April 2016

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Food blogger Melissa Bailey (Hungry Food Love) grew up in the Dominican Republic, and returned to her homeland last week with the World Vision Bloggers!

Take a tour of eight stories she experienced that nourished her soul, and the top five things she learned about World Vision.

Visiting the Dominican Republic, where I am currently writing from, has always been a big deal. I was born and raised in this beautiful country, and even though I no longer live here, this will always be my home. When I plan a trip back, I spend every minute daydreaming about what I will get to do, see, and try during my stay.


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A new post live from the Dominican Republic! Every unique version of poverty requires it’s own custom solution. See how the programs we’re visiting in the DR are doing just that!

And meet a young doctor who’s demonstrating that communities can be stronger when they work together.

I’m writing from the Dominican Republic where I’m traveling right now with a group of our wonderful and amazing bloggers (meet them below!). As I always am, I’m amazed by the immersive, colorful experience of a new country, a new culture, a new people.


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Blogger Leanette Fernandez will be joining us as our World Vision Bloggers depart for the Dominican Republic on Sunday to see firsthand how World Vision communities are working together to be greater than poverty!

Read about why Leanette is excited for this trip … and the amazing people we’re planning to meet there.

When I began blogging 6 years ago, one of my main goals for doing so was to help people. Anytime I am able to partner with an organization, in this case World Vision, to help others, I am filled with joy! That pretty much explains why I am smiling as I type this post.


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By guest bloggers Hannah Kooy & Sanne Terlingen,* OneWorld.nl

This blog is part of a series based on the original, investigative research of the authors.  Their full report can be found here. The second part of this series will be published soon.

One hundred thousand a year. That’s the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) estimated number of migrants travelling through Djibouti to reach the Middle East. This number should be cause for concern, as the United States’ 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) notes, “En route and on arrival, migrants and refugees are especially vulnerable to being trafficked.”  

In the case of Djibouti, most migrants and refugees come from neighbouring countries: Ethiopia and Somalia. Some of them travel onwards immediately, some of them stay in Djibouti City– undocumented – to earn money to pay their smuggler before they can continue their journey.

Despite Djibouti’s small size, it’s central location on the Horn of Africa makes it a crucial transit point for several migration flows in the region, also making it a high-risk country for human trafficking.

But there is more which fuels the degree of human trafficking in Djibouti, in particular sex trafficking: the busy trucking corridor towards Ethiopia and the presence of thousands of foreign soldiers.

Foreign Military Bases

For the American military, Djibouti is the main logistical hub in Africa for the War on Terror. Camp Lemonnier is their only permanent military base on the continent. Most drones used in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in Yemen take off from Djibouti. Other militaries have settled in Djibouti to train their armies in the harsh desert climate (the French Foreign Legion) or to use its ports as a base for operations against the Somali pirates who terrorize the world’s busiest shipping route along the Gulf of Aden. Even China has recently started building their first African military base, to Washington’s displeasure.

Mass Surveillance vs. Blind Spot

Despite the substantial Western military presence, and the clear risks of human trafficking, there have been no publications about this issue in the English-language media. Which is peculiar: since the country is about the size of New Jersey, with less than a million inhabitants. Are 100.000 migrants transiting unnoticed? On top of that Djibouti is known for its relative political stability, but also for its lack of political freedom and strong surveillance of the population by the, you might say dictatorial, government.

As one U.S. embassy official proclaims in a cable published by Wikileaks, ‘Djibouti is less a country than a commercial city state controlled by one man, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh.’ From other Wikileaks cables we learn that Washington is well-informed about what goes on in Djibouti. The American government work in close cooperation with the Djiboutian intelligence services, who are lavishly praised by one U.S. official, “They have demonstrated the capability to deter terrorism and have been successful in intercepting and turning over suspected terrorists to U.S. authorities. […] Yes, the National Security Service has been extremely cooperative with Embassy requests; what they lack in experience they make up for in cooperation. The Embassy enjoys a strong relationship.”

Sex industry

In October 2015 when we paid the country a visit, we discovered that the scale on which human trafficking occurs in Djibouti should not be underestimated. Next to the trafficking along the migration route towards the Arabian Peninsula, it turned out a bustling nightlife had developed in Djibouti City. A nightlife in which undocumented Somali and Ethiopian women and girls perform sex work on a grand scale to cater to the needs of an ever-growing international party scene. Some international visitors even refer to Djibouti as the “Las Vegas of Africa.” A big part of the reason why this sex industry arose is the strong presence of foreign militaries. The 2014 TIP Report also acknowledges “[m]embers of foreign militaries stationed in Djibouti contribute to the demand for women and girls in prostitution, including possible trafficking victims.”  American law classifies all minors engaged in commercial sex as victims of trafficking, and many adult women live in conditions that make them vulnerable to trafficking as well.

Girls disappear from the camps

We discovered where the girls in the nightclubs come from during a visit to the U.N. refugee camp Ali Addeh. In addition to migrants, there are 21,000 registered refugees in Djibouti, of which the lion’s share lives in the Ali Addeh camp. The prospects here are bleak. There aren’t sufficient means to properly feed and house, let alone educate, the inhabitants. In a conversation with a group of women we learned that most minors leave the camp after the age of 15. Most girls look for work as a maid in the capital, which is hard to find – even for local girls –  as Djibouti has an unemployment rate of about 60 percent. This combination of desperation and the lack of other options leads some of them, voluntarily or involuntarily, to the one occupation which is in demand: sex work.

Like Thailand and the Philippines

The emergence of a sex industry close to a military base is not a first. As professor David Vine describes in his book Base Nation. How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, it is common for commercial sex zones to appear in the vicinity of American military bases worldwide. For instance, according to Vine, the Vietnam War contributed to the transformation of the Thai resort of Pattaya into “one of the world’s largest red light districts.” Pattaya was a favorite destination for spending time meant for R&R [rest and recreation], “or, as some called it, I&I – intoxication and intercourse.” As Vine notes, “Even during the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been multiple reports of brothels and sex trafficking involving U.S. troops and contractors.”

The fact that the sprouting up of sex zones near military bases is an almost common phenomenon does not make it any less abominable. According to American legal standards, which form the basis for ranking in the TIP report, the Somali and Ethiopian minors in the sex industry in the clubs of Djibouti City are victims of human trafficking. As reported by the children’s charity organization Humanium, “In 2009 there were 2,430 arrests made because of sex work. 408 among them were between 10 and 17 years old.”

All of this occurs in a context where prostitution is against the law in Djibouti, and the act of patronizing a prostitute violates U.S. military law. As Vine rightly observes, “Given the prevalence of sex trafficking in the industry, troops also violate national and international prohibitions on supporting human trafficking. Unlike the Las Vegas fantasy, what goes on in the camptowns doesn’t stay in the camptowns.”

*Sanne Terlingen and Hannah Kooy are investigative journalists working for OneWorld in the Netherlands. In December 2015 they published a longread article on human trafficking in Djibouti, which you can read here. They are currently working on a follow-up publication. Feel free to contact them via sanneterlingen@oneworld.nl and hannahkooy@oneworld.nl.

Photo Credit: Sanne Terlingen

The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC.

About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.


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A native mother in Peru, Mariana deals with poverty and hunger as she works to provide for her daughter. “I will carry my daughter, always.”

See how our partnership with Gifts With a Cause helps mothers like Mariana and what is giving her a chance to prosper!

More than 50 percent of Peruvians live in poverty. Mothers in Peru spend their time directing and performing household duties. This hinders them from working and earning a sustainable income.


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When you look around our world and see children cold and suffering in poverty, do you wonder, “What can I do?”

Author Debbie Macomber does. See how she’s bringing knitters together to make a tangible difference to help keep children warm!

Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of charity knitting organizations and projects. I’ve found that knitters are by nature generous and we often look for ways to give back and help others. We have been blessed to live in a country that is filled with abundance. When I look around at the needs in this world it can be overwhelming—babies born in poverty, children suffering in the cold. I found myself asking, “What can I do?”


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Note: This blog was originally published on the Allegra Laboratory website. You can find the original post here.

By Rebecca Galemba, PhD, Faculty Fellow

Since 2012, Mexico has stepped up efforts to combat human trafficking. In practice, trafficking and human smuggling are often conflated by officials and law enforcement. It is commonly acknowledged that undocumented migrants may be vulnerable to human trafficking due to Mexico’s context of heightened insecurity and the proliferation of violent drug and criminal groups. Yet the trafficking narrative may also obscure, and uphold, the criminalization of mobility that underpins insecure migration and trafficking. Over-focusing on parsing out smuggling from trafficking risks legitimizing categories of worthy and unworthy “victims” while leaving unquestioned the conditions that prompt people to move, the demand for low-wage labor in the global north, and a global system that grants and guards unequal rights to mobility.

In the spring of 2007, when I was driving with Ramón (all names have been changed), a Mexican man who lives along an unmonitored road that crosses the Mexico-Guatemala border, we passed one of the newer, two-story homes. I commented that the house had its outdoor lights on all day. Ramón shrugged. “He won’t care. He’s rich”, he said. “He doesn’t care about the lights”. Ramón told me that the owner – Gerardo – used to be a pollero, or a human smuggler, who brought many people to the United States. But he stopped, according to Ramón, when “things became more complicated” and Mexico intensified immigration surveillance in the mid-2000s.

Other border residents also whispered that Gerardo used to be a pollero or coyote, another term used to refer to migrant smugglers. The whispers were usually followed by an assertion that he was no longer a smuggler. Now he just raised cattle. Prior to the late 1990s and early 2000s, many border residents provided Central Americans with rides into Mexico with little fanfare.

Mexico’s intensification of border policing and concerted securitisation of migration can be traced to the US-backed Plan Sur in 2001 to support US security concerns. The escalation of the drug war in Mexico in 2006, and Mexico’s implementation of the Southern Border Plan in 2014 in response to Washington’s outcries of a “surge” on the border in 2014, further intensified migrant policing.

Mexico has concentrated border surveillance on select, modernised border points of entry, as well as on ad hoc highway roadblocks to establish ‘belts of control’. However, migrant desperation, continued demand for cheap labour in the United States, and widespread official corruption and impunity has meant that heightened securitisation has not deterred migration. Instead, migrant smuggling at the Mexico-Guatemala border has shifted from more informal networks and local guides to higher-priced smugglers and criminal groups as human rights abuses against migrants increase.

How Gerardo became a smuggler

The first border residents, whether from the Mexican or Guatemalan side, who went to the United States in the 1990s all went with Gerardo. Miguel, a Guatemalan border resident, joined other young men from the Mexican side of the border. “We all went to the United States with Gerardo before he was a coyote”, Miguel said. They went to work on pine tree plantations in Alabama. Since Gerardo was the first to work at the plantation, he found work for others. At first each man used his own money to travel to the northern border, where they hired coyotes to help them cross the US-Mexico border.

Gerardo did not charge any of them and also worked on the plantation. Subsequently, Gerardo recruited his friends more formally under work visas through his employer in Alabama. The ironic twist was that the visas were for Guatemalans, and so the Mexicans purchased false Guatemalan papers in La Libertad or Guatemala City. Border residents believed that work visas were easier to acquire in Guatemala than in Mexico, after the end of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war in 1996. Due to fewer applicants, visas were also less competitive in Guatemala. When the visa process expired, people were still able to go north without documents, as the cross-border migration and work networks were by this point established. Later, Gerardo brought the same people from the same places to the same location. This time he charged, making him a coyote.

Yet the stories surrounding Gerardo’s role shift depending on the point in time and the interlocutor. “No, he wasn’t a coyote…they are from bigger cities”, one Mexican border resident said. “Some people say he is, but he was a contratista [contractor], since his boss in the US would send him here to bring others … they went with visas, which they bought in Guatemala”. Others mentioned Gerardo’s role as a labor contractor and coyote as one and the same; the only thing that changed was how he could bring people to the employer in the US. In other words, Gerardo was converted from a fellow migrant to a labour broker to a smuggler depending on changes in US immigration and visa processes, all the while continuing to provide his Alabama employer with Mexican and Guatemalan workers.

Some residents wonder how Gerardo made so much money, but others see him as someone who helped others regardless of whether they called him a fellow migrant, smuggler, or contractor. “He is the one who helped many people from here go to the US”, Gerardo’s cousin noted. “He helped the majority from this region. Since he was one of the first to go, he helped others to go with visas and then others as a coyote. But then he stopped … when it got more dangerous”.

When smuggling becomes a profession

As Mexico enhanced immigration surveillance and criminalised smuggling, and drug cartels expanded into human smuggling and preying on migrants, smaller-scale smugglers like Gerardo left the business. It became more dangerous to crossing through Mexico and more expensive to evade corrupt officials, checkpoints, and criminals. Locals preferred to go with local border guides and brokers since they trusted people with whom they shared social and kinship connections.

In recent years, border residents have had to search for smugglers in larger cities, those who may specialise in, or have deeper connections to, smuggling networks. Smugglers are increasingly necessary to helping locals navigate Mexico’s proliferation of immigration checkpoints.

Eduardo, a Mexican border resident, referred to how migrant smuggling transformed from a networking service to a more lucrative and risky business that locals increasingly associate with drug trafficking regardless of actual overlaps. He mentioned that Gerardo probably never made much money bringing people. Eduardo also used to “deliver” migrants to smugglers locally and occasionally to the northern border as a teenager. But, he told me, “[in those days] it was very little and it was different…easy…I barely made anything”.

Eduardo confided suspicions about Gerardo and his earnings that led locals to collapse migrant and drug smuggling together. Gerardo had a small horse track on his property in a region where horse races are often associated with drug exchanges. “That is where they do exchanges … it is all narcos”, said Eduardo. Eduardo suspected Gerardo was collaborating with people working in drugs and pollos”. But, he said, “do not tell people where you heard that”.

Prior to Mexico’s intensification of migrant surveillance, smuggling migrants may have still been illegal, but it was a mundane, relatively benign aspect of border life.

Previously an activity that most residents engaged in to some degree, they have been pushed out of migrant smuggling by its increasing risk, price, and criminalisation under Mexico’s intensification of border policing since signing Plan Sur in 2001, and most recently, under the 2014 Southern Border Plan. In turn, the increasing criminality and corruption surrounding migration make border residents not only avoid it, but also fearful to even talk about it. Once a fact of border life, they no longer spoke about migrant smuggling, or talked about it as something they did in the past, or spoke about it quietly.

Just like the drug traffickers they knew passed through their community, they knew migrant smugglers used this route, but did not see or hear anything. As one border resident told me, “if drugs come through here, we don’t realise. They don’t bother us”.

At this particular juncture, border talk around human and drug smuggling alternates between silence and rumour as the landscape shifts. Rumour can help people living in a constant state of fear navigate uncertainty while it also serves to govern the movements of the vulnerable. At the Mexico-Guatemala border, alternating silences and rumours protect local residents while they also enhance the illicit aura around drugs and migration and perpetuate silence and impunity.

As Gerardo’s narrative demonstrates, the profile of the human smuggler is shaped by fluctuations in migration policy and policing. Nicholas de Genova critically examines immigrant illegality by pointing to how changing laws, rather than migrant and smuggler actions, produced “the legal production of migrant illegality”. By extension, to understand the evolution and fear of the criminal smuggler, we must become attune to the criminalisation of human mobility. The criminalisation and uneven policing of boundaries has shaped and structured the strategies of those seeking to evade them, as well as created and altered the constellations of actors who serve as brokers at the disjunctures between borders, their incomplete enforcement, and human mobility.

Photo by Nofx221984. Attributions for this photo are found here.


About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.


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