OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Governments across the Middle East should reform the kafala (sponsorship) system that gives sponsoring employers substantial control over workers and leaves workers vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labor, Human Rights Watch said today. The US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, released today, ranked several countries in the region in its two lowest possible categories for efforts to combat human trafficking.
The report ranked Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in Tier 3, the lowest possible category, which makes these countries potentially subject to US sanctions of non-humanitarian aid, and Lebanon and Qatar on the Tier 2 watchlist, the second-lowest ranking.
"For efforts to end forced labor and human trafficking to be successful, governments in the Middle East should reform the current visa sponsorship system," said Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "When employers have near-total control over migrants' ability to change jobs, and sometimes to leave the country, workers can get trapped in exploitative situations in which they are forced to work without wages, get beaten, or face other abuses."
Millions of migrants, primarily from Asia and Africa, have short-term employment contracts for low-wage jobs in the construction, domestic work, and service industries across the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan have adopted anti-trafficking legislation, and in some cases built shelters. Saudi Arabia has operated a shelter for female domestic workers since 1997, while Kuwait has maintained a shelter facility since 2007. The UAE government announced last month a decision to establish two new shelters for women and children victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
However, other countries, including Lebanon and Kuwait, have yet to adopt anti-trafficking legislation, and most countries retain immigration laws that penalize rather than protect workers who work under conditions of abuse. In Kuwait, immigration regulations allow for criminal charges against workers who leave their jobs, even those who worked in abusive conditions, while in Saudi Arabia workers must have their employers' permission to get exit visas to leave the country.
With limited exceptions, governments in the Middle East require workers to obtain their original sponsor's consent before taking up new employment. In combination with gaps in labor protections and abusive recruitment practices that leave workers indebted, the kafala system gives employers tremendous control over workers.
Workers in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates interviewed by Human Rights Watch have reported employers withholding their passports and wages, and making them work long hours without adequate rest. Domestic workers in particular risk forced confinement, as employers at times lock them inside their homes or keep them under constant supervision.
"These countries consistently fall at the bottom of the list when compared to others around the world," said Varia. "It is disappointing that governments across the Middle East have been slow to change the kafala system when it is so easily abused."
In 2009, Bahrain adopted the strongest sponsorship reform in the region by permitting migrant workers to change employment without their employer's consent and in the absence of allegations of nonpayment of wages or abuse. In 2010, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay urged all Gulf Cooperation Council countries to engage in sponsorship reform. However, like most progress in the region, Bahrain's positive changes do not apply to domestic workers.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"It is high time for politicians to put a stop to this unjust and excessive pollution and ban private jets."
More than 100 climate activists and scientists targeted the biggest private jet sales fair in Europe on Tuesday, chaining themselves to the gangways of luxury planes and placing tobacco-style health warning labels on the aircraft to decry their contributions to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
"Geneva is home to one of the airports with the most private jet traffic in Europe," said Joël Perret, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Genève. "This is where change must begin: we need to drastically reduce aviation to halt climate catastrophe and the destruction of life. The first step is to ban private jets now!"
The campaigners from Greenpeace, Stay Grounded, Extinction Rebellion, Scientist Rebellion, and other climate groups used the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva as an opportunity to call public attention to the "luxury emissions" of the world's super-rich, who contribute disproportionately to the climate crisis.
Activists protest the climate impacts of private jets during a protest at Geneva Airport. (Photo: Thomas Wolf/Stay Grounded)
According to the United Kingdom's policy manager for transport and the environment, the average private jet unleashes two tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per hour—a fifth of the average U.K. citizen's carbon footprint for an entire year.
Greenpeace notes that a private jet flight produces roughly 10 times more CO2 emissions than an ordinary commercial flight on a per-passenger basis.
"We're in a climate emergency," said Cordula Markert, a spokesperson for Scientist Rebellion Germany. "Therefore, it is no longer tolerable that the super-rich keep parading themselves in events such as EBACE and keep buying and flying in their private jets for their own benefit, while we know that this fuels the flames of climate breakdown, threatening all of us."
"They have to be stopped," Markert added, "and that's why scientists and activists from all over Europe joined together in Geneva, taking action against this madness."
\u201c\ud83d\udd34 BREAKING\n\n100 climate activists supporting @StayGroundedNet, \n@ExtinctionR, @ScientistRebel1 & @Greenpeace are blocking private jets at the biggest aviation sales event of Europe in Geneva, denouncing the outrageous luxury of mega-polluters. (1/6)\n#BanPrivateJets #EBACE2023\u201d— Scientist Rebellion (@Scientist Rebellion) 1684844259
The activists demanded a global ban on private jets—which they described as "luxury mega-polluters"—as sales of the aircraft continue to grow at a pace that climate campaigners say is unsustainable if the world is to adequately cut transportation emissions, a significant driver of global heating.
A joint report released earlier this month by the Institute for Policy Studies and Patriotic Millionaires found that the size of the global fleet of private jets has increased 133% in the last two decades, from 9,895 in 2000 to 23,133 in mid-2022."
"For over 20 years, Europe's super-rich have popped champagne behind closed doors at EBACE while shopping for the latest toxic private jets," Klara Maria Schenk, transport campaigner for Greenpeace’s Mobility for All campaign, said Tuesday. "Sales of private jets are skyrocketing, and with them the one percent's hugely unfair contribution to the climate crisis—while the most vulnerable people deal with the damage.
"It is high time for politicians to put a stop to this unjust and excessive pollution and ban private jets," said Schenk.
Mira Kapfinger, campaigner from Stay Grounded, added that while "many can't afford food or rent anymore, the super-rich wreck our planet, unless we put an end to it."
Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said he views federal spending freeze discussions as "inherently reasonable."
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Monday that he views discussions of a federal spending freeze—a real-term cut when adjusted for inflation—as "inherently reasonable," a position likely to rankle progressive lawmakers who have warned against giving an inch to Republican hostage-takers.
"We're willing to discuss freezing spending at current levels," Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters following the latest meeting between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Joe Biden on the debt ceiling—a sit-down that came with the U.S. government just 10 days away from possibly defaulting on its obligations.
Jeffries, who has fought with progressives throughout his political career, acknowledged Monday that "many in our party" might be uncomfortable with the idea of a spending freeze, which could cut spending by more than $1 trillion over a decade.
"But President Biden recognizes we're in a divided government situation," said Jeffries.
Lindsay Owens, an economist and the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, was among the progressives who criticized the House Democratic leader's remarks.
"Jeez. Just showing everyone our cards," wrote Owens, who has warned that "any time you let Republicans control the terms of the debate around the debt ceiling, you're in trouble."
"Starting to think we need to ask the Nevada delegation to bring some poker players to the next caucus lunch for a briefing," Owens added Monday. "This is just amateur hour."
MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan also expressed dismay over Jeffries' comments:
\u201cDemocrats. Sigh. Democrats. \ud83e\udd37\ud83c\udffd\u200d\u2642\ufe0f\u201d— Mehdi Hasan (@Mehdi Hasan) 1684798013
After previously saying he would not be willing to attach any conditions to a debt ceiling increase—a stance that was backed by House Democrats across the ideological spectrum—Biden has voiced openness to reducing spending as part of a compromise with House Republicans, who have used the debt limit as leverage to pursue massive cuts to federal programs such as nutrition assistance and Medicaid.
Notably, Jeffries did not sign an April letter from House Democrats supporting a clean debt limit increase "without any extraneous policies attached."
On Friday, White House negotiators reportedly offered to accept a deal that would freeze 2024 military and non-military discretionary spending at 2023 levels.
"That would amount to a 5% cut when adjusted for inflation—a step back from the Biden administration budget request in March, which proposed increasing discretionary spending," Axiosnoted.
But Republicans dismissed the White House offer, pushing for a larger Pentagon budget and more severe cuts to non-military spending. GOP negotiators are currently pushing for around six years of federal spending caps, which would result in steep cuts to key agencies and programs and hinder the government's ability to respond to an economic downturn.
"The GOP is threatening to tank the entire economy in the name of 'fiscal responsibility.' What's responsible about tanking the economy, exactly?"
Pointing to the White House proposal, McCarthy told the press on Monday that "a freeze is not less, it's spending the same amount"—ignoring the impact of inflation.
The Republican speaker also made clear that the GOP—which slashed taxes for the rich and corporations in 2017, blowing a huge hole in the deficit—would not accept any tax increases as part of a debt ceiling agreement.
GOP negotiators have rejected White House offers to close tax loopholes, including the notorious carried-interest loophole exploited by rich private equity executives.
"I've been very clear with the president from day one. We're not going to raise taxes," McCarthy said Monday. "It's a spending problem."
Progressive lawmakers continued to push back against Republican demands for spending cuts on Monday as the White House and McCarthy both described their latest meeting in positive terms, signaling that a deal is possible before the June 1 deadline.
"Reminder: When House Republicans insist we 'spend less,' they mean public housing, food assistance, Medicaid, and addiction support," the Congressional Progressive Caucus tweeted Monday. "We cannot give in to this extortion."
\u201cThe GOP is threatening to tank the entire economy in the name of \u201cfiscal responsibility.\u201d\n\nWhat\u2019s responsible about tanking the economy, exactly?\u201d— Cori Bush (@Cori Bush) 1684772554
When asked about talk of a spending freeze, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) responded bluntly: "Look at what's being proposed in terms of cuts. Don't talk about spending in the abstract."
"Head Start—200,000 kids no slots, 100,000 kids without childcare," DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Monday. "Talk to me about what has been suggested."
"It is atrocious that yet another family has to mourn their child because of our collective inability to fix our broken immigration system," lamented one activist in response to the death of Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez.
A coalition of migrant advocacy groups on Monday mourned and demanded justice for an 8-year-old Central American girl who died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody earlier this month.
The #WelcomeWithDignity campaign for asylum rights remembered Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez, an 8-year-old girl who came to the United States with her Honduran parents, following her death on May 17 after CBP agents "neglected to heed her parent's requests for medical assistance," according to the coalition.
"Anadith deserves to be alive today," said #WelcomeWithDignity interim campaign manager Bilal Askaryar. "Border Patrol staff ignored the minimum safeguards for protecting the lives in their custody."
"Anadith's parents should be preoccupied with helping their 8-year-old daughter prepare for her new life in the United States and making the journey to meet her aunt in New York," Askaryar added. "Instead, they are grieving an unspeakable tragedy and trying to raise money to take Anadith's body to their new home with them."
\u201cNew details regarding the preventable death of an 8-year-old girl in CBP custody last week show that the child\u2019s mother repeatedly asked agents to take her daughter to the hospital, but her pleas were ignored. Anadith had a history of heart problems and sickle cell anemia.\ud83e\uddf5\ud83d\udc47\ud83c\udffe\u201d— The Young Center (@The Young Center) 1684623052
Reyes, who suffered a congenital heart condition and sickle cell anemia, was a Panamanian citizen who traveled with her Honduran parents and her two older siblings to the southern U.S. border at Brownsville, Texas. The family was detained by CBP agents on May 9 and held for more than a week.
On May 14, Reyes' mother Mabel Álvarez took the child to a treatment area after she complained of abdominal pain, nasal congestion, and a cough, CBP said. Reyes tested positive for Influenza and was given medications including Tamiflu and Zofran. CBP said she was also given acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Reyes and her family were then transported to a CBP facility in Harlingen, Texas, which is "designated for cases requiring medical isolation for individuals diagnosed with or closely exposed to communicable diseases," according to the agency.
Medical records show that Álvarez took Reyes to the Harlingen station's medical facility three times on May 17. On the last visit, Reyes appeared to be having a seizure. After her body went limp and she began bleeding from the mouth, medical staff started CPR and CBP had the girl rushed to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen. She was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
"They killed my daughter, because she was nearly a day-and-a-half without being able to breathe," Álvarez claimed in an interview with the New York Daily News. "She cried and begged for her life and they ignored her. They didn't do anything for her."
"They never listened to me just because I am an immigrant," Álvarez said in a separate interview with Noticias Telemundo. "We want this not to go unpunished. We don't want this to happen to any other child."
\u201cHumanitarian reception for asylum seeking families, not jail/detention/custody, is what most countries offer with far less resources to those seeking protection. This was preventable. These policies are reprehensible and must end. #RestoreAsylum #WelcomeWithDignity @POTUS\u201d— Christina Asencio (@Christina Asencio) 1684642426
#WelcomeWith Dignity members from numerous advocacy groups joined Reyes' family in demanding justice.
"We are heartbroken to learn of another child's tragic death in government custody. No child should be locked in a jail, no matter where they were born," said Jennifer Anzardo Valdes, deputy director at Americans for Immigrant Justice.
"There is a long andwell-documented history of systemic abuse and mistreatment of children in CBP custody," she added. "In a landscape barren of rights for unaccompanied children, babies, and children coming to the United States with their parents, it is imperative that these vulnerable individuals are greeted with compassion and respect as they seek refuge and a better life in the United States. How many more children must die for CBP to effectuate change?"
Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director at America's Voice, said that "it is atrocious that yet another family has to mourn their child because of our collective inability to fix our broken immigration system."
"Our hearts are with her family, and tens of thousands of other families whose pursuit of a better life ends in tragedy," she added. "The CBP needs to learn from this tragedy and take the necessary steps to ensure it doesn't happen again."
\u201cCBP is an agency that should have nothing to do with children. No child should ever die in government custody again, and no parent should have their pleas for help be ignored as they watch their child's condition worsen. \n\nOur hearts go out to Anadith's family and loved ones.\u201d— Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (@Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project) 1684790817
Reyes is the first known migrant child to die in CBP custody during the Biden administration. At least two other Honduran minors—17-year-old Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza and a 4-year-old "medically fragile" girl—have died in U.S. custody in recent weeks.
The children's deaths come as the Biden administration rolls out controversial migrant policies following the expiration of Title 42, which was invoked by both Biden and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, in order to deport millions of asylum-seekers under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It is cruel that another set of parents had to beg the CBP for medical help for their child and then watch her die because of CBP negligence," argued Ronnate Asirwatham, director of government relations for #WelcomeWithDignity member Catholic Social Justice. "We call on the Biden administration to end this cruelty and to swiftly end the practice of long-term CBP custody for immigrants."