HU­MAN TRAF­FICK­ING!

WILL VIC­TIMS BE STARVED INTO SUB­MIS­SION?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

The World Bank es­ti­mates that as many Saint Lu­cians live and work in the United States as do in the land that gave us birth. Other sources not nec­es­sar­ily as well in­formed claim at least half the num­ber are in the U.S. il­le­gally.

Canada fi­nally was left lit­tle choice af­ter years of abuses but to slap visa re­quire­ments on the thou­sands of us who an­nu­ally vis­ited rel­a­tives in Toronto with no re­turn plans. As for the UK, our once upon a time Mother Coun­try con­tin­ues to pro­vide for thou­sands of us, whether we came to them as pre­tend va­ca­tion­ers then de­cided we pre­ferred the cold and damp bet­ter than the sun­shine of “sim­ply beau­ti­ful” Saint Lu­cia.

Our own half-English prime min­is­ter, when he ad­dressed the 16th bi­en­nial con­ven­tion of the Union of Saint Lu­cians living over­seas, es­ti­mated that the UK is home to at least 40,000 of our peo­ple. Imag­ine the con­se­quences, then, if the above-named coun­tries should abruptly de­cide no longer to tol­er­ate our some­times trou­ble­some pres­ence.

You’d imag­ine in our cir­cum­stances (no need to men­tion our con­ve­nient slave his­tory!) that we’d be a tad less in­tol­er­ant of strangers. Alas the ev­i­dence speaks loudly against us. We re­sent with fright­en­ing pas­sion the pres­ence among us of brethren from our sis­ter states. Openly we spew racist ep­i­thets at any­one whose skin is a shade lighter than ours, whether they are here to as­sist us at our gov­ern­ment’s in­vi­ta­tion, and de­spite our end­less re­liance on the gen­eros­ity of strangers.

As if fur­ther to ex­pose the crap at our core, we per­sis­tently blame on oth­ers the hor­rors of the bot­tom­less pit we dug for our­selves de­spite dire warn­ings from the hands that once fed our un­grate­ful mouths. An­other fa­vorite tar­get for our venom: those who find them­selves, of­ten through no fault of their own, drown­ing with us in the bog that is a con­se­quence of our sui­ci­dal in­do­lence, our gold-painted in­com­pe­tence, our en­dur­ing be­lief in voodoo, and yes, our propen­sity for leav­ing to oth­ers what we know we should be do­ing for our­selves.

Lately we’ve taken to blam­ing God—for our re­tal­i­at­ing rivers af­ter years of be­ing choked by our filth; for the pre­dictable con­se­quences of our hypocrisy; for the prices we pay for do­ing unto oth­ers what they never dreamed of do­ing to us!

Sev­eral weeks ago a new tar­get crash-landed on the Rock of Sages: some 70 young peo­ple from var­i­ous parts of In­dia, the Philip­pines and Nepal. Long had they dreamed of mak­ing their way to the States, still con­sid­ered “God’s coun­try” even by those who be­lieve not in the ex­is­tence of God. The young peo­ple had never known one an­other un­til their first chance en­counter in the tran­sit lounge of a Ger­man air­port where they dis­cov­ered they were all booked on the same air­liner, en route to the same des­ti­na­tion.

They dis­cov­ered, too, they had all en­rolled at the same school: Lam­birds Academy, lo­cated at “Dauphin Street, Gross Islet [sic], Saint Lu­cia, North Amer­ica.” There they would un­der­take var­i­ous stud­ies for one to two years, be­fore trans­fer­ring to “Lam­birds USA” where awaited their dream life. In the in­terim, their lo­cal hosts had promised them in writ­ing tem­po­rary jobs and in­tern­ships.

The vis­i­tors had no trou­ble what­so­ever en­ter­ing Saint Lu­cia via He­wanorra Air­port. Their pa­pers were scru­ti­nized and ev­i­dently de­clared in or­der. Their visas were ap­pro­pri­ately stamped, just as their hosts had promised they would be. No one ques­tioned how the stu­dents planned to sup­port them­selves dur­ing their stay. Pre­sum­ably, the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials were sat­is­fied with all they read in the sev­eral let­ters signed by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Lam­birds Academy.

What fol­lowed once the stu­dents had been chauf­feured from the air­port was a night­mare, re­vealed in last week­end’s STAR—a nau­se­at­ing ac­count of of­fi­cial in­com­pe­tence at the high­est lev­els. The academy’s CEO and four or five ac­com­plices now face sev­eral charges in­clud­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing, fraud and money laun­der­ing. It has been an­nounced by the gov­ern­ment that an of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way, led by the com­merce min­is­ter—be­sides that be­ing con­ducted by the po­lice on a much wider scale and with the re­luc­tant co­op­er­a­tion of in­volved gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

Re­mark­ably, it was on the com­merce min­istry’s rec­om­men­da­tion that the pres­i­dent and CEO of Lam­birds Academy, a Bangladesh na­tive named If­fekhar Shams, was is­sued doc­u­ments that had fa­cil­i­tated his pres­ence in Saint Lu­cia last April, first as a par­tic­i­pant in a gov­ern­mentspon­sored in­vestors fo­rum, and later as the res­i­dent brains be­hind Lam­birds Academy and as a restau­ra­teur.

Lam­birds was re­cently de­clared il­le­gal and shut down by the same agency that had given its own­ers the green light sev­eral months ear­lier: the min­istry of labour and ed­u­ca­tion, headed by math whiz Robert Lewis. It has also emerged that Shams did not have a teacher’s per­mit. This week the po­lice re­port­edly laid sev­eral more charges against Shams and his as­so­ciates.

Re­li­able sources tell me the Bri­tish, French and Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties have also taken an in­ter­est in the case.

Last Satur­day the broke, frus­trated and des­per­ate young stu­dents were vis­ited at the Bois d’Or­ange Pas­toral Cen­ter by the Home Af­fairs per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, a gov­ern­ment lawyer and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Migration. By all ac­counts, their main pur­pose was to per­suade the stranded stu­dents to sign a doc­u­ment headed: “Dec­la­ra­tion of Vol­un­tari­ness.”

The Geneva-based IOM is an in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion. It was ini­tially es­tab­lished in 1951 as the In­ter-gov­ern­men­tal Com­mit­tee for Euro­pean Migration “to help re­set­tle peo­ple dis­placed by World War ll.” As of De­cem­ber 2013 the IOM com­prised 155 mem­ber states and 11 ob­server states.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­ver­tises it­self as “ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing hu­mane and or­derly migration for the ben­e­fit of all.” It does so “by pro­vid­ing ser­vices and ad­vice to gov­ern­ments and mi­grants.”

The dec­la­ra­tion form that the un­rep­re­sented vic­tims of al­leged hu­man traf­fick­ing were in­vited to sign on Satur­day (and not for the first time) con­tained no head­quar­ters ad­dress, no ref­er­ence sources, no phone num­bers, only the fol­low­ing: “I the un­der­signed un­der­stand that the IOM pro­gram will as­sist me to re­turn home . . . I con­firm I wish to re­main in my home coun­try af­ter my re­turn . . . In the event of per­sonal in­jury or

death dur­ing and/or par­tic­i­pa­tion in the IOM pro­gram, nei­ther the IOM nor any other par­tic­i­pat­ing agency or gov­ern­ment can in any way be held li­able or re­spon­si­ble.”

None of the vis­i­tors cared to ad­dress the pro­vi­sions of the Counter-Traf­fick­ing Act, among them: “The min­is­ter in con­junc­tion with other rel­e­vant min­istries shall de­velop a plan in con­sul­ta­tion with non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and other rep­re­sen­ta­tives of civil so­ci­ety, for the pro­vi­sion of ap­pro­pri­ate ser­vices . . . for vic­tims of traf­fick­ing.”

The act also pro­vides for “ap­pro­pri­ate hous­ing, tak­ing into ac­count the per­son’s sta­tus as a vic­tim of crime, and in­clud­ing safe con­di­tions for sleep­ing, food and per­sonal hy­giene; psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing; med­i­cal and legal as­sis­tance.”

More­over: “Vic­tims of traf­fick­ing may be el­i­gi­ble to work and to re­ceive proof of work au­tho­riza­tion.”

This week two of the stu­dents who had been promised tem­po­rary em­ploy­ment by em­pa­thetic cit­i­zens were de­nied let­ters of au­tho­riza­tion by the labour depart­ment. Mean­while they have split into three groups, two housed at dif­fer­ent ad­dresses in Gros Islet, the other at the Bois d’Or­ange Pas­toral Cen­ter.

We are re­li­ably in­formed that the food and other essen­tials af­forded the Cen­ter’s stu­dents con­tinue to be sup­plied by gen­er­ous Saint Lu­cians, not by the gov­ern­ment as the Home Af­fairs PS adamantly claimed last Satur­day.

On Wed­nes­day, some of the stu­dents at Gros Islet were di­rected by phone to find new ac­com­mo­da­tion by the fol­low­ing day, or risk evic­tion. The manager of the estab­lish­ment that has housed them for sev­eral weeks free of charge de­nied mak­ing the call but was un­able to say whether it came from a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the estab­lish­ment’s off-is­land owner.

The pan­icked stu­dents, none older than 25, have re­ceived no di­rect word from the au­thor­i­ties about their im­me­di­ate fu­ture, de­spite the re­quire­ments of the Counter-Traf­fick­ing Act. Some of the young women, at least two with pe­cu­liarly fe­male prob­lems, have been re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal as­sis­tance, paid for by con­cerned cit­i­zens who wish not to be iden­ti­fied.

The grow­ing sus­pi­cion is that the au­thor­i­ties are bent on mak­ing life in Saint Lu­cia in­tol­er­a­ble for the stu­dents, de­spite that they are vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ers that un­til re­cently were fa­cil­i­tated at ev­ery turn by the gov­ern­ment; de­spite that their tes­ti­mony will be re­quired when fi­nally the gov­ern­ment’s hu­man-traf­fick­ing and other charges come be­fore the court.

No sur­prise that the op­po­si­tion party re­mains as tight-lipped on the Lam­birds Academy con­tro­versy as it’s been on sev­eral other press­ing mat­ters of public in­ter­est—the Gryn­berg case and IMPACS among them.

On Mon­day evening lawyers for Dr. Shams told Choice-TV re­porters their client’s rights were be­ing vi­o­lated: he was not in good health and there­fore should not be held at Borde­lais where ap­pro­pri­ate health­care ser­vices are not avail­able. The is­sue of bail has so far not been men­tioned.

On the other hand the stu­dents re­main with­out legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. And while some of us with dye in our eyes may seek to blame them for their present predica­ment, they are re­ceiv­ing in­creas­ing sup­port from sev­eral lo­cal quar­ters, al­beit anony­mously. Maybe we’re not so bad af­ter all. Per­haps I’ve been mis­led by what ap­pears in­creas­ingly to be just an­other case of empty ves­sels do­ing what they do best!

Some of the stranded stu­dents talk­ing with the home af­fairs per­ma­nent sec­re­tary (yel­low shirt) in the grounds of the Pas­toral Cen­ter last Satur­day morn­ing. Look­ing on (right) Rick Wayne. (Photo by Dani­cius Philippe)

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