Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jungle Camp in Malaysia Yields Graves and Signs of Migrant Abuse

BUKIT WANG BURMA, Malaysia — Among the debris of wood, bamboo and plastic tarpaulin at an abandoned camp in the dense jungle here lies a coffin-size cage made from sticks tied together with rusted barbed wire. Next to it, an enclosure that could have held dozens of people also bristles with barbed wire. And over a ridge, the police have started unearthing bodies from shallow graves.
The police in Malaysia have said little about the grim discoveries at desolate camps like this one on a hillside near the country’s border withThailand. But what was left behind here suggests that the camps were busy holding stations for migrants under the control of ruthless, sophisticated human trafficking rings.
The Malaysian government on Tuesday took reporters on a two-hour trek through a buzzing jungle to view this camp in the state of Perlis, in the country’s far north. It is one of several where investigators say they have identified a total of 139 graves believed to hold the bodies of migrants, including members of the Rohingya minority fleeing religious persecution in Myanmar.
A Malaysian forensics team on Tuesday examined  human remains that were exhumed at the jungle camp in Bukit Wang Burma. CreditMohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Not far across the border, in Thailand’s Songkhla Province, the Thai authorities have uncovered graves containing at least 36 more bodies.
A crackdown in southern Thailand on these human trafficking networks is believed to have triggered the regionwide crisis this month in which thousands of migrants were abandoned by smugglers and stranded at sea. More than 3,000 have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, and the International Organization for Migration appealed on Tuesday for $26 million to help them.
Muhammad Bahar, a detective with the police in Perlis, said officers exhumed a body on Tuesday from one of 37 primitive graves discovered near this camp in Bukit Wang Burma. He said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the identity of the dead person or the cause of death.
“Another forensic team will confirm later,” he said, standing near the exhumation site, where other officers worked with shovels and hoes. “We have to let forensic do their job.”
But the scene appeared to add weight to reports that migrants smuggled across Southeast Asia by traffickers had suffered extreme brutality. The lower part of the camp was dominated by what appeared to be a holding pen made from wooden poles crisscrossed by barbed wire. On higher ground, a dilapidated watchtower looked over the settlement, which also had a trash pit and a large water tank, suggesting that the site could have been used to hold hundreds of people.
Those who have studied human trafficking said thesyndicates often supplemented their smuggling operations with ransom and extortion schemes. Relatives of those smuggled into Thailand are often called and ordered to transfer large sums in exchange for the freedom of their relatives, according to advocates for the migrants and the migrants themselves.
“They beat you and tell you to call home and come up with the money,” Jeffrey Labovitz, chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration in Thailand, said by telephone. “It’s a ruthless business mentality.”
The trafficking rings demand payments as high as $3,000 to release their clients, who are sometimes starved and abused to put pressure on relatives to come up with the money, according to Alistair D. B. Cook, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Continue reading the main story


Understanding Southeast Asia’s Migrant Crisis

About 25,000 migrants left Myanmar and Bangladesh on rickety smugglers’ boats in the first three months of 2015, according to a United Nations estimate.
“Extortion isn’t the word for it,” Mr. Cook said. “The alternative is death. It’s worse than extortion.”
The camps are out of the way, but they sit along a major trading route that links Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula with the rest of mainland Southeast Asia. The route is a hub of legitimate trade as well as a transit point for illicit drugs, smuggled fuel and Malaysians seeking libertine pleasures in freewheeling Thailand.
The Malaysian home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said on Tuesday that investigators were examining whether forestry rangers in the densely wooded border region had colluded with human traffickers, according to Bernama, the Malaysian news agency. Some forestry officers have already been detained, he said.
Khalid Abu Bakar, the inspector general of the police in Malaysia, said Monday that the camps were believed to have been occupied since 2013 and that two of them were abandoned only two to three weeks ago,according to Bernama. He said the public disclosure of the suspected graves “proves that the Malaysian government is transparent and not hiding any information involving human trafficking issues.”
But some advocates for Rohingya migrants said the abuses had been largely ignored.
“We hear about families waiting for people to come here, who they never hear about again,” Zafar Ahmad bin Abdul Ghani, the president of theMyanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia, said in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur.
“Malaysia needs to investigate Rohingya who have died on the border with Thailand,” he added. “Maybe they also need to investigate the enforcement departments in Malaysia. Have they done enough to enforce and investigate? How can the traffickers cross the border in this area?”
In Wang Kelian, a nearby settlement of paddy fields, some residents said the migrants sometimes appeared and begged for food or cash before moving on by foot. “We know they come through to Malaysia for work, for safety, for family,” said a resident who gave only her family name, Halimah. “But it is shocking for us, too, to learn about how they are treated in the camps.”
A coffin-sized cage was found at the camp. CreditMohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Malaysian officials have said little about how these camps and trafficking networks could have existed, undisturbed, for years. But investigators on the Thai side of the border say the camps operated with the help of local officials, Thai law enforcement officers and residents. Nearly 70 Thai police officers have been transferred from their posts as part of the crackdown.
Last week, a former government official whom the authorities described as a kingpin in the smuggling operation surrendered to the Thai police. Patchuban Angchotipan, who had evaded capture for more than a week, is the former chairman of the provincial administration in Satun, a Thai province where smuggling camps were discovered this month.
In what the police say is a measure of the money involved in human trafficking, the authorities froze more than $2 million of Mr. Patchuban’s assets. Among other businesses, Mr. Patchuban owned companies that ran speedboat and ferry services in the Andaman Sea, which were believed to have been used to transport migrants.
Mr. Patchuban, who is known by his nickname, Ko Tong, has been charged with colluding in human trafficking, illegal detention and abduction for ransom.
In an interview on Tuesday, Police Gen. Aek Angsananont, the deputy commissioner of Thailand’s police force, said the trafficking rings generally smuggled Bangladeshi and ethnic Rohingya migrants on boats into Thailand and brought them over land to Malaysia.
General Aek, who is leading the investigation in the smuggling rings, said the police have obtained arrest warrants for 77 suspects. Of those, 46 have been arrested, he said, and the rest are “on the run.”
He added that the crackdown had the support of the highest levels of Thailand’s military government and that the police were “clearing the mountains” along the Malaysian border of trafficking operations.
The crackdown began this month when a Rohingya man filed a complaint at a police station in southern Thailand, saying his nephew was being held for ransom. The police investigating the case discovered the mass graves on the Thai side of the border.
The authorities have not disclosed how the individuals found in the graves died, and some bodies were so badly composed that the cause of death may never be known. A doctor at Songklanagarind Hospital in southern Thailand said that medical workers were close to completing autopsies and that the police would soon reveal results.
Increasingly, the Rohingya leaving Myanmar have included women and children. And clues amassed by the Malaysian police from the border camps suggested that children had been among the inmates. Among photos of items recovered from the camps, one showed a pair of mildewed, pink children’s sandals.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Law Helps Those Who Escape Sex Trafficking Shed Its Stigma, Too

She has applied for jobs cleaning airplane cabins between flights, tidying up offices overnight and ringing up orders at concession stands. But the 57-year-old woman from Queens has been rejected from these and dozens of other low-wage jobs because she has a long criminal record.
She has been convicted 133 times and does not deny any of her crimes.
But her record should not condemn her to a life of struggle, she says, because all of her crimes were the result of 17 years of being forced to work as a prostitute by an abusive ex-boyfriend.
“It’s not like I did it to myself,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be published because she feared for her safety. “He had me at an advantage. There would be repercussions if I didn’t do what he asked me to do. I could not talk about the beating I used to get. I always had a black eye.” She added: “Wherever I went, he’d always find me and bring me back. It was a lot of violence.”
She escaped her captor in 1990, but her criminal record has followed her, preventing her from finding steady work. Now, however, she is close to having all her convictions erased thanks to a New York State law designed to treat those forced to become prostitutes as victims rather than as criminals.
Melissa Broudo is a lawyer with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.CreditNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
“Before, my life was like hell,” she said, anticipating a clean record. “Now, I feel good about myself. It’s like I died, and when I came back, I came back clean. Nothing to hold me back.”
The law, passed in 2010, allows convictions related to sexual trafficking to be removed from a person’s record. New York had the first such law in the country and today 18 other states have adopted similar statutes.
“If certain prostitution arrests arose directly from trafficking, the court must vacate the charges,” said Melissa Broudo, a lawyer with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. “The case is over. It’s a recognition that they should not have been convicted in the first place.”
More than 60 women with prostitution convictions have had their records cleared in New York.
The law is particularly important, Ms. Broudo said, because sex-trafficking victims who manage to escape their plight often find themselves in financial crisis. “You have to start from scratch,” she said. “They’re not going to have money. They will have been forcibly cut off from family members, anyone that could have helped them.”
But the criminal records that can follow many former prostitutes make it nearly impossible to overcome financial hardship. “I can’t overstate the collateral consequences of criminal convictions, even for petty offenses,” said Kate Mogulescu, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society who has helped clear the records of 49 prostitutes. “It’s crippling. People come to us with one prostitution conviction from 10 years ago and they cannot get a job as a school bus matron.”
Ms. Broudo, with pro bono help from the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, has worked with the Queens woman to remove 129 convictions — mostly for prostitution or loitering — from her record, the most of any prostitute under the state law.
Now she is trying to have her four remaining convictions, which are more serious, removed. All of them stem from arrests involving thefts, including for stealing from a department store in Nassau County, crimes she says she was forced to commit by her trafficker when she did not earn enough money from prostitution.
She spent nine months in jail for the department store theft. Later, she moved to Virginia, where one of her sisters lived. After surviving for years on odd jobs and the support of her fiancé, the woman hopes to apply for a job as a school crossing guard or security guard.
“I got a second chance at life,” she said. “Doors are opening for me. I always wanted to do security but I never could because I had these convictions. This is the moment I was waiting for.”
But first, she must await a response from a Nassau County prosecutor about whether her convictions will be cleared. To have a conviction vacated under the law, a motion must be filed in court and with a prosecutor in the county where the offense was committed. If the prosecutor consents, then the conviction is removed. If not, a judge can decide after a hearing in which both sides make arguments.
Most prosecutors have approved the removal of convictions. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, whose office has cleared 114 of the Queens woman’s convictions, said his prosecutors took a sympathetic approach to former prostitutes.
“Though law enforcement’s treatment of prostitution has evolved significantly over the past decade, many victims’ records contain convictions from an era when they were not viewed as victims,” Mr. Vance said in a statement. “Overturning those convictions is not only a positive way to help them move forward, but the just thing to do.”
Though efforts to remove convictions have been largely successful, providing legal help to sex-trafficking victims can be challenging. “There are very few providers doing these motions,” Ms. Broudo said. “The capacity is limited and there are thousands of survivors. There’s a real dearth of resources.”
The financial, emotional and physical consequences of being forced into prostitution can prevent victims from even seeking out legal services, she said. “For so many people that have experienced severe trauma and are living beneath the poverty level, there are endless barriers. Transportation, child care, a health issue stemming from the trauma, and emotionally, for a long time the criminal justice system is something they were trying to get away from.”
G.M., a 56-year-old Bronx woman, who abbreviates her name to protect her identity, was the first person to have her convictions vacated under New York’s law. In 1996, her husband began physically abusing her and forced her into prostitution, she said. She experienced “continued violence” that at times left her “scarred and disfigured,” according to court documents, and she accrued nine convictions over 11 years.
“When you have these convictions, you feel like the world is falling on you and that your life has ended,” she said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. When she did find work, she said, she would be fired when employers ran background checks. “They would see me as a delinquent,” she said. “It made me depressed because that wasn’t who I am. My record doesn’t show what my heart is.”
Since her convictions were cleared, she has been working as a home health aide. “My life has changed,” she said. “I’m part of society. I think about the past. It’s something I cannot forget. When I look back I just see darkness and these huge holes I couldn’t get out of. But I did get out.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Steps Against Juvenile Sex Trafficking

Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, NY. CreditUli Seit for The New York Times
The impression that America’s sex-trafficking problem mostly involves young people smuggled from overseas has given way to broad recognition of a cruel homegrown reality: the tens of thousands of juveniles who are exploited each year by traffickers in this country.
On Capitol Hill, a consensus is emerging on new initiatives to confront this human-rights problem and help its victims, often runaways or homeless youngsters who have been forced or coerced into prostitution.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week unanimously approved a pair of anti-trafficking bills with wide backing from victim advocates and other experts, and the full Senate is expected to take up the package soon.
A bill championed by Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, would create a new pool of financing — through additional fines on people convicted of sex and labor trafficking, child pornography and other crimes — for restitution, victim services and law enforcement. The idea of aiding victims without committing more tax dollars has drawn support from Republicans, and any new money for this badly underfinanced cause would help.
The Cornyn bill would also encourage prosecution of the “johns,” or buyers of juvenile sex, who typically escape criminal charges even though they are paying for what amounts to the statutory rape of children and teenagers. Their demand is what’s fueling the highly lucrative human slavery business.
The second bill, put forward by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, would give a preference for Department of Justice law enforcement grants to states that adopt “safe harbor” laws.
These laws help ensure that young people sold for sex are treated as victims and offered support services instead of being prosecuted. The House has approved similar bills, so it should not be hard to hammer out a strong final package.
A preventive measure that would help ensure housing and services for homeless juveniles, who are often prey to traffickers, unfortunately stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. One obstacle was the resistance of some Republicans to its nondiscrimination provision guaranteeing fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths.
No young person should “have to choose between selling their bodies and a safe place to sleep,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who introduced the bill with Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. Undeterred, they plan to seek consideration from the full Senate.
Trafficking abroad remains a tremendous problem, so it is fitting that a promising approach comes from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which last week unanimously approved a measure to create an international public-private fund dedicated to the issue, similar to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. More resources could do a lot to help trafficking’s victims at home, too.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

World War II Sex Slaves Bear Witness


An image from the exhibition “Comfort Women Wanted,” named after the headline in ads intended to lure women into prostitution for the Imperial Japanese Army. Most of the women were unpaid and unwilling, and were kidnapped or tricked. “It hurt me inside,” one woman says. “Some of them beat me.” CreditChang-Jin Lee
Continue reading the main storyShare This Page
Chang-Jin Lee, a New York artist, wanted to commemorate what she feared would become a “forgotten history,” she said. After reading anarticle in The New York Times in 2007 about the experiences of an estimated 200,000 women and girls who had been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II, she decided to do something about it.
From 2008 to 2012, Ms. Lee, who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, took four trips to seven countries to interview survivors, take photographs and gather images, which she has exhibited in different ways across the United States and in other countries over the last few years.
The latest exhibition — seven striking panels showing survivors when they were young and two videos with interviews, photographs and folk songs — is now on view at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University. Titled “Comfort Women Wanted,” it is named after the headline in newspaper advertisements intended to lure women to work as prostitutes for soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army.
The advertisement did not work very well, Ms. Lee said, though a few women may have been paid for their work in the beginning. The rest were kidnapped or deceived with offers of other jobs that did not exist. They ended up being raped up to 100 times per day by one soldier after another in spaces, euphemistically called “comfort stations,” which came in the form of huts or rooms in industrial complexes throughout imperial Japan, and occupied territories. A former Japanese soldier — one of only two to publicly acknowledge and apologize for the practice, she said — describes the conditions in one of Ms. Lee’s videos.
“It was fast,” says Yasuji Kaneko, the former soldier. “No hug, no kiss. We had no time to do such things.” The women sat, wearing kimonos, he says, as men stood in front of them for a few minutes “and just had sex.” His video runs concurrently with a longer one featuring interviews with some of the survivors.
Emah Kastima, an Indonesian woman who was kidnapped from a market when she was 17, says in a whispery voice: “It hurt me inside. Some of them beat me. It hurt my heart. I hated being treated like that.” Jan Ruff O’Herne, who Ms. Lee said was the first European to come forward, describes being selected at age 21 at a Japanese prison camp where she had already spent three and a half years, as her mother and the families of nine other young women who were also being hauled away with her cried and wailed. Lee Yong Soo, a Korean and a former comfort woman, says, “If I am ever born again, I hope to be born as a woman soldier.”
Another image from the exhibition. CreditChang-Jin Lee
The cacophony created by the battling sounds of the simultaneous videos is intentional, the artist said; it is meant to draw a visceral response. It also reflects the controversy that still surrounds the issue. Though Japan issued an apology in 1993, the current government’s policy, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is to deny that the women were coerced into working in brothels. However, many other nations and most scholars believe the testimony of the survivors (who represent only about 25 to 30 percent of the women who went through the ordeal, Ms. Lee said).
Jinyoung Jin, the associate director of cultural programs at the Wang Center, who invited Ms. Lee to show her work and curated the exhibition, said it was not about “finger-pointing” but did highlight a continuing global human trafficking problem. “The video is very caring,” Ms. Jin said. “This happened to women who didn’t have a strong voice in society.” The exhibition has elicited strong responses from viewers and has benefited both history and art students. “How you interpret a historical subject in a visual language is also important for students studying art,” she said.
Logan Marks, an master’s student in fine arts at Stony Brook, helped to install the show. “Its location is very effective, because it’s kind of in the belly of the building” on its lowest level, he said. “It has darker and more ominous subject matter, so it fits well with the space.” He added: “It’s a heavy-duty subject. If you’re not moved by that, what kind of person are you?”
Ms. Lee agreed that she set out to make bold artistic choices. “I’m not a documentarian,” she said. To help present the women “as individuals rather than as victims,” she said, she asked each to record a favorite song in her own language to introduce each segment. With support from several grants and fellowships, including aid from the New York State Council on the Artsand the Asian Cultural Council, she traveled to Japan, Korea and Taiwan in 2008, to China and Indonesia in 2010, to Australia in 2011 and to the Philippines in 2012. Seven languages are represented in her video.
For the large prints showing the women who were able to give her photographs of themselves as teenagers before, soon after or, in one case, during their enslavement, she went for a “strong visual impact,” she said. “I want it carved into your memory.” Each print is more than five feet tall.
Fashioned after the advertisements, the photographs are at the center, framed in black and red with “Comfort Women Wanted” boldly displayed in English, Chinese, Filipino and Korean. But the background is gold leaf, “like a saint’s halo in a Renaissance painting,” Ms. Lee said.
The one she finds most moving is of Mei Chen, a Taiwanese survivor whose unsmiling face was photographed by a Japanese soldier. “It’s like she’s no longer there,” Ms. Lee said. “Her expression says something about what these women went through. She’s just not there.”