WIMN speaks at 1st Thematic Session for GCM

Monami at thematic session 5.8.17

Members of the Women in Migration Network represented their respective organizations in key presentations during the First Thematic Session on the human rights Of migrants, social inclusion, cohesion and all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance”. The session was convened in Geneva on May 8 as the first of several such convenings in preparation of the Global Compact on Migration, a commitment from states that emerged from the High Level UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants held in New York in September 2016.

The presenters included Monami Maulik (at left), international advocacy coordinator for the Global Coalition on Migration; Paola Cyment (below left), of the Comisión Argentina para Refugiados y Migrantes (CAREF); and Michele Levoy of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM).

Civil society groups have urged that the human rights of all migrants center the framework for the global compact, and members of WIMN are coordinating efforts to ensure that a strong gender perspective, particularly in regards to the rights of migrant women as well as those who are left behind when others migrate, be respected and upheld.

Click here to read remarks from Monami Maulik, and click here for remarks from Paola Cyment.

Paola at thematic session 5.8.17

A Place Where Wives Don’t See Their Husbands for Years

By Laeila Adjovi

A Town of Women

There is a town in West Africa where it has become traditional for men to leave and seek work in Italy. The women are often left behind for years, or even for decades.

But Beguedo in Burkina Faso is not unique. There are other towns in Africa where the same thing occurs – and many where it is repeated on a smaller scale, as men travel to neighbouring countries, or to Europe, hoping to find a well-paid job.

How does a community survive when husbands and wives live thousands of miles apart?

Alimata Bara is a joker, always smiling, always laughing. Today she is laughing at her own misfortune – the misfortune of being a “celibate wife”. Seven years ago, at the age of 17, she married an “Italian” – a local man working in Italy. Since then she has spent less than six months with her husband. And of course, that is not the life she once imagined for herself. “When you are a young girl, what do you know about life? You see an Italian, and your whole body starts to shake,” she says, with another big laugh. We are sitting on the porch of her house in the compound belonging to her husband’s family in the town of Beguedo, 230km (140 miles) south-east of Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

“We met in the market, and started chatting,” she recalls. Then he brought cola nuts to my parents.
Within 10 days we were married.”

Once upon a time, it took months to organise a marriage in a rural area like this. The suitor had to work in the parents’ field, gain their trust, show that he could provide and be a good husband for the woman he longed for. But now, months have turned to weeks – and sometimes days, when the potential husband is on holiday and is about to head back to Europe. In Beguedo, the “Italians” usually come home in August or December. Those periods have become wedding seasons – a time when girls dress up and go out to parties in the hope of meeting a husband. It’s a poor area, where migrant workers have long symbolised the promise of a better life. For a while, Alimata thought she was living the dream.

Three weeks after a beautiful wedding ceremony, Saada went back to Italy. Alimata settled in with her parents-in-law and in due course gave birth to a daughter, Omayma.Now six years old, she takes great delight in flipping through photo albums and pointing to “Daddy!” – Saada posing in a field among crates of tomatoes, a continent away. After their wedding, it was almost three years before Alimata was able to hold her husband in her arms again. He came back for three weeks in 2011, and then a couple of months in 2014.

He has the papers that would allow him travel back and forth between Beguedo and Italy but cannot afford to. “Things are tough in Italy, it is harder and harder to find work,” Alimata says. “He has no money to buy a plane ticket.” The couple’s second child, a boisterous boy named Obaidou, now three years old, has only seen his father once. Alimata is still smiling, though ruefully, when she describes her lonely nights.

“I spend so much time missing my husband. Sometimes you go to bed but you can’t even sleep. But what are you going to do? Go and find another man?”

She shakes her head. “We don’t do that here.” In Beguedo, scores of women share the same fate. Nematou, who lives just across Alimata’s yard, is married to Saada’s brother – and he is also working abroad. Nematou and Alimata are almost the same age, and the two have become close, sharing the hardships of bringing up their children on their own, and cracking jokes about it as often as they can. Half the mothers in the village are in the same position, according to a former mayor, Beatrice Bara. It’s an unseen consequence of the migration of thousands of African men to Europe. It’s not like this in every town, but here and there circumstances conspire to draw large numbers of men abroad, leaving behind a town full of women, waiting for them on the continent they left behind.When they marry, the men promise to come back often, or to fetch their wives once they are properly settled on the other side. Some have. But that was before the economic crisis, and before Europe gradually turned into a fortress.

Until the early 1990s, people from Burkina Faso did not even need a visa to travel to Italy. Even in 2008, when Alimata married Saada, she thought that in time she would join him in Italy. “He thought he would bring me along, but then he lost his job,” she says. “Over there, life is so expensive. You have to pay rent, big bills for electricity and water. Here in the village, it is simpler. We grow our crops, cook our food, go and get water at the borehole. And even when electricity bills come, it is not that much.” In some ways it also made sense for her to stay, to look after Saada’s parents as they get older. She brings up the children, works on the land, cooks food – the household revolves around her. When Alimata eventually realised she would not be joining Saada in Italy, she thought at least that they would be comfortably off. This is meant to be the consolation for an absent husband, and Beguedo – while it has no supermarket, and no hospital to speak of – has several places where people can receive money wired from abroad.

However, while Saada was able to build a one-bedroom house for Alimata in his parents’ compound, he has never been successful enough in Italy to send much money home – just 25,000 CFA francs (about £25) now and then, with months in between. The last time Alimata received something was in May. Since then, nothing.

Luckily she has never relied solely on Saada’s money. When she was pregnant with her first child she would go and sell vegetables in the market. Her feet started to get swollen from sitting all day under the sun, and her husband told her to stay home, but by then she had saved a little money. So, after Omayma was born, she bought a couple of bags of charcoal and started to trade, reinvesting the profits. Now she buys at least 30 bags of charcoal at a time. Her husband pitched in to build a small shelter for her business in front of the house. Whenever she has the time Alimata also cycles to her mother’s field to help her work the land. They grow gombo, millet, onions and peanuts. “If my peanut crop is good this year, I will be the one paying for my husband’s plane ticket,” she says, beaming. It’s another joke. Five years of peanut crops would not pay for a plane ticket.

Over the years, Alimata has stopped dreaming of joining Saada abroad. “Now I just want him to come back,” she says. At least he still calls often. “Before he only called when he could buy airtime. And sometimes I would not hear from him for a week or two. Or he would call but after a couple of minutes we would get cut off,” she explains. The last couple of months, things have changed. They have started to use Skype and Alimata is now a frequent customer at Beguedo’s tiny cybercafe. “He says he misses me. From time to time, he sounds so disheartened,” she says. She feels lucky that they talk often. Some women find there are lengthening silences as a husband who is geographically distant becomes emotionally distant too.On some streets in Beguedo straw-roofed huts adjoin big houses. The big houses tend to belong to “old” Italians – those who left for Europe before the economic crisis, and found so many more opportunities there than the “new” Italians who followed them later. Mominata Sambara is married to an old Italian. Her face is very wrinkled and she does not know her age. Her husband left for Italy almost 30 years ago, returning regularly enough for the couple to have seven children. “Things went well. Each month he would send 50,000 CFA francs (about £50). He built a house for us,” she says, sitting on a colourful mat in the front yard of her house. Her villa has a vast veranda, an intercom and a satellite dish. Her life seems peaceful – she works in the field, sells crops at the market and takes care of her grandchildren. Next to Mominata sits her daughter-in-law, Fatimata, whose husband is also in Italy. “But things are different now,” she says. Fatimata is not so well off as her mother-in-law was. Beguedo’s young men still want to believe Italian grass is greener though, possibly because those who return show off their success and hide their difficulties. “People who left but did not manage to make money abroad are stigmatised, and they usually don’t even go back to stay in their village,” says Prof Mahamadou Zongo, a sociologist at Ouagadougou university. “They go to the capital where they can find anonymity.” The Italian dream has affected school attendance in Beguedo. Young men lose interest because they would rather make what they think is easy money in Italy, while young women are sometimes withdrawn from school to marry Italians. But Zongo says some women are becoming more aware of the downsides. “Between the wedding day and the next stop of the husband in the village, there can be up to five, six, seven years,” he says.

“In the meantime, the wife lives with her in-laws. She has to be obedient and docile. She is being watched. She can be rejected on a simple denunciation.”

If someone in the husband’s family considers her behaviour inappropriate, renunciation can be “as quick as a phone call”. And then there is the risk of having to accept a rival. With a bittersweet smile, 50-year-old Adiassa (not her real name) says her life “is leaning towards the end”. Her marriage certainly is. Her husband of 30 years has lived in Italy for 20 years, and even took two of their sons to live and work there. “At the beginning, things were good, he would come back every couple of years, and send good money,” she recalls, adjusting the frayed beige veil that covers her head. “Yes, things were really good,” she repeats, cheekily making a noise with her lips to mimic kissing. But six years ago her husband informed her that he was planning on marrying a second time. “I did not agree. No woman wants her husband to take a second wife, but he gave me no choice.” “He said I was too old now,” she grumbles. “And that if I did not agree, I could just leave.”

The Bissa people who live in Beguedo and surrounding regions of Burkina Faso are Muslim. Polygamy is allowed in their culture. Yet it was a harsh blow for Adiassa when her husband not only married a much younger woman but also took this one with him abroad. She had hoped to see Italy herself, and had waited many years. “But I could not keep up,” she says. Her husband does not send money any more, nor does he call. Now she just relies on her children to take care of her.

Awa Sagne had a similar experience. Shortly after she got married, Awa’s husband left her and their first child to find work abroad. He did not have enough money to get to Italy, so he went south to Gabon. Things were tough at first, but two years later Awa joined him. She became a hairdresser, and they had two more children. “I liked living somewhere other than here, and I enjoyed my work,” she says. But then she fell ill and had to go home. Her husband, meanwhile, finally made his way to Italy and prospered there. Three years ago, to demonstrate his success, he took a second wife. After years struggling with her husband to make ends meet, Awa, at the age of 38, is now sharing the family home with a wife almost 20 years younger than her. It’s easy to appreciate the blow this represents to her pride, when she tells a story about an occasion years ago, when her husband was already working abroad and sent a disappointingly small amount of money home. “Once he dared to send me 2,500 francs! (About £2.) What am I going to do with that? I looked again in the envelope, incredulous, and then just sent it back.” She then called him. “Thank you but no thank you,” she told him. “I would rather work and earn that money myself.”

It was perhaps as an insurance policy against a fate like this that 22-year-old Malika (not her real name), quietly opened a bank account after her marriage to an Italian three years ago. Whenever she can, she puts some money aside, even if it is just a few pennies. “You can’t tell your husband everything. And you can’t trust him 100%,” she argues. Even if he sent her enough money to provide for her, she would still work, she says. A Bissa proverb sums up her attitude: “If you sleep on someone else’s mat, you might as well be sleeping on the floor.”

“The Italians”

For many wives in Beguedo, what happens in Italy stays in Italy. The women often don’t know exactly where their husbands live, or what jobs they do. Alimata just knows that Saada has worked on farms. Her sister-in-law, Nematou, vaguely says her husband used to work in a factory. The women are aware that their husbands may have to move around, as they go from one job to the next. They can appreciate that their lives may be hard, but know little about their actual living conditions. In Beguedo, stories go around about Italians coming back with an Italian wife and treating their Beguedo wife as though she were a sister or a cousin for the duration of their stay. Many wives in the village don’t even assume their partner remains faithful. When asked about the possibility of Saada having another wife in Italy, Alimata responds with a firm: “No, impossible.” But what about what some Africans call “opening a second office” – cheating, having a mistress? Again, Alimata laughs out loud. “You can’t know that. If I ask him, of course he is going to say, ‘No.’ But can a man go three years without laying hands on a woman?” She pauses, but does not expect an answer to her question. “Women are faithful,” she says. “But for men, it is a whole other story.” In any case, when he comes back, Saada will not face any scenes or jealous questioning. Alimata just hopes he will return, and be with her at last.

When contacted by telephone in Italy, where he is currently working on a farm outside the southern town of Foggia, Saada was tight-lipped, possibly to avoid annoying his employer. Agricultural labourers often have to work extremely long hours for low pay. When asked if he would have time to meet a reporter, Saada said he had no days off. Saada said he had been in Foggia since 2010, after losing another job at the time of the financial crisis in 2008 – the moment Alimata referred to when his income plunged.

Men from the Bissa community first began travelling to work in Italy in the 1980s, after a man who had been working as a driver for a diplomatic family in Ivory Coast went with them to Rome and returned a wealthy man – by local standards, at least. “When he came back to visit Beguedo we watched him build a house and buy a nice motorbike, and we thought – as there is no work in Burkina, maybe we should go and help out abroad too?” says Inoussa Bara, one of the leaders of the Burkinabe community in Italy.

Even before that, Bissa men were inveterate travellers, according Mahamadou Zongo, the sociologist.In the past, some would migrate to the Gold Coast – now called Ghana. Others went to Ivory Coast. Italy, North Africa, and oil-rich countries in Central Africa, such as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, are newer destinations.

“Culturally, migration is considered educational.”

“Among the Bissa and the Mossi (another ethnic group in Burkina Faso), migration is almost part of the initiation, the path that leads from boyhood to manhood,” says Zongo. Someone who has travelled far, he says, is said to have “had his eyes opened”. According to Inoussa Bara (no relation of Saada Bara) the Bissa people make up 80% of the 45,000-strong Burkinabe community in Italy, which is the biggest in Europe.

When Inoussa set foot in Italy in 1991 its doors were wide open. “When you arrived at the airport, the border police asked you the purpose of your visit. ‘I’ve come for a holiday.’ ‘For how long?’ ‘Two weeks.’ ‘How much money do you have for your stay?’ … And if you had enough money in your pocket they would let you in. And then of course you didn’t leave,” he says.

In 1995 there was an amnesty for foreign workers, and he got his residence permit. Then in 1997 his wife came from Beguedo to live with him under the family reunification immigration policy. Prof Mahamadou Zongo says the first Burkinabe immigrants worked in tomato fields in southern Italy – where, it’s often been reported, many of them were and are still exploited by unscrupulous employers. After a while, some managed to move to northern Italy, where they got stable jobs in factories. According to Inoussa Bara it remained the case that new arrivals from Burkina Faso generally first worked in the south, then looked for opportunities to go north.

That was until this year’s immigration crisis and the opening of retention camps where immigrants may be held, then farmed out across Europe. With a degree in foreign languages, Inoussa Bara never worked in agriculture – he started out in a car-wash – but he too moved from Naples to northern Italy, where, in 2009, he was named Employee of the Year in a competition run by the Manpower recruitment agency.

In recent years, even those who have found a steady job and acquired a residence permit have found it more difficult to bring wives to join them in Italy, because of changes to the family reunification policy. In a recent story about the sorrow of celibate wives in Beguedo, a journalist in Burkina Faso compared them to Penelope, the wife of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. She waits 20 years for her husband, who went away to fight and win a war, confronting all kinds of mythological creatures before he can return. She stays at home, raises her son, works tirelessly, and turns down other suitors, remaining faithful to Odysseus. Homer’s epic has a happy ending, but life does not always mirror fiction.

Alimata racks her brains to think of a way she and Saada could earn a good income, if he were to come home. But opportunities in Beguedo remain scarce to non-existent. “Maybe if I could have another business, plus the charcoal, then maybe we could work together,” she dreams. “Or if he can make enough money to come here and start a business of his own, that might allow him to spend half of the year here, and the other half in Italy.

“That would really make me happy.”

from BBC News – Visit for more photos

Limbo in Thai Dentention

Thai authorities have refused to grant refugee status to hundreds of Rohingya who arrived through human traffickers.

by Hanna Hindstrom


Roshida, a 25-year-old ethnic Rohingya woman at a shelter in Thailand. She is one of thousands of people exploited by a flourishing human trafficking network spanning Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.

PHUKET, Thailand — Roshida was languishing in a squalid displaced people’s camp in western Myanmar when an unfamiliar man offered her a job in a nearby city. Unemployed with two children, she immediately agreed. The next day, she was packed into the belly of a cargo ship anchored in the Bay of Bengal.

“That’s when I realized I had been sold,” says Roshida, a 25-year-old ethnic Rohingya who only uses one name. She hasn’t heard from either of her young children since.

She found herself in an airless room full of desperate captives, including mothers clutching infants and frightened teenagers crying for their parents. Some had been abducted, she says, while others had been promised jobs or arranged marriages in Malaysia. The boat lingered for several weeks near Rakhine state in western Myanmar, gathering about 400 people, mostly other Rohingya Muslims — a persecuted ethnic group from Myanmar — and Bangladeshis, before setting sail for Thailand. Passengers each received one cup of water and a scoop of rice daily. A Bangladeshi man who begged for water one morning was beaten to death and tossed overboard.

“When I was on the boat, I was crying. I missed my kids,” recalls Roshida, now staying at a shelter in southern Thailand. “They told me, ‘If you cry, I will beat you and throw your body into the sea.’”

She is one of thousands of people exploited by a flourishing human trafficking network that transports desperate and often unwilling Rohingyas and Bangladeshis to Malaysia through Thailand. Over 25,000 people have embarked on the perilous journey since the start of this year, with hundreds dying en route, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most new arrivals are held in transit camps in Thailand’s Ranong and Phang Nga provinces before they are stuffed into trucks heading for the border with Malaysia.

For several weeks, Roshida was confined to a collapsing bamboo hut draped in muddy tarps somewhere in the jungles of Thailand’s Songkhla province. Once there, the brokers demanded $1,600 to release her in Malaysia.

hut, trafficking camp, Phang Nga province, Thailand.

A deteriorating hut in an abandoned trafficking camp in Phang Nga province, Thailand. Hanna Hindstrom.

“I told them, ‘You lied to me! I don’t have any money.’ So they burned me with cigarettes, and they beat me,” she says, lifting her dress to reveal dark scars on her feet.

In less than a month, three people died from disease, she says, and women became the targets of verbal abuse and sexual violence.

“Smugglers would take young girls who looked attractive away into the forest nearby,” she says. ““[The girls] refused to talk about it when they came back.”

Fearing for her life, Roshida tried to escape three times. Twice she was captured by locals and returned to her traffickers. Each time she was sent back, they shackled her and beat her with wooden rods. On her third attempt, she ran into a Thai couple on a rubber plantation. They called the police.

But her ordeal didn’t end there. Instead of helping her, Thai authorities accused her of entering the country illegally and jailed her for three months. In April she was finally transferred to a shelter for women and children. Now she is anxiously waiting for news about her children back in Sittwe, Myanmar.

Monitoring groups say a growing number of boat arrivals are being trafficked, coerced or misled by unscrupulous brokers. Members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority, who are denied citizenship and heavily ostracized in the Buddhist-majority country, are easy targets. Over 140,000 people are confined to official displacement camps in Rakhine, where they are unable to travel freely or secure decent work. Nearly 10 percent of the roughly 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar are estimated to have fled since a surge in violence between Buddhists and Muslims began in 2012.

“I owned a small shop in Sittwe, but everything was burned,” says Roshida. “My husband turned to alcohol. I lost everything — my house, my business.”

Victims treated as criminals

In 2014 the U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to the lowest possible rating in its annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, citing accounts of Thai police and army officials cooperating with smuggling rings. Though the Thai government has shown little sympathy for boat people, choosing to treat new arrivals as criminals rather than victims or refugees, officials escalated their crackdown on human traffickers in May after uncovering a patchwork of mass graves scattered across southern Thailand.

Since then, Thailand has arrested about 80 people, including police officers and Interior Ministry personnel, on suspicion of complicity with human trafficking. But only one army official was among them, raising concerns that the Thai military junta — which seized power in a coup last year — is reluctant to target its brass. No one has been arrested in Phang Nga, a hub for trafficking, even though local volunteers are maintaining a 24-hour road checkpoint along a crucial transit route.

Thailand’s crackdown has had a disastrous effect on victims. Thousands of people were cast adrift in the Andaman Sea after traffickers abandoned their ships and fled into hiding. Still, Thailand has steadfastly refused to open its borders to unwanted arrivals, opting to push boats back from shore. If they make it to land, men, who constitute the majority of boat people, are held in detention centers or prisons, while women, minors and those identified as trafficking survivors are mostly housed in shelters. Until March, Rohingyas were routinely deported to Myanmar. About 500 to 700 Rohingyas are estimated to remain in Thailand.

Andaman, Rohingya

Rohingya migrants from a boat drifting in Thai waters swim to collect food dropped by a Thai army helicopter. Christophe Archambault / AFP / Getty Images

Trafficking victims have more rights than people who have been smuggled, according to Matthew Smith, the executive director at Fortify Rights, which is why “certain governments have been loath to consider these abuses in the context of trafficking.” The problem, he said, is particularly acute in Thailand, where “authorities have consistently underestimated the number of survivors of trafficking.”

Yet the Thai government insists that trafficking victims are processed in accordance with international standards. The governor of Phang Nga, Prayoon Rattanaseri, says that his province is a “role model” for victim protection and has identified over 150 trafficking survivors since last year. He blames language barriers and a dearth of Rohingya interpreters for any mistakes in registering victims.

At Roshida’s shelter, only two of the 79 people there have been classified as trafficking victims. Both are Bangladeshi. One of them is Hassan, a 22-year-old from Dhaka who was drugged and abducted in Teknaf in southern Bangladesh last year. He recently testified in Thailand’s first major case against human traffickers operating in the Andaman Sea. Unlike many other arrivals, Hassan has been able to earn a modest living working on a nearby rubber plantation.

Stuck in the middle

In late May, Thailand hosted a regional meeting to address the burgeoning boat crisis, with officials pledging to boost humanitarian access for the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). But critics say Thailand, which has not signed the U.N. refugee convention, has been reluctant to fulfill its promises. U.N. agencies still have only restricted access to Rohingya boat arrivals, many of whom are kept in cramped detention cells without access to trauma counselors, proper health care or refugee status determination.

“[Thailand] must allow UNHCR to have unconditional access to do refugee status determination interviews and recognize the results,” says Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Second, it should permit IOM to be directly involved in trafficking victim identification assessments and provide appropriate care for all those recognized as victims.”

Andaman Sea, Rohingya, Thailand

Migrants pass the supplies dropped by the helicopter to others aboard the boat, in the Andaman Sea, off southern Thailand. Christophe Archambault / AFP / Getty Images

Only a “small handful” of Rohingyas qualify for resettlement abroad, according to Vivian Tan, the UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Bangkok, and these are the most vulnerable refugees, such as unaccompanied minors and women with young children. One of them is Abdul, a 13-year-old who was abducted from his dinghy near Sittwe last November.

“If I had wings, I would fly home right now,” says Abdul, who has been stateless his entire life. He is now staying at a shelter in southern Thailand.

The United States has urged Myanmar to provide citizenship and rights to the Rohingya in order to stem the exodus. But officials have refused to budge, insisting that the Rohingyas arrived illegally from Bangladesh.

As a result, the vast majority of Rohingyas trapped in Thailand want to continue their journeys to Malaysia, fueling concerns that they will end up back in the clutches of smugglers and traffickers. Several women in Thai shelters are simply waiting in the hope that international agencies can help them join their husbands in Malaysia, with no idea of what to do if they can’t. It is not uncommon for children and women to simply vanish from shelters despite being shortlisted for resettlement in the United States.

Although Thailand’s crackdown has forced most smugglers into hiding, activists say it is only a matter of time before they return.

“The risk [of retrafficking] is certainly there,” says Tan. “We’ve been quite concerned about reports of brokers approaching women and children in shelters. When we talk to survivors in Malaysia and Indonesia, we’ve learned that people who manage to leave detention centers [in Thailand] usually end up back in the arms of smugglers.”

Roshida’s only hope is that she can reach the United States and her children can join her.

“If I head back to Rakhine, I head back to death,” she says. “There’s no point going back there.”

from Al Jazeera America (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/6/17/In-thai-detention-centers-migrants-stuck-in-limbo.html)