In today's post, Ganiat Omolara Kazeem, a research student in Critical Information Studies in the OU's School of Computing and Communications, discusses an exploratory study into the prospects of using information & communications technologies (ICT) to trace, track and enumerate victims of trafficking, and the activities of traffickers of human beings.
A year and a half ago; I was asked to complete an independent qualitative pilot project of my choice, and I homed in on an issue which has remained a common topic in discussions within my social circles as well as a source of worry at times. Over the last decade, we have seen images, stories or reports shared about people who are stripped of all freedom, subject to slavery, sexual exploitation or peonage and or transported across many borders to places unknown to them sometimes inevitably to their deaths. Those who survive these travails inevitably mention the "kind" kinsman or kinswoman who came to "help" them get to a better life. Invariably these individuals are lured from urban and rural areas by the promise of the good life, and are given dubious examples and images of people who have 'made it', wages and citizenship in foreign countries, with education and support to become successful in life often by going to work and make money in a foreign country.
The reality, of course, is that it is more common for those who accept face value stories from “agents” are vulnerable. The traffickers often target conflict zones, areas affected by climate change, internally displaced people’s camps and remote villages or deprived areas of inner cities. Some of the victims lured by the glint of foreign shores being cast as too good to miss. Once the victims are convinced, they are transported across land borders often subjected to travails along the way until they reach a destination where they are sold to other networks, subjected to peonage and often enslaved without compensation. Some of the victims are eventually rescued or acquire freedom. They end up with slim chances of integrating into the society they are in, while yet others are re-trafficked.
In general, over many years my view of undocumented or illegal migration has been unpopular with friends because I almost always hold the opinion that if you have no permission to be where you are legally, then you place yourself in line for abuse, exploitation, loss of dignity and above all the risk of a transient life. Additionally, I couldn’t see why people are so desperate to seek life abroad. I always felt if you have no legal right to be somewhere, the right place to go is home to your own country.
I always felt if you have no legal right to be somewhere, the right place to go is home to your own country.
The part of West Africa where I grew up, had a mix of developed areas, residential homes interspersed with industrialisation, winding roads and earthy red dust, monsoon rains, forests and urban jungles often dotted amidst rural areas felt dominated by opportunities and hope to me and for me. I couldn’t rationalise boarding a plastic dinghy to head for Europe with dreams of something other than what I felt was a beautiful life in a beautiful country with sunshine all year round and beaches alongside the most eclectically diverse, hardworking and determined people. The most common retort I have had regarding this view was that I was "the speaking privileged". I was urged to open my eyes to the world, and invariably I tried, but beyond warfare and natural disaster, I struggled to balance social chaos and financial need as a reason to sell all possessions and head for the sea, road or flight to a place far away for "a better life". Frankly, I still don't see how better life can be measured by trying to equate life in two different places to each other and asserting advantage based on money making or earning only and without weighing all the things that make life complete. However, the reality of life as I see it is that I cannot feel like those who live in poverty and experience disruption in their lives. Hunger and sometimes greed and failure to balance reality with objectivity as well as ignorance mean that we are in the age when humans still have a price and can be peddled and transported like cattle knowingly or unknowingly.
I realised that traffickers are very much the enemy within, with different cloaks and promises and that they were not hooded or shrouded or hidden, they operate openly and freely in what is a modern mercenary way, and life has little value to them. They collect before the journey begins and as the journey of a trafficked person continues, they care little if the trickle filter doesn't pay them more and can dismiss lives lost as "collateral" or "cannon fodder".
From my research, the complexity of these situations was highlighted. Due to poor enumeration of those trafficked and vague knowledge of actual pathways, it was difficult to know the true extent of trafficking and those trafficked in order to stop the process. The International organisation for migration and other local aid groups, for example, can only record and enumerate those they encounter and assist and not every person trafficked including women and children are discovered.
My work focussed on identifying views and perceptions with respect to the need to develop a community crowdsourced global trafficking database and information system. A system that would enable submissions by individuals who witness, have knowledge or who are victims of or currently being trafficked with images, names and video and reports and intelligence covering methods, routes and locations where this is happening with safety loops to submit, lock and erase browsing history if the reporting party happens to be interrupted.
I was inspired by, the work of Stop The Traffik who implemented a mobile application for the same purpose, supporting the IOM and other organisations with information, but convinced a more specialised web-based lightweight tool capable of quick uploads, and multi-language function would aid communities, policing and support networks locally and internationally to begin to enumerate, reduce and also prosecute or halt trafficking properly. It would also publish details of typical scams, pathways and give advise to visitors on what to do if they were witnessing or about to be trafficked.
The outcomes of my pilot study were promising with about 150 respondents from 5 continents lending a confident voice to the idea. The majority of responses came from Africa and Europe followed by Asia, North America, South and Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Almost half the respondents indicated that they would use a tool such as the Global Trafficking Database and Information system which reinforced my views that the issue is stoppable if not preventable. Most importantly I gained insights into the scope and opportunity that still exists in Africa and Asia for people to live productive and better lives without being subjected to trafficking. It all related to awareness, understanding and exemplifying risk alongside signposting support and help networks and critically stronger law enforcement in sending countries.
Invariably, I see myself as a migrant and still did after the study, I was born in Westminster, but I am very much African or well “baked in Africa"......however I came to understand that I had a cushion in my early life. In my youth, I lived in England and Africa, I did not know much of the difference economically or socially nor did I have ideas that the Western World had to be a better place supplanted in me or have the disadvantage of limited education.
Despite completing this small research project which I felt supported the continued development of a practical way to forge ahead and use ICT for good; on the other side of the coin, I often question the good and bad elements of being a descendant of migrants. Sometimes, I feel the word migrant is a wrong word used to define abuses of immigration policy, whereas, those of us who are seen as migrants bring a lot to the table. When people speak harshly, I wonder if they ever wake up in the mornings homesick and wishing for continuity of what they remember as happy times as I do yearning for the sonorous boom of the adhan calling Muslims to prayer interspersed with bells ringing as street evangelists take to the road and the thronging bustle of people in the markets haggling, heckling and bantering over goods and produce. I often wish for an extended period where I can head for the salty beach air, and white sands and alternately go for a walk just to see earthy red dust speckling my feet, a resonating reminder that I am definitely at home. In the evenings, I am selectively quick to dismiss the memories of midges, mosquitoes and power cuts in favour of the lingering smell of charcoal and wood fires, roasted corn, vegetables and beef and the delights of ‘mama put' and street food with hawkers navigating gridlocked traffic which we call "go slow" and car horns beeping.
No matter where we migrate to, the value has to be very much in not just being at home but feeling at home.
Even and yet still, despite all the horrors I hear of and see in the news and on social media, my mind thrives positively on my memories of my "privileged speaking". Africa (where most of my perspectives are rooted) has so much potential and so much to give. Too few people pay in with poor taxation infrastructure and low compliance and too many take out because of corruption and resource pillaging, robbing the majority of the population. However, no matter where we migrate to, the value has to be very much in not just being at home but feeling at home. There is much to be done in England to demystify migration and make it understandable as a positive part of development. In some cases, it includes raising awareness of the role of colonisation in shaping the way that some countries have developed and in others creating better awareness for those who are in countries outside Britain about the risks of choosing underhand routes of migration.
There are diverse reasons why migrants coexist with natives in England, and indeed many descendants of migrants are natives contributing to the economy, with strong ties and input into communities. Most migrants who coexist this way are products of colonialism and the Commonwealth, going back to a time when all the income from resources and labour in these countries were remitted to the British empire with token compensation while in recent times more avail themselves to highly skilled migration schemes. The diversity through migration schemes, efforts to aid victims of disaster create opportunities for more diversity, sadly trafficking too has a hand in it. One is less ugly than the others, and this is where all who are migrants or descendants thereof must take our strides with pride and continue to do our bit to keep enlightening others.