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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Torn from the news – living in slavery

About 880,000 people in the EU are living in slavery, according to the October figures from the European Parliament’s Organized Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering Committee (CRIM). These include children who are forced to beg, men who are forced to work for pitifully low or no wages, and women who are forced to work as prostitutes.

CRIM has urged the EU member states to eradicate trafficking in human beings. Considering that it’s estimated that organised crime nets around 25billion euros each year, crime lords are not going to give up their hold on their luckless human assets.

The aim to eradicate this modern form of slavery is not going to be easy, since there are thousands of corruption cases registered in the public sector of the EU. There’s no telling what the actual damage this causes, either, but it must be considerable. Forlorn hope, but if organised crime could be radically reduced, imagine how improved living standards would be!)

There are relatively new crimes being organised today, too. A booming trade in human organs and wildlife and the rapid spread of cyber-crime take their toll.

In Europe, there a total of 3,600 international criminal organisations operating across the EU, according to the report. This is one reason why the British SOCA (and parts of the Border Agency, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, as well) have been replaced by the NCA (National Crime Agency) to tackle the 40,000 individuals in 5,500 criminal gangs in UK; the NCA will have a big presence abroad, too, with 130 officers in excess of forty countries.

CRIM recommends the abolition of European tax havens and increased prison time for thos caught and convicted of money laundering or corruption. To help in the fight against corruption, the committee calls for further legal protection for whistle-blowers within the EU.

Excerpt from Blood of the Dragon Trees

The week was a long ordeal of starvation rations, hard labour and a few minor beatings, but Jalbala stoically accepted his lot. His body ached in every muscle, mainly from work, but he was determined to fit in.

Including him, there were twenty-two in the new group, so Mustapha had been accurate on that point, too. It seemed that the rest of the group hadn’t noticed the switch. They were probably – and understandably – wrapped up in their own fate at the time.

Some days he was put to work in a field, picking melons. The open air was preferable, but the sun quickly sapped his strength and gave him a pounding headache, the first signs of dehydration. In the fields, Jalbala got to know the woman he’d pulled out of the water. Her name was Nadira. She was twenty-four and had left her two young boys with her parents. Her husband had been killed and she wanted to fend for herself. ‘Europe is where I will make money and bring my children up,’ she told Jalbala with conviction.

Other days, he worked under immense sheets of plastic. Within these greenhouses, he found it difficult to breathe in the very humid 140oF. Light and heat seemed to radiate from every surface. The days melded into an amorphous mass of time within Jalbala’s surreal world, where the sky was white, suspended by arched wooden ribs, just inches above his head.

Toiling in the suffocating greenhouses, Jalbala made friends with one of the men who’d been landed from the ship. Talking made them even more breathless, but Jalbala needed information and Jope was glad to pass the time while doing monotonous work.

Jope spoke French. He was Senegalese, with a wife and a five-year-old daughter. He’d been an electrician, earning £25 a month.

‘Why talk in British pounds?’ Jalbala queried. ‘Your currency is francs, isn’t it?’

Jope shrugged. ‘I don’t know why, but they preferred discredited pounds, rather than our francs or euros.’

He went on. He’d been enticed by a friend who said that in the Canaries he could earn at least £1,000 a month. ‘I decided to improve my family’s lot. I spoke to my wife and we agreed. I took our family savings and went to the coast.’ He eventually caught a ship sailing from Dajla in Mauritania. ‘I want a house and I want to educate my children,’ he told Jalbala. ‘The journey cost £800. I worked for three months to add the wages to our savings.’

Jalbala felt for the man. The money that ruled – and ruined – Jope’s life was peanuts to the majority of people in the UK or the States. Everything was relative, he supposed. Both the States and the UK were still hurting from the credit crunch and massive borrowing. Yet he’d seen in England that large sections of the workforce were still intent on striking for higher wages. What planet were they on?

‘Why do you ask so many questions?’ Jope said.

Really good question, Jalbala thought. ‘I’m a reporter. I want to expose the people who put you through this.’ He only wished that was true; maybe some aspects of it could be.

Somewhere near, guard dogs barked and Jalbala knew that not far from their side strode sadistic men with pickaxe handles and baseball bats. (p84)

Laura Reid likes her new job on Tenerife, teaching the Spanish twins Maria and Ricardo Chávez. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved with Andrew Kirby and his pal, Jalbala Emcheta, who work for CITES, tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. Yet she’s undeniably drawn to Andrew, which is complicated, as she’s also attracted to Felipe, the brother of her widower host, Don Alonso.
            Felipe’s girlfriend Lola is jealous and Laura is forced to take sides – risking her own life – as she and Andrew uncover the criminal network that not only deals in the products from endangered species, but also thrives on people trafficking. The pair are aided by two Spanish lawmen, Lieutenant Vargas of the Guardia Civil and Ruben Salazar, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios de las Canarias.
            Very soon betrayal and mortal danger lurk in the shadows, along with the dark deeds of kidnapping and clandestine scuba diving…

Note. The film The Whistleblower (2010) is a searing indictment of institutionalised corruption that condones people trafficking, with a superb performance from Rachel Weisz. This film is at times brutal, uncomfortable viewing and not for the faint-hearted. It’s based on actual events.

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