Don’t forget trafficking victims amid pandemic, congressman cautions

Traffic
Credit: Unsplash.

– While much of the world’s intelligence forces are focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking victims are at risk of being overlooked, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told a European security organization this week.

“Traffickers are not shut down—they haven’t gone on a holiday,” Smith warned in an April 27 webinar speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE-PA).

“Victims still need to be rescued. Survivors still need assistance. Vulnerable people likely will be made even more vulnerable by both the virus and the economic impact of the response to it,” Smith said.

“And as a result, when things start to open back up, traffickers may have an easier time finding, deceiving, coercing and exploiting victims.”

The New Jersey congressman is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues. He has authored numerous U.S. laws to fight human trafficking.

In his remarks, Smith stressed that the plight of trafficking victims may be worsened by coronavirus lockdowns.

“Victims may be quarantined with their traffickers, and, as a result of quarantine and social distancing practices, are now less likely to come into contact with people who might assist or rescue them,” he said.

In addition, police forces are turning their attention to keeping order and offering assistance to medical personnel amid the ongoing pandemic, meaning that trafficking victims may go unnoticed, he said.

Meanwhile, shelters are decreasing the number of people they can safely house with social distancing measures in place, and job loss from the pandemic has been widespread, both factors that can leave those who have escaped human trafficking vulnerable, he said.

Smith also pointed to indications that there has been an increased demand for online pornography, which is closely aligned with sex trafficking.

“Sex buyers are quarantined like everyone else and may be turning to online venues,” he said. “Sites are hosting videos of trafficking victims, sexual abuse of children, and rape. There are reports from anti-trafficking groups that webcam sex trafficking is increasing.”

To respond to these worrying trends, lawmakers should work to consider how technology is aiding traffickers, Smith said.

He pointed to the use of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, by traffickers to avoid discovery. Smith said he is looking into ways that law enforcement may be able to better investigate and prosecute the use of these currencies.

The congressman also warned that an increase in online classroom instruction could leave children vulnerable to sexual predators. He called for renewed efforts to teach students and instructors ways to identify and avoid human trafficking and exploitation.

“NGOs, including the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, A21 Campaign, Just Ask, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and others already have developed age-appropriate school courses to educate students on how to avoid trafficking traps, and to educate teachers on how to identify and help students who may be trapped in labor or sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation,” he said. “Now is the time to take advantage of such programs, many of which can be conducted online.”

With public health experts saying the coronavirus crisis will continue over the coming months, Smith stressed the need to ensure that victims of sexual and labor exploitations do not fall through the cracks.

“[W]e must prioritize the fight against human trafficking, even during this crisis,” he said.

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/dont-forget-trafficking-victims-amid-pandemic-congressman-cautions-18698

Nigeria’s tech experts step in to help those losing livelihoods under lockdown

Screenshot_2020-04-30 Nigeria's tech experts step in to support jobless during pandemic
Emmanuel Onyeahiolam, 30, a contractor, who is one of the beneficiaries of the We Are Together crowdfunding site speaks to Reuters during an interview in his home amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lagos, Nigeria April 23, 2020. Picture taken April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

LAGOS,(Reuters) – Tech startup founder Ebun Okubanjo watched with dismay as his home city of Lagos entered a coronavirus-containment lockdown, knowing well that millions of Nigerians on the margins could be left with nothing.

So he and his team used their expertise to create a crowdfunding site, “We Are Together”, to distribute cash to those in difficulty who apply for help.

Others in Nigeria’s flourishing tech sector have also put their skills to use to help cushion the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

“The reality is to tell people to stay home, and not work .. you have to give them something,” Okubanjo told Reuters.

Africa’s informal sector accounts for more than 85% of employment across the continent and has been largely bypassed by limited support measures from cash-strapped governments.

An African Union study warned that the pandemic puts some 20 million jobs at risk in Africa, with the continent’s economies projected to shrink this year.

While Nigeria said the lockdowns will begin to gradually ease from May 4, it is not yet clear who will be able to go back to work, and the economic impact will be lasting.

Okubajo said his site, and others like it, are effectively a DIY economic stimulus, allowing those with cash to prevent people from falling into destitution.

Emmanuel Onyeahiolam, 30, an electrical equipment contractor, got 10,000 naira ($27.78) from We Are Together.

He said he was abruptly unable to work when Lagos locked down, and his last client was not able to pay him immediately.

“It’s not too convenient for me to stay for a long time without working,” he said, adding that food costs had gone up fivefold. “It’s just scary.”

We Are Together raised more than 17 million naira ($47,222) and distributed it to 1,739 recipients.

Justin Irabor, a tech worker with Nigerian startup Eden Life Inc, founded “Angels Among Us” with a team of volunteer software engineers. The site matches donors directly with recipients, and has enabled more than 2 million naira in donations.

Both platforms are primarily online – a fact that puts them out of reach to the poorest Nigerians.

Both sites must also to an extent take applicants at their word, although Angels Among Us tries to vet its recipients and volunteers call to verify their stories. The site tries to use bank-issued biometric identification numbers to prevent graft.

We Are Together uses location technology to ensure that recipients are in the parts of the country under federally mandated lockdown, and not in wealthy parts of those states.

Okubanjo conceded the system is not perfect – and that some who do not need cash could get it. But it is a risk worth taking.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200430091923-4vulw/

Seminarian in Spain returns to roots as doctor amid pandemic

Doctor
Credit: Spotmatik Ltd/Shutterstock.

– While most of the students at the San Fulgencia Seminary in Cartagena, Spain, returned home when the country declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, one seminarian felt a different calling.

With a background in medicine, first-year seminarian Abraham Martínez Moratón asked permission of the rector at his seminary to go back to work as a doctor to help treat COVID-19 patients in the regional healthcare system.

With permission granted, Martínez got in contact with his former employers at Queen Sofía Hospital. He began working March 16 at a facility in Monteagudo.

Martínez shared his experience in an article posted on the Diocese of Cartagena’s website.

“It was a blessing to go to work everyday and going down the Alicante highway to catch sight of the statue of Christ atop Monteagudo mountain. It was a huge gift to meet all the staff, we worked together as a team very well,” he said.

Martínez spent several weeks in Monteagudo and then was transferred to a facility in the Carmen neighborhood in Murcia.

There he was reunited with some of his former colleagues, who were surprised to see him again. “When they saw me they said, ‘This is a mirage, weren’t you in the seminary?’”

Martínez always felt his vocation in life was to help others, and from a young age he wanted to be a doctor. He said that returning to medicine has made him more aware of “growing in holiness day by day, seeing the face of Christ in the patients and praying more for them.”

Martínez said that the experience has reinforced his vocation.

“I want to be a disciple of Jesus, who is the physician of bodies and souls,” he reflected.

“I used to say to God: If I’m already helping you through medicine, why add on more things? But it’s also true that I always told him and I continue to tell him, whatever he wants for me.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/seminarian-in-spain-returns-to-roots-as-doctor-amid-pandemic-61538

Mandela’s granddaughter Ndileka uses social media during lockdown to help abused women

Screenshot_2020-04-23 Mandela's granddaughter uses social media to help abused women
Ndileka Mandela speaking at her book launch in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 2019. George Elize/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation

JOHANNESBURG, – Ndileka Mandela was at her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, just before the start of a national lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, when she got the call.

A container filled with 10,000 sanitary pads for rural South African girls would not be able to leave Geneva due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a donor told her.

“My heart was so sore. These girls are stuck at home, there is no income to buy food let alone sanitary pads. Their dignity and their health are at stake,” she said in a phone interview.

Ndileka, 55, Nelson Mandela’s oldest grandchild, has committed her life’s work to tackling the challenges South African women face – mainly violence and period poverty – and fears the coronavirus pandemic will heighten inequalities.

Since the lockdown started on March 27 she has been using social media to communicate with women stuck indoors with abusers, to let them know they are not alone, and to encourage them to call police hotlines for help.

A few days into South Africa’s lockdown, local media reported that a 14-year-old was raped and murdered in Soweto township in Johannesburg with her body so badly brutalised that her family could only identify her by her clothes and birthmark.

“What makes men like this?” asked Ndileka.

Ndileka’s own experience of surviving a rape in 2012 further catapulted her towards advocating for women’s rights.

“I wanted to show people that even your partner can rape you,” said Ndileka, who shared her story about being raped in her own bed on Facebook in 2017 as part of the #MeToo movement and was messaged by hundreds of women sharing similar stories.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200423110334-of0jz/

 

Farming Families Search for Land

Brazil-farm
Sr. Maria Vagner Souza Silva teaches Biblical Studies in the community of Sâo Joâo Batista in Anapu.

By Sisters Jane Dwyer and Kathryne Webster, SNDdeN

We, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN), follow and walk with the people in Anapu, Brazil. From 1982 until 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang was herself the Pastoral Land Commission in Anapu. Since her brutal murder, we have been coordinating this work. We accompany farming families as they search for land, respect nature, improve their production and life and their own organization. The right and responsibility to initiate belong to the people with whom we journey.

Since 2005, we have created the Committee in Defense of Anapu (CDA). For the last fifteen years, we have met with this Committee for the entire day on one Saturday each month, to address issues pertaining to the farming families, their needs, problems and threats. The people share their difficulties, reflect together on the causes, make collective and group decisions to change attitudes. Opening each meeting, our SNDdeN role is to provide an initial reflection; we call it a mística. This ecumenical experience helps the people to deepen their values and motivation for sustaining them on this journey.

Workshops in 2020

During 2020, we intend to offer practical workshops, requested by the families, on various ways of planting and cloning cacau in the forest, preparing and planting crops without burning, land homeopathy, the extraction of oils and essences from the forest, economic organization of the rural family, and other activities depending on the year’s
journey. We offer Biblical studies, continually providing spiritual resources for motivation on the journey. We aim to decentralize these workshops by offering them in various sectors of the municipality. There are more than 100 communities and conflict areas in Anapu.

Land Conflict and Organization of People

The land in Anapu is all public and destined for Agrarian Reform. We do not encourage people to occupy new lands but to take back lands that have been usurped, bought and sold illegally. The people work together within the judicial system with the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA). After Sister Dorothy’s assassination, the creation of the defense committee, the CDA, helped families with land conflicts, to settle and win in court. The people occupy the usurped lands or organize groups with clear objectives. This organizing does create a lot of tension, violence and imprisonment in Anapu. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) defends families against slaughter, murder and violence. At first, the people needed help with everything, from typing letters, reports, petitions to discovering where to get required help. Today they take the responsibility for organizing themselves, finding the information for their defense, approaching INCRA, and all for public defense.

SNDdeN Presence and Ministry

We continue formation and follow-up through workshops, visits, and seeking financial assistance and defense in the face of threats to life, murders and the constant presence of gun and militias. Since 2015, 19 people in Anapu have been brutally murdered, with three killed in 2019, over land conflicts. Several individuals and many families have fled from Anapu, to escape being murdered. People face the threat of gunmen who have murdered companions and family members and intend to kill others. Farm families and their organization have not yet been able to achieve their goal. Our journey with them in Anapu and the wider Brazilian community becomes clearer to us with time. Our Notre Dame de Namur presence in Anapu is more to inform, influence and open channels against isolation from the outside world.

 

 

 

Good Works March 2020: https://www.sndden.org/who-we-are/good-works-international-magazine/

Kenya faces new health risk as floods, mudslide displace thousands

NAIROBI, KENYA — Catholic leaders in Kenya are appealing for humanitarian support in regions where landslides and floods have displaced thousands, as the country battles increasing cases of the coronavirus.

Church sources said the disasters had left a trail of death and destruction in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya regions, while introducing a new twist in the COVID-19 fight.

At least 4,000 have been displaced in the West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties in the Rift Valley in mudslides that have also killed 12 people. In Nyando, part of Kisumu County, an estimated 1,600 people are trapped in villages by floods, according to the sources.

“The parish center, a convent and nearby school are now submerged in water following days of heavy rainfall. The parish priest and nuns had to be evacuated, but the people are still trapped in their homes. They are crying for help. With a canoe, we can evacuate them to safer zones,” Fr. Joachim Omollo, an Apostle of Jesus priest in Kisumu Archdiocese, told Catholic News Service.

“I think all the attention is on COVID-19, but these people need emergency aid. If we don’t act quickly, waterborne disease will soon strike, adding to the burden when the health systems are on the alert over COVID-19,” he said.

The mudslides swept away a main market, a school, a police post and villages. With their homes and houses destroyed, the displaced families have camped in schools and other places on safer grounds.

The government, the Red Cross and churches — including the Catholic Church — have moved to provide some relief, including some food and clothes. County governments are promising to help the displaced people fight COVID-19 by providing water, soap and encouraging social distancing.

Before the landslide, the communities had been observing church and government COVID-19 guidelines, but concerns have emerged that these measures may be difficult to keep, leaving the people exposed to the disease in the new camps.

“We have been discouraging the people from congregating in one place due to the current situation in the country (COVID-19). Many of them have since moved in with relatives,” said Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Eldoret. “We are also there, providing relief to the displaced persons.”

The East African nation’s Catholic bishops and clergy have been urging the people to observe the government’s guidelines. By April 23, Kenya confirmed 320 cases of COVID-19, but the numbers were increasing daily.

 

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/kenya-faces-new-health-risk-floods-mudslide-displace-thousands

Advocates call attention to pandemic’s wrath on ‘essential’ farmworkers

Farm
Migrant workers clean fields near Salinas, California, March 30. (CNS/Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

WASHINGTON — As those working from home escalated their complaints or jokes on Twitter about Zoom meetings, the United Farm Workers of America offered a reality check March 20 in the form of tweet: “You can’t pick strawberries remotely.”

“The people who put food on our table do not get to telecommute,” the labor organization said in a mid-March statement calling attention to the plight of the country’s more than 2 million farmworkers.

There may be toilet paper shortages in U.S. supermarkets, but the country’s supply of fruit and vegetables and other staples such as meats and dairy produced by the labor of farmworkers — many of them migrants — remains steady thanks to those essential workers. Yet many of them toil without basic protections, their supporters say.

Even while facing lack of access to adequate health care or wages and immigration woes stemming from the H-2A visa program that allows some of them to work legally in the U.S., the largely unseen workers have kept, until now, the country’s food supply moving.

“The irony is that (now) they’re saying they are essential. They’ve always been essential,” said Carlos Marentes, founder and director of the Border Agricultural Workers Center in El Paso, Texas, in an April 14 interview with Catholic News Service.

They’re considered so essential that on April 15, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a temporary easing of immigration regulations to allow businesses to employ them faster and for longer periods of time than before — an unusual move for an administration that has sought to curtail immigration.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the temporary changes would help U.S. farmers who employ foreign farmworkers “avoid disruptions” in employment and “protect the nation’s food supply chain.”

No matter how important they are to the nation, however, there’s always been a “historical abandonment” of farmworkers, Marentes said, and this is a time to go beyond “sentimental blackmail” — offering praise for what farmworkers do, without also calling for protection for their rights.

Even though they’re considered essential workers, a looming threat some farmworkers are facing are efforts to lower their salaries at this critical time. Last year, the Trump administration proposed changes in how wages are calculated for those who use the H-2A visa program, essentially lowering their pay.

The H-2A program is a guest worker program, which allows agricultural employers to bring workers from other countries — primarily Mexico — to the U.S. to work on their farms, said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The workers who produce our food are essential workers (roughly 2.5 million agricultural laborers total), and they have been declared so. Yet there are announcements from the White House about reducing the wages of guest workers,” she said in an April 14 email to CNS. “This is unjust to further exploit a population that is working to put food on people’s tables at this time.”

And many of them are scared, said Marentes.

As cities around the country — and the businesses that propelled them — began closing down abruptly in mid-March, farmworkers were told to continue toiling because they were important to keep the country moving. But because of stricter measures taken at border towns such as El Paso, Texas, those who worked in the U.S. but lived in Mexico could no longer cross at entry points as they had before to be with their families after their work shifts were over, Marentes said.

Organizations that work with the farmworker population, such as the Border Agricultural Worker Center, began mobilizing, writing letters for the farmworkers so they could carry documents with them saying who they were, where they worked, in case immigration or other authorities scrutinized them on their way to work, Marentes said. Community groups, like Marentes’ organization, also scrambled to secure some form of shelter and a place for them to bathe, find face masks and gloves, and give them a quick lesson on how to keep safe in the middle of a pandemic.

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/advocates-call-attention-pandemics-wrath-essential-farmworkers