The Link Between Refugees and Human Trafficking
The words “refugee crisis” most likely remind us of recent events in history. There was a time when it was impossible to claim ignorance to the realities of the refugee crisis that Greece experienced two years ago as the news repeatedly reminded us of the influx of refugees fleeing from their war-torn homes to make the voyage from Turkey to Greece and further inland in Europe. But to the reader thousands of miles away, once news stories died down so did the refugee crisis. As the photos documenting the dark realities of refugees grappling for safety and security slowed down, for many of us, so did our concern. Headlines faded and life continued.
To assume that the refugee crisis is an isolated event with only immediate, physical needs is a myth that must be debunked and communicated by advocates. To understand the crisis as a single event affecting just the more publicized shores of Greece also misses the mark on understanding the scale of displaced people in the world. To better be a voice for the voiceless and oppressed, we are responsible to be aware of the circumstances and events of the world that feed exploitation and breed oppression. Displaced people identifying as refugees are at risk for exploitation as they are prime victims that perpetrators of violence prey on.
Testimony to this are the survivors of the Rohingya refugee crisis. The crisis started the same year that the refugee crisis on the shores of Greece was in full swing. Refugees fled Myanmar to seek sanctuary in Bangladesh. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs describes this people movement as one of the fastest growing crisis as approximately 860,000 refugees have made the scramble for Bangladesh. Displaced populations of this scale come with a plethora of problems from a humanitarian relief perspective. Basic needs such as shelter, safety, hygiene products, proper water and food sources, clothing, and beyond are dismantled for a population that flees penniless and is purely focused on survival.
"The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs describes this people movement as one of the fastest growing crisis as approximately 860,000 refugees have made the scramble for Bangladesh."
Imagine if you will, living in a context that has escalated in violence so grotesquely that the fear of the unknown is now diminished and your only option is to flee. Gathering what you can, you pack for what could be days, weeks, months, or years. Gathering your family, you experience the difficulties of transport, navigating through borders, and basic survival. The question ringing in your ears is “Now what?” You are in a country you don’t speak the language of, you are displaced and disoriented, and the word “home” is accompanied by an ever-present question mark. The savings that have been carefully managed are now drying up and you find yourself presented with the opportunity for work. Here is where the realities of exploitation meet the tragedy of displaced populations.
After all the horrors that refugees have survived through, their circumstance is primed for exploitation. The National Human Trafficking Hotline identifies that “A study in Chicago found that 56 percent of prostituted women were initially runaway youth.” Partnered with this, they also identify that foreign nationals find themselves particularly vulnerable due to cultural and language barriers. Additionally, they further cite that survivors of trauma are particularly at risk for exploitation. Disappearing men and women are not given the proper resources for rescue and recovery when refugee count is so high. Who can a surviving refugee call when their daughter goes missing? The UN News Centre released an article, “UN warns of trafficking, sexual abuse in shadow of Rohingya refugee crisis” as the evidence continues to build that refugees are preyed upon and victimized in the midst of their trauma.
"You are in a country you don’t speak the language of, you are displaced and disoriented, and the word 'home' is accompanied by an ever-present question mark. The savings that have been carefully managed are now drying up and you find yourself presented with the opportunity for work. Here is where the realities of exploitation meet the tragedy of displaced populations."
With the long list of trauma already survived, fear of victimization or exploitation should not be an accepted reality for these survivors. Fortunately, in the midst of great tragedy, relief organizations are growing in awareness and aiding in the adjustment of refugees to the receiving country. It starts with meeting immediate, physical needs and expanding into long-term acclimation. It starts with being a voice for the voiceless.
While some refugees may have made the trek by boat two years ago, the realities of the refugee crisis continues to be a daily existence and adjustment. With hungry mouths to feed, accepting any form of work with the promise of food or compensation is tantalizing, masked in the confusion of cultural differences and language barriers. Many of the women made this voyage to a new country, a new life and new hope of peace in a dress. Their dresses lined boats that threatened to capsize. The fabric of their clothing was muddied, and dirtied and clung to as family drew close in anticipation of the unknown. Those dresses crossed countries, boundaries, waters, and survived trauma after trauma. Perhaps the only item of clothing in their possession as they fled, their dresses are a remaining trace of their homeland, now overrun by violence and hate.
Our dresses stand in solidarity with these survivalists. The face of women and men that you stand for in advocacy are embodied by images of the refugee crisis you may see on the news. While the scope of exploitation can be hard to comprehend, the dresses represented by women in the midst of the refugee crisis stand as a testimony to why we continue to fight for the vulnerable populations in society today.
About the Author
Sara Kernan is a proud Alaskan that now calls Southern California home (while trying not to melt in the summer). She is finishing her undergrad program this year and looks forward to this opportunity with Dressember to be an advocate of social justice on a different level. Sara can usually be found either drinking coffee or finding a new hiking trail with her husband and going on new adventures.