Human Smuggling and Trafficking in era of Globalization


The increasing incidents of human smuggling and trafficking in the wake of the arrest of an M.P. belonging to the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have become a major topic of discussion and pontification in public forums in general and the media in particular. Despite long hours of debates and discussions, clarity over the issue has been missing. For example, none of the so-called experts could answer why and how the number of human beings migrating willingly or unwillingly from one country to another has been growing at an unprecedented rate.

While 15 million or so people were taken, over two centuries, from Africa to Europe, North America and the Caribbean to work as slaves, around 50 million people were enticed during the fifty year span of the 1830s – 1880s from India and China to work in foreign lands as indentured labourers after slavery was formally abolished in the British empire in 1833 and in the USA in 1865.The entire system of indentured labour was based on fraud and the labourers were trapped in by false promises with the connivance of the British government. The gullible fell in the trap in the hope of realizing their fond dream of a better life. Almost all these indentured labourers came from the rural areas where life was extremely miserable.

Ever since those days human smuggling and trafficking have been on the increase despite restrictive immigration laws, punitive actions and hazardous journey. There are several reasons for this. Let us first begin with human smuggling, i.e., the cases where people try to cross over to other countries of their own volition. On the one hand, job opportunities in developing countries are unable to keep pace with the volume of demand. Nay, in a number of countries they have been shrinking in certain areas. Take, for example, India. With increasing flow of foreign direct investment in retail trade besides the entry of Indian big business, small shopkeepers and hawkers are becoming jobless. Similarly agriculture has ceased to give jobs and sustenance to people dependent on for ages. Handicrafts and small industries have been declining. In addition, the population increase has led to the entry of more people in the working age group. The spread of education has resulted in the formation of a veritable army of the educated unemployed who want better and more paying job opportunities and for that they try to migrate at all cost to the countries where prospects appear to be more promising. Unprecedented improvements in and expansion of information and communication technologies in recent times have encouraged the desire for international migration.

It is baffling that none of the ten points of the Washington consensus on which the ongoing globalization is based, talk of the free flow of labour across national boundaries while they want the removal of all impediments in the way of the free flow of goods, services and capital. UN Economic and Social Council’s report “Globalization and Labour Migration” has this to say in this regard: “Recent globalization trends have been characterized by the greater integration of global markets for goods, services and capital across borders while their impact on the cross border movement of people and labour remains much more restricted, regulated by immigration laws and policies that uphold the principle of state sovereignty.” This is nothing but hypocrisy and falsifies the claim of those who think that national sovereignty has become redundant. The declining employment opportunities and the growing pressure of population in developing countries act as a push factor while better prospects in developed countries, highlighted by the media and the tales of their prosperity told by relations and friends act as a pull factor. To quote the UN report again: “… globalization has … led to widening disparities of employment opportunities, income and living standards across the globe. In some countries, globalization has adversely affected jobs and livelihoods in traditional sectors. The failure of globalization to create new jobs where people live is a prime factor in increasing migration pressures.” It is obvious that the failure to find means of livelihood propels people to go elsewhere despite serious odds. Looking back, one finds that throughout history, “migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life.” The migration of the Aryans to India, notwithstanding what the Hindutva ideologues may say, was a typical example of this. Discriminations of various sorts have neither stopped nor slowed this process. Recall the latest thesis of Samuel Huntington in America calling for stopping the immigration of the Hispanics or the vile propaganda by the Hindutva forces and the police brutality in India against the Bangladeshis in this context that have failed to act as deterrence.

In 2005, total migrants worldwide came to 191 million and most of these were induced by better job prospects. Five years earlier, in 2000, the number of migrants came to around 81 million. With their families they accounted for almost 90 per cent of total migrants. Refugees and asylum seekers accounted for the rest. In the years to come, international labour migration will go on increasing at an accelerated rate. Because of the difficulties in obtaining visas and work permits, the phenomenon of human smuggling has come into existence. There has appeared, to quote Moises Naim, editor of the Washington-based, Foreign Policy, “an organized wholesale trading business shipping bulk consignments of humans over long distances, and involving staggering amounts of money.” During 1988-1996, a Maltese of Pakistani origin, Tourab Ahmed Sheikh, gathered $15 million from this venture. Mandir Kumar Wahi from India entered into partnership with him and began gathering his cargo from India and shipping to Europe and America. He too became phenomenally rich in no time.

Over the years, a national network of pimps, travel agents, corrupt officials from passport issuing department and politicians with their clouts came into being. A number of politicians themselves with diplomatic passports and certain immunities and influence began ferrying people from India to Europe and America for hefty fees. The officials looking after the security of airports and air services began winking at this business. It is not that this phenomenon has not been known but nobody dared talk about before the recent incident involving the BJP M.P., Babubhai Katara, from Gujarat. Startling revelations have begun dripping in as a result of investigations. The M.P. had a number of, both genuine and fake, passports, used to smuggle the aspirants of both sexes out of the country for hefty amounts. The total monetary value of the turnovers in this business is not accurately known, but it is baffling. The facilitators bear little risk while the migrants have to put their lives and property in jeopardy from the very beginning of their adventure. They may be arrested any time during the journey or their vessels may meet with disastrous accidents as happened some years ago near Malta. Agents may ditch them and they may be deported back for their failure to secure valid documents for stay and work in host countries. If their mission goes haywire, they are sure to sink in debt and lose their landed property and ultimately reduced to begging.

Now, coming to trafficking. Through this process, human beings are taken out of the country forcibly or by employing fraudulent means. Children are taken to be converted into slaves for life or for entertaining the rich in the gulf countries as camel jockeys. Young girls are enticed or even kidnapped to be employed as sex slaves for the rich. The brothels get replenishment of prostitutes. In addition, human trafficking is used for satisfying the growing demand for human organs.

Kevin Bales has rightly described the subjects of human trafficking as “modern-day slaves” in his book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Keeping in view the fast growing proportions of human smuggling and trafficking, an international convention is urgently required and the ongoing globalization and its ideological basis, the Washington consensus, need to be thoroughly examined.

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