conflicts mainly in the Middle East and Africa. In this context she has highlighted that European Union states "must share the responsibility for refugees seeking asylum," arguing that failing them will betray the bloc's values.
 Germany has also said that it will accept all asylum applications from Syrians instead of sending them back to the first EU state they entered, as required by EU law. The country is expecting a record 800,000 people to apply for asylum this year - that is more than the entire EU combined in 2014. This pro-active approach on the part of Germany has however been maligned by some analysts who, instead of seeing the human aspect have been claiming that Germany is taking this course of action because they have a rapidly ageing population and will need an additional 1.8 million qualified workers by 2020.
It may also be noted here that Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland have all sought to block the influx of refugees in other different ways. Controversy has been created by the idea voiced by Slovakia on giving priority to refugees who are Christian. Merkel most fortunately has been openly critical of this approach and has correctly pointed out that Europe's values are based on the dignity of every individual, and that saying Muslims are not wanted "can't be right".
Consistent with expectations, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called on European countries to do more to protect the lives of refugees making perilous journeys to reach EU states. In this regard, he has urged governments for a determined collective response and to create safe and legal routes into the continent to avoid further human tragedies and to act “with humanity and compassion, in accordance with their international obligations."
Some EU countries including Austria are now calling for refugee quotas for each of the EU's 28 members. In this context, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has already announced that details are being worked out to absorb over the coming year 1, 60,000 refugees by relocating them in different European countries. The asylum seekers would distributed under a formula that looks at each EU country’s size, economic strength and past history of taking migrants. Germany is expected to take 26.2% of the total, France 20% and Spain 12.4%. The next biggest intakes will be from Poland, Netherlands, Romania, Belgium and Sweden. The European Union is however going to draw a distinction between ‘relocation’ and ‘resettlement’.
It would be worthwhile to point out here that at this sensitive time media coverage has differed between European countries on this issue. Britain and France, which over the decades have accepted hundreds of thousands of immigrants are now facing a backlash from the rise of  right-wing, anti-immigrant parties and continuing relatively high unemployment rates. Consequently, some sections of the print media in these countries are stressing that these refugees fleeing cash-strapped or war-torn countries - pose a threat to both resources and security.
British Prime Minister Cameron has however, due to growing pressure within the Parliament announced that Britain would settle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the duration of this current Parliament. It may be noted here that Reuters reported on 7 September that Britain has so far taken in only 216 Syrian refugees under a UN-backed relocation scheme. In the last few years that have also granted asylum to about 5,000 other Syrians who managed to make their own way to Britain.
We are witnessing an unprecedented crisis in Europe right now. There are many challenges that will have to be overcome. Nevertheless, at this juncture one can only hope that reason, human rights, right to life and compassion will prevail over narrow national security considerations. Europe will need a unified approach and no status quo dysfunctional squabbling.
There is a possibility that a special meeting will be held on the sidelines of the next UN General Assembly Session towards the end of this month to address this evolving crisis. The European Union is also thinking of convening an emergency meeting around the same time to discuss a joint plan of action.


 (Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at )

Source:  The Independent, 22 September 2015

Regime Change Refugees On the Shores of Europe

Vijay Prashad

Terrible pictures were posted on social media of refugees from Syria and elsewhere, washed up on the shores of Europe. One, in particular, is especially ghastly – the picture of the body of young Aylan Kurdi lying on the beach. He was only three. He was from the Syrian town of Kobane, now made famous as the frontline of the battle between ISIS and the Kurdish militias (largely the YPG and PKK). Aylan Kurdi's body lay in a fetal position. Few dry eyes could turn away from that photograph.
The Jordanian cartoonist Rafat Alkhateeb drew an image of Aylan Kurdi. The infant's body lies on the other side of a barbed wire fence that separates him from the continents of the world.
Children like Aylan Kurdi are disposable in the world's imagination. Untold thousands of Syrian children have died in this conflict. Tens of thousands of children have died in conflicts around the world. The United Nations estimates that half of all deaths in conflict zones are of children. In 1995, UNICEF reported that two million children died in conflicts over the previous decade. The rate has not decreased. The statistic harms the consciousness. But it is the picture of Aylan Kurdi that has unsettled our ethics – does the world really care about the damage done to children as a result of war and diabolical trade policies? The evidence suggests that the world does not care at all. What care there is comes in the brief instance when we glance at a photograph such as that of the dead body of Aylan Kurdi. He breaks our heart. But he will do little to change our politics.
The West believes that it is acceptable for it to intervene to influence the political economy of the Third World – to force IMF-driven “reforms” on these states. Capital is allowed to be borderless. That freedom does not apply to labour – to people. Migration is forbidden. It is hateful. Racist ideas allow fortresses to be built against the natural movement of people. Barbed wire fences and concentration camp towers outline the US-Mexico border, just as such fences and the Mediterranean Moat block the passage into Europe. If the Capital destroys the society here, its people cannot be allowed to migrate there.
The West believes that it is acceptable for it to overthrow governments and bomb its enemies in the lands of the Third World. It sees this as the limit of its humanitarianism. It calls this humanitarian interventionism or, in the language of the UN, “responsibility to protect” (R2P). When it breaks states, as it did in Libya, the West takes no responsibility for the broken lives of the people in those zones. Bombs are borderless. But war refugees must stand in queues and be held in concentration camps. They are not allowed freedom of movement.
Hypocrisy is central to elite Western ethics. It uses words like “freedom” and “equality” but mostly means its opposite. The freedom of human beings and equality between human beings is not relevant. More important is the freedom of Money. It is Money that cannot have its liberty impinged.
Both Europe and the United States want to build walls to prevent the free movement of people. The Statue of Liberty in New York harbor bears the words: “Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This is Emma Lazarus' poem from 1883. No longer do these words make sense. There is no exhortation to send the tired, the poor, the huddled masses to safety. There is mostly the State-led jingoism that sets up barriers and threatens deportations. The more appropriate song is by Woody Guthrie, Deportee, from 1961: “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves. We died in your hills, we died in your deserts, we died in your valleys and died on your plains.” He would have added, we died on your shores.
Such toxic lineages are not alone. There is also the people's ethics – banners in Germany unfurled at football games to welcome refugees, convoys of ordinary British nations to Calais (France) to help feed and clothe the refugees, demonstrations of radical internationalists in Eastern Europe against the neo-fascists and the racists. There are also, in the United States, the Dream Defenders and United We Dream who fight for undocumented residents, who formed part of the massive pro-immigrant rallies that have now adopted May Day as their day. These indications of the good side of history are often ignored by the press, which has a tendency to hype up the bad side to boost ratings. Such gestures of solidarity tell us what is possible in the West.
Aylan Kurdi is dead. Many other Aylan Kurdis remain. Our outrage at this callous death should drive us deeper into a politics that calls for a drawdown of the violence in Syria and for a serious peace process in Libya that forces us to be resolute in our fight against IMF and NATO destruction of societies and states. In essence, this is a call for a resolute anti-imperialism. Imperialism, after all, is an extra-economic force such as war or the unequal drafting of trade rules to allow a small capitalist minority to sequester the largest share of globally produced social wealth. Refugees such as Aylan Kurdis are “climate change refugees,” “regime change refugees” and “IMF refugees.”
The West's managers will only talk about tragedies and security. For them, people are migrants and deportees, those whose mobility must be constrained. This is a limited imagination. They will not want to talk about the causes of the problem – the wars and economic policies that throw millions of people into the status of refugee. That is our job. In the name of Aylan Kurdi.


The writer is Director of International Studies at Trinity College and the Editor of “Letters to Palestine” (Verso). He lives in Northampton.
© Counterpunch.


Source:  The Daily Star, 06 September 2015

Learning about migration crisis from ancient Rome

 John Wight


THERE is much the ancient world can teach us. One of the key lessons is that mass migration — motivated by war, societal collapse, and/or extreme poverty  — is capable of destroying even the most powerful of empires.
At its height the Roman Empire was so vast and powerful it was run on the basis of the dictum: ‘Roma locuta est. Causa finita est’ (Rome has spoken. The cause has finished).
The names of its most powerful figures are as familiar to us as our own  — Pompey, Caesar, Augustus, Nero, Hadrian, Vespasian, Constantine  — men whose rule over the ancient world was so dominant that the only threat they faced came from within Rome itself. Indeed, it would have been the very definition of insanity to claim that an empire stretching from the Italian peninsula all the way across Western Europe and down into North Africa and the Middle East, enforced by legions whose very presence in the field of battle induced terror in any army unwise enough to challenge its writ.
Yet in 476CE what was then known as the Western Roman Empire came to an end after a century of successive barbarian invasions finally succeeded in bringing Rome to its knees. The symbols of its power — in the form of the emperor’s imperial vestments, diadem, and purple cloak — were sent to Constantinople, the seat of power of the eastern half of the empire, to bring the curtain down on its 1000-year history. It was proof that no empire, regardless of its economic and military power, lasts forever.
Rome’s demise had been a long time coming; the contradictions of an empire run on the basis of slavery, tribute, and plunder were so great it was inevitable they would become insurmountable in time. Under Rome’s rule millions lived in poverty and squalor, supporting an elite whose wealth and ostentation was obscene and increasingly untenable.
Any economic system that operates on the basis of coercion, domination, and super exploitation gives rise to resistance. This in turn leads to more force, more military power, having to be deployed to maintain the status quo. However this can only succeed in fomenting further resistance and with it destabilization, which in turn acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people seeking sanctuary from the chaos that results.
This, in sum, is what brought down the Roman Empire. Moreover, it is a process the early stages of which are evident today with a growing migration crisis that is starting to chip away at the foundations of Western hegemony.
Both in Europe and the United States the issue of immigration and migration has already succeeded in producing a sense of panic within governments and the political classes, to the point where political formations, parties, and movements have come to the fore in direct response to it.
In the US the billionaire real estate mogul, Donald Trump, is riding high in the polls as the most likely to win the Republican nomination for the US presidential elections in 2016. He has vowed to build a wall ‘greater than the Chinese Wall’ along the US-Mexico border if elected president, citing ‘illegal immigration’ as the most important issue facing the United States today.
You would think that the language he has employed so liberally to dehumanize migrants from south of the border — describing them as rapists, criminals, murderers, etc — would be so unpalatable and objectionable that he would have seen his chances of winning the nomination for any political office, much less that of the president, would have been ended long before now. On the contrary, with every speech and interview he gives Trump is streaking further ahead of the other candidates, leaving many to scratch their heads in disbelief.
In Europe, meanwhile, migration from Africa and the Middle East has likewise resulted in an increasingly irrational and militant response on the part of the political mainstream. Britain has just announced an agreement with France over the issue of migrants at Calais, people stuck in makeshift camps in a state of limbo from where they regularly risk their lives attempting to cross the Channel in the back of trucks or even, in one case, trying to reach the other side of the Channel Tunnel on foot.
Their desperation to reach Europe is no surprise given the chaos they have left behind. Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq — with each year that passes more countries in Africa and the Middle East fall prey to chaos, carnage, and destabilisation.
The people fleeing these conditions are victims of a global economy that itself is in crisis, exposing the incontrovertible fact that the development and huge wealth of the northern hemisphere is based on the under-development and crippling poverty of the southern hemisphere. All of the conflict and seemingly unconnected crises we are living through is connected to this one indisputable fact.
Unsurprisingly, the political classes sitting at the apex of this unsustainable reality are in denial, refusing to countenance for a moment their role as authors and architects of a world that creeps every closer to the abyss. It is a congenital disorder they share with their Roman antecedents. Like them they are increasingly attached to the deployment of force and hard power to deal with the symptoms of the gross inequality and inequity that underpins the global economic and political system. In so doing they continue to deepen rather than alleviate the problem.
As the Roman philosopher, Seneca, reminds us: ‘For greed all nature is too little.’
Donald Trump is no Seneca. He is, instead, a monster created by an apparatus of greed and rampant individualism that will, if unchecked, lead inexorably to its own demise.
The scenes of desperate humanity we are currently witnessing at the Channel port of Calais and in Macedonia are the product of a world underpinned by greed and might is right. It cannot last on this basis. What’s more, it doesn’t deserve to.
CounterPunch.org, August 28. John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir — Dreams That Die — published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels.


Source: The New Age, 30 August 2015

Bangladesh points at ‘external factors’ for trafficking, migrant exodus

Shamim Ashraf

Challenging a general perception of the cause of illegal migration from the country, Bangladesh yesterday insisted that poverty is not necessarily the main factor pushing "some of our people into the hands of traffickers".
Rather, there are "external factors and forces" behind the so-called exodus, claimed a Bangladesh delegation led by Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque at the "Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean" in Bangkok.
While different international agencies working in the fields of trafficking, migration and cross-border crime identified many Bangladeshi victims as economic migrants, the Bangladesh delegation differed on this.
"We have sustained an average GDP growth rate of 6.2 percent over the last six years. We have reduced poverty by nearly 2 percent each year, and lifted 50 million people out of poverty during this time," the foreign secretary said.
With a limited resource base, Bangladesh has made impressive gains in human development and attained almost all of the MDGs ahead of time, Shahidul Haque said.
"In such a context, there must be some other factors or forces at play beyond our immediate control that create vulnerability or false incentives for our people to risk their own lives at sea."
To identify these factors, "we may have to look for external factors and forces", said the secretary, who led a five-member delegation to the meeting, attended by representatives of 17 countries and three international agencies.
Citing initial estimates, the Bangladesh delegation said there are about 30 percent of Bangladeshis among the victims recently rescued in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
"We shall arrange to conclude the nationality verification of these people within the shortest possible time, and shall repatriate them to Bangladesh preferably within a month or so," Shahidul Haque said.
Bangladesh is deeply concerned over the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in the Indian Ocean, and considers this to be "a direct challenge to our 'zero tolerance' approach to human trafficking", he continued.
The country is determined to go all the way to stop and reverse this trend, he asserted.
"Since May 1, 2015, our Coast Guard has intercepted a number of boats in our waters and rescued 132 people and our naval forces remain on alert to go up to the high seas to rescue victims and bring the culprits to justice," the foreign secretary was quoted by the BSS as saying in the meeting.

In 2014, there were 682 trafficking related cases involving a total of 2,834 accused, and among those convicted, 12 were sentenced to life imprisonment, Shahidul Haque added.

Source:  The Daily Star, 30 May 2015

The sickness of illegal immigrants

Nader Rahman

A few days ago, the honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke vociferously about the plight of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and said both the middlemen that trafficked them and those who risked their lives to go abroad illegally, had tarnished the image of the country. 
It could have ended there, but it didn't. Employing a remarkable piece of rhetoric she continued, “Why are they going? It's not right to say all are doing this because of poverty ... it seems they're chasing the golden deer, they think there is huge money abroad ... this is a sort of mental sickness.”
It pains me to say the 'mental sickness' she talks about lies at the centre of the government for their complete lack of understanding as to why thousands of Bangladeshis are willing to risk their lives for the dream of a better future.
The fact that needs to sink in is that they are willing to beg, borrow and steal a fool's ransom to be shoved into a boat with up to 400 others without so much as a meal or bathroom, for weeks on end, to travel to a country where they don't know the language or a single person, all in the hope of economic security. 
Currently, thousands of people are doing the same in the Mediterranean and the only difference is that they are fleeing wars. To put that into perspective the North Africans that are dying by the thousands trying to reach European shores are risking their lives to flee an active warzone and in Bangladesh they are doing exactly the same, except for the little fact that they aren't escaping a war. 
They aren't running from the fear of bullets and blood, they are running from structural poverty, lack of opportunity and widespread inequality. They are running from a silent war that our government refuses to acknowledge or even worse, refuses to understand. 
In 2014 the World Bank said, 47 million Bangladeshis live in poverty while 26 million live in extreme poverty. Let's not trust the flag bearers of neoliberalism and for the sake of this argument, halve those figures; that would still leave us with 27.5 million in poverty and 13 million in extreme poverty. Let's go one step further and claim the World Bank's statistics are catastrophically incorrect and halve the numbers again, leaving us with 14.75 million in poverty and 6.5 million in extreme poverty. 
The fact of the matter is that with 14.75 million living in poverty and 6.5 in extreme poverty, it certainly leaves an enormous number of people looking for the next best opportunity and for many of them that lies, both legally and illegally, abroad.
In her speech it was interesting to note that those who were leaving Bangladesh legally, the nearly 500,000 a year that head to the Middle East, Malaysia, Maldives and the rest of the world in search of legal work were not spoken of as 'mentally sick' or chasing the 'golden deer'. 
Why then are the illegal immigrants mentally sick for wanting the same opportunities, just without legal means? Is it because they are willing to risk dying and being treated like animals for the lure of a decent salary? 
Truth be told, many of those who leave Bangladesh legally may suffer the same fate as those that leave illegally. There have been reports of migrant workers being “trapped, exploited and abused” (Al Jazeera) while an unusually large number of them return in coffins as well.
In 30 years, from 1972 to 2002, a total of 3,613 expatriate Bangladeshis officially died abroad, in the next 11 years over 20,000 did. The increase in the figures of expatriate deaths is staggering and so are the causes of death that go with them. 
The number one official cause of death is cardiac arrest and in one extraordinary period of four months from January to May 2009 (Migrant Forum in Asia), almost every single expatriate body that came back to Bangladesh was put down to cardiac arrest, nearly 20 times the national average. 
For over a decade on average every single day five Bangladeshi expatriate workers die from 'cardiac arrests' and a litany of causes which often hide their dire living and working conditions. These are people, just like the illegal immigrants the Prime Minister spoke of, who left Bangladesh for opportunities they never found at home.
I'm not saying the government is to blame, they can't provide work for everyone and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can. But if they claim there is ample opportunity at home, it is they who suffer from a 'mental sickness', not the immigrants. 
The government may be shocked and appalled at the way illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are treated but they need to take a closer look at the legal immigrants who don't fare much better. But why upset that applecart if their legal remittances are what the IMF calls “the single most important informal safety net program in Bangladesh.”
The IMF's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for Bangladesh 2013 (Pg 178) also shows a positive correlation between district level poverty head count rates and their share of expatriate workers and also goes on to say, “a key factor underlying the more favourable poverty outcomes in Sylhet is the large inflow of remittances.” In essence saying the more people that leave and send money back home, the better off the country is. 
Bangladesh relies on its workers' remittances but is seemingly happy to turn a blind eye as to why half a million of them choose to leave the country every year and how the nearly eight million currently abroad are treated. The government never tells us why over 500,000 of her countrymen leave Bangladesh every year legally, according to her it surely can't all be because of poverty, but I'd love to know what it is then.
The answer lies in the government's myopia, it views the illegal immigrants as criminals who have opportunities at home but don't take them and while simultaneously viewing the millions of legal Bangladeshi immigrants as a source of income and pride, thus never answering the question as to why they left in the first place. If so many Bangladeshis are willing to risk being tortured, enslaved and possibly being killed abroad for economic opportunities, the problem clearly lies at home, not with them and their mental faculties.
Of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that leave legally every year many don't make it back alive and the fourth most common cause of death for legal Bangladeshi immigrants is mental stress. Yes, you read that right, mental stress. Maybe the Prime Minister was on to something after all.


The writer is a journalist currently based in New York. He can be reached at nader.rahman@gmail.com


Source:  The Daily Star, 28 May 2015

Thailand finds it difficult to discuss Rohingya issue with Myanmar Thai security chief finds it difficult to talk with Myanmar

Shamim Ashraf

Thailand, despite being at the core of the current boatpeople crisis, finds it difficult to discuss the issue with Myanmar which does not recognise Rohingyas as its citizens, said Thailand's security chief.
“We have talked with Bangladesh about Bangladeshi migrants but cannot raise the issue of Rohingya with Myanmar."
Secretary General Anusit Kunakorn of the National Security Council in an interview with The Nation newspaper said the Rohingya issue was complicated because of this.
He touched different aspects of the crisis that have been dogging the region in the recent years.
The UN and the international community must share the burden of countries in Southeast Asia to help end the boatpeople crisis, rather than shifting blame on any particular country, he said.
Thailand is home to about 120,000 asylum-seekers from Myanmar. They have lived in camps along the border with Myanmar since the mid-80's.
Tens of thousands of asylum seekers have settled in third countries over the past decade, while Bangkok is engaging Nay Pyi Taw for a programme to repatriate those still in the border camps.
But the job is not easy, Anusit said.
Thailand is only a transit country and "what we can do is provide food, water and other basic needs on a humanitarian basis for them," said Anusit.
According to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate, over 25,000 migrants have taken boat journeys from Bangladesh and Myanmar to other Southeast Asian countries in recent times.
Malaysia and Indonesia announced last week they would give them shelter for one year before trying to repatriate them.
The UNHCR called on countries in the region to help save 3,500 migrants believed to be still at sea. It is estimated that up to 2,000 people are still stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal, and another 1,500 farther to the south in the Andaman Sea, the UN said on Saturday.
Thailand's military government has only said it would provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.
Thailand hopes to get a pathway to solve the problem when representatives of 17 countries and three international organisations gather in Bangkok on Friday.
“We will know how to handle this particular issue after the May 29 meeting, when the countries say how they will help,” the security chief said.
Thailand has faced the problem of Rohingya migrants for a long time but the issue became a grave concern in early 2009 when the Navy towed their boats out to high seas. The issue flared again on May 1 after the remains of Rohingyas were found in a mass grave in Songkhla province near the southern border, an area criss-crossed with human-trafficking routes.
It is understood that the Thai government will not open any shelters for them, as it fears that the Rohingya issue will be like other cases in the past, with asylum seekers remaining in the country for years.
“Thailand is limited in its means as the country already hosts a significant number of refugees,” Anusit said. “The crisis has occurred in the Bay of Bengal and requires international cooperation to address this issue."

Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has given a strict timeline of one month to deal with the issue.

Source:  The Daily Star, 25 May 2015

Floating coffins Tragedy of the Rohingya boat people

Md. Idris

ONCE again the Rohingya crisis has come to the attention of the international mass media. This time thousands of Rohingyas are found adrift in the sea without adequate food, water and other provisions in their boats for several days. Several boats carrying Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants are found stranded in the Andaman Sea, Strait of Malacca and along the coast off Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia; the captain and crew of many of the boats that carried the migrants have abandoned them. 
Some boats carrying more than 2,000 people have been allowed to land in the Indonesian province of Aceh and the Malaysian offshore island of Lankawi, after fishermen rescued them when their boats were about to sink. However, the Indonesian authorities have turned away other boats approaching their coast without permitting them to land. The same has been done by Thailand and Malaysia. Navies from all these countries are patrolling their maritime borders round the clock to ensure that no such boats could land in their shores. According to reliable sources, at least 8,000 people including women and children, are drifting in the sea and have sent distress signals to rescue them while many are dying daily onboard. Although the United Nations, other international human rights organisations, many high profile politicians and individuals have been urging these countries to allow these distressed boat people to land on their shores on humanitarian grounds, so far, there is no indication of any positive response from these countries. The governments of the said countries are content pointing fingers at each other, as they insist that this is not their problem and it's not their responsibility to accommodate them. 
This fresh series of the Rohingya crisis began a few weeks ago after Thailand started massive crackdowns on human traffickers and smugglers, following the discovery of mass graves. The remains of more than 30 people, believed to be Rohingyas and possibly Bangladeshis, found in the jungles of southern Thailand where traffickers run several camps for dumping the trafficked people and extorting ransom from them, have been exhumed. 
Many high level Thai officials are allegedly involved in this human racket and Sothern Thailand is a transit station to smuggle people into Malaysia across their common land border. As the crackdown continues in Thailand, boats loaded with several hundred people cannot land in Thailand and therefore many of them have been forced to remain suspended in the sea while many traffickers abandon their boats.
The Rohingya people are not economic migrants as some people wrongly state. If they were economic migrants, why should Muslim Rohingyas be the only ones fleeing Arakan? What about the Buddhist Rakhines? Since 2012, thousands of Rohingyas died in Arakan, and more than 150,000 people have been herded in the so-called Internally Displaced People Camps. These camps are in fact glorified open air prisons with no adequate provisions for food, clothing, healthcare services and no expectation for a better future or hope to return to their former homes. 
Those who are living outside the IDP camps are also subjected to continuous oppression and repression, killing, torture, rape and slave labour. This tragic situation plaguing the Rohingya people compels them to take the hard decision of abandoning their centuries-old homes for the hope of a better future. 
The crux of the Rohingya migration problem lies in the attitude of the Myanmar regime whose treatment of the Rohingya people has been described as “crimes against humanity” or even “manifest genocide” by many international observers monitoring the Rohingya issue closely. However the Myanmar government, as usual, has been rejecting the call of humanity to change their policy regarding the Rohingya issue. 
Whatever be the steps that need to be taken by Myanmar's neighbours and the international community to find an ultimate, sustainable solution to this longstanding problem, saving the lives of tens of thousands of people, who are described as “floating coffins” on the surface of the sea, is the pressing call of the day. 
Therefore the international community must press the need to allow these people to land on the shores of the countries concerned on humanitarian grounds before it is too late. 

The  writer is a contributor.

Source:  The Daily Star, 20 May 2015.