Welcome Home Blog Series: Karen refugees in Minnesota have a critical ally

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Pictured: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Madeline Lohman & Karen Organization of Minnesota’s Hta Thi Yu Moom facilitating a meeting to strengthen community between Karen diaspora members and other residents of Roseville, Minnesota.

 

Minnesota has seen an influx of Karen refugees from Burma over the past decade, the majority settling in St. Paul. The transition to life here can be bumpy as they struggle to learn English, find jobs, navigate government bureaucracy, and sometimes deal with family upheavals.

But the new residents have a critical ally: the Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM), the nation’s first Karen-led nonprofit. “You can come here any time as long as the office is open,” says Eh Tah Khu, KOM’s co-executive director, “and we’ll make sure you get the help you need.”

The Karen (pronounced Ka-REN) are an ethnic minority group from the mountainous border regions of Burma and Thailand who have been fighting for independence for many years. Subject to ethnic cleansing, forced labor, killings, and other human rights abuses by the former military regime of Burma (also known as Myanmar), many fled to refugee camps in Thailand before resettlement in the United States. (Burma moved to a civilian-led government last year.)

KOM says about 12,000 Karen now live in Minnesota, some drawn from other states because of the high quality of refugee services here. Minnesotans should be aware that many Karen have “been through trauma,” Eh Tah Khu says, and “have never been able to raise their voice for any reason.”

Eh Tah Khu arrived here from Thailand in 2010 with his wife and son and joined KOM as youth development coordinator in 2011. He became co-executive director last year, sharing duties with Alexis Walstad.

KOM — with money from state and federal grants, foundations, and the Greater Twin Cities United Way — offers a wide range of services to Karen and other Burmese refugees. They include job training, English classes, youth programs, weaving, public transit orientation, and community health services.

The organization evolved from the Karen Community of Minnesota, a volunteer group that Karen leaders started in 2003 in St. Paul. They set up KOM as a separate organization with 501(c)(3) status in 2008. Based in Roseville, it now has 25 paid staff members, including two at an office in Marshall; three AmeriCorps members, and about 80 volunteers. It serves more than 1,500 clients a year.

But KOM is at a turning point. Some of its government grants pay specifically for services to new arrivals. But the United States has stopped resettling refugees from Burma, so Eh Tah Khu worries those grants won’t be renewed as his group focuses more on long-term services.

He is frank about other challenges facing the organization. Because KOM is so accessible, he says, “we are overloaded with walk-in clients.” They need help with everything from paying speeding tickets to enrolling in MNsure to filing divorce paperwork.

More mental-health services are badly needed, he added, noting that there are no Karen-speaking therapists, psychiatrists, or psychologists in the area. The community is also grappling with problems like drug use by young people, parents feeling they have lost authority over their children, domestic violence, and divorce (which is rare in Burma).

But Eh Tah Khu says KOM’s strength lies in the partnerships it has forged with a long list of service providers and educational, government, religious, legal and other groups over the years (you can see them here). “We know that without community support,” he says, “we can’t do our work here.”

Karen Organization of Minnesota
Website: www.mnkaren.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mnkarenorg/
Volunteer opportunities: KOM needs short-term and long-term volunteers to help with activities including youth mentoring, interpretation/translation, data entry, public transit training, and driving. Apply here or contact Rebekah Jacobson at rjacobson@mnkaren.org.
Learn more: KOM holds presentations on Karen culture and history on Friday afternoons every other month. The next session takes place on June 16.

By Suzanne Perry, volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights. This is the first of the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota.

We are advocates. We can do this.

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The first days of the Trump administration have been bewildering. “Alternative facts” have been presented with a straight face. The media has been told to shut up and listen. Muslims have been turned away at our airports. Refugees’ travel plans have been revoked. People, including very young children, have been detained for hours, handcuffed, stripped-searched, and treated like criminals. Children have been separated from their mothers. People have been coerced into signing away their visas and then not allowed entry into the United States.

The list goes on.

For many, these actions make us feel like the United States is in freefall.

But we have a clear road map for the days ahead. The human rights principles which emerged in 1948 set out a simple benchmark: dignity. Every single person in the United States – no matter who we are, that we believe, how we look, or where we were born – has a right to live with basic human dignity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides non-negotiable standards which we, as human beings, have a right to expect and to demand. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of torture. Freedom from arbitrary detention. The right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. Freedom from violence.

The human rights framework does more than provide a list of rights we can check off as they are violated. It provides an approach to organizing and action.

Protect those who are marginalized. The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with its unequivocal protection of peaceful dissent and protection against the tyranny of the majority, is but one of the ways in which the power of majority rule is balanced.

Ensure those affected by decisions can participate in making them. The right to vote is at the heart of American democracy, yet millions of people – primarily American Indians and African Americans – have had this fundamental right stripped from them.

Address the root causes of injustice. Eradicate the conditions which perpetuate human rights violations.

Hold people accountable for human rights violations and abuses. Tyranny thrives in a climate of impunity. A strong judiciary and independent media are hallmarks of free societies.

Last week I spoke with a new volunteer who’d just retired from a successful corporate career. She shared that she took part in the Women’s March – the first time in her life she’s ever turned out for such an action. She’s ready to act.

The human rights framework gives us clarity of demands and of action. We are advocates.

We can do this.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights

Featured photo: Jenna Schulman (left), The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger, and two of her friends at the Women’s March on Washington.

 

Marching for a bridge forward

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Living halfway across the country from one another, Erin Banovetz Lake and Nick Banovetz are like many siblings and families: The geographical distance that divides them presents its challenges – like their children not seeing each other as much as they’d like or not always celebrating holidays together – but they find ways to stay connected. Participating in the Women’s March on January 21 was something they shared, even if from cities afar. Here are a few reflections from them.

From Erin Banovetz Lake, Washington, D.C. (pictured above on right)
Prior to the march, I was disheartened by the status of human rights and equality held by some of the members of this great country. I am a white, middle class, 30-something female. I consider myself very fortunate in life. My upbringing was safe, secure, and predictable. I was well taken care of, both physically and emotionally.

I have spent my career working with and endeavoring to help troubled and marginalized youth in one of Virginia’s poorest counties. I see first hand some of the hardships others have to endure in life. This exposure has increased my level of understanding about challenges people face as well as my cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Recently, it has become evident that many, especially elected officials, do not possess this same awareness – the awareness of how important human rights and equality are to the survival of a community, of a country. Is it a willful ignorance? A lack of emotional intelligence and exposure to different cultures and populations? Or a lack of sensitivity and an overwhelming need to further oneself over the good of the community? It is with this awareness that I chose to participate in the January 21 March on Washington, hoping to demonstrate how important these issues are for the people of our nation.

Stepping onto the streets of our capital immediately gave me a sense of hope. Actually, it began when I picked up my mom and two of her best friends from the Richmond, Virginia airport the night before the march. The excitement we had in the anticipation of standing together with others who shared these values was evident from the beginning.

This hope continued as we boarded the bus that would take us to DC. While a commercial express bus, it was a “March on Washington bus” nonetheless because it was crammed with riders donning pink pussy-cat hats and discussing social issues and human rights with one another.

The march was peaceful. Not one arrest. Everybody we encountered throughout the day was kind, thoughtful, and had a light in their eyes. There was a strong sense of camaraderie. Stepping off the bus onto the street that day was energetic, like stepping into a pink pussy-cat hat/poster-carrying human rights parade. The number of people there was mind blowing, awe inspiring, and heart warming. The feeling in the air was one of a grass roots effort filled with hope and an excitement to finally be heard.

And heard we were. Along with the hundreds of other sister marches across the nation and globe, we raised our voices. The collective energy and voice showed us that we are stronger together. I live in a conservative part of Virginia, and just the sheer fact of being surrounded by people who value human rights and equality lifted me up. Knowing that there are so many others out there who share similar values, thoughts, hopes, and fears empowers me. (My experience is mirrored by millions of other marchers across the world. Is it strange how the overarching tone and feeling at these marches was energetic and a demand for acceptance? Independently, the hundreds of marches on each of the seven continents conveyed peace, acceptance, and a demand to be heard.)

The people I stood beside were there not solely to promote women’s issues. Rather, they promoted human rights for all. Those in attendance were of all ages, skin color, cultural background, religion, and from all walks of life. But in the message, we all shared a common belief in the necessity of human rights and equality.

Soon, my children will both be in school and I will return to the workforce. I already had plans to use my career as a conduit to channel my values. My march experience will serve as a catalyst to my vision of helping to create a stronger, healthier community for all. Thank you to the organizers of the march. It is through your hard work, determination, and vision that people of our world have stood together to make a statement. If we maintain this momentum, the people of this beautiful nation and around the globe will reap the benefits.

From Nick Banovetz, St. Paul, Minnesota (pictured below, right)
nickOn Election Day 2016, I left the polls telling my daughter – a 1.5-year-old strapped to my back  – “Thanks for helping Dada vote.” It was the first time I had cast a ballot with a child of my own. I relished participating in this part of our democracy; bringing my daughter with me – like my parents did with me – was memorable.

For many, the 2016 election has disrupted our communities and our own senses of self. The elevated and prolonged discourse surrounding systemic racism, income disparities, sexism, and immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign and election will hopefully result in the long term in a more prosperous, inclusive nation. The adage “Democracy is a not a spectator sport” is a rallying cry and a call to unite, regardless of one’s political leanings.

To stretch our lungs and lead by example, my dad, my wife, and I – with our daughter strapped in her stroller – participated in the Women’s March in St. Paul. Our experience was like thousands, millions, of others – a rush of adrenaline over the sheer mass of the crowds, a healing experience from the positive and inclusive vibes permeating these open, crowded spaces.

I felt part of a community again. And as a newish dad, I’ve been reflecting. I keep coming back to my grandmothers, partly because of the obvious (their gender, their generation), but also because of subtle lessons they taught me.

Several years ago, on my Grandma Ilona’s birthday, my wife solicited words of wisdom from her. Without any hesitation, Ilona said resolutely, “All people are people.” These words are simple, yet relevant. I think of them often. Ilona was a life-long learner, never short of an opinion. She cherished her time in college, which I believe fueled her confidence. When someone was full of bologna, Ilona would throw her hand out, slap the air, shake her head, and say, “Oh, honestly!” I’ve envisioned her doing such dozens of times as of late. There’s something to be said about keeping it real, being authentic, and offering a polite reality check when others aren’t.

My other grandma, Vi, read the St. Paul Pioneer Press every a.m. – from poring over the front page to completing the crossword puzzle. Those who knew her saw a witty – even sassy – woman who found some of her own independence by working outside of the home and belonging to her social service club. I visited her often. Over breakfast we’d study the newspaper together. She taught me to be informed. And Grandma Vi was empowered because she was well informed. (Vi, in jest, would often remark on First Lady Hillary Clinton, saying with hope in her voice, “Who does she think she is, President?” One time she looked up and said something to the effect of “Imagine that”; the exact words escape me, but it was her disbelief and wonder over a female leading our nation that I remember.)

My hope for our nation is that people from all sides can engage with one another outside of social media platforms, choose to arrive at opinions that are both diverse and well-informed. We each need to appreciate that all people are people.

By Erin Lake Banovetz, Dillwyn, Virginia; and Nick Banovetz, Mendota Heights, Minnesota. They are the daughter and son of The Advocates’ Communications Director, Sue Banovetz.

“I can march.”

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This was my first march. I really did not know what to expect. I spent the evening before the march sitting on the basement floor in our house with my sister and our friends painting posters. When we finally got to the march – which was no easy feat because the DC Metro was so overwhelmed with numbers of people, we had to walk – the sheer number of people prevented us from getting close enough to hear any of the speeches. We could not even see the Jumbotrons. I had to wait until I got home to learn what some of the speakers, including people like Gloria Steinem, had to say.

What I did hear and see, however, were the voices and actions of people engaged in peaceful protest. Even in the midst of the crush, people were friendly and civil. The energy was palpable. From the looks of it, people were at this march, born at the grass roots, for many different reasons. Some were there to protest the new administration. Others were there to ensure that their voices were heard on a variety of themes, including reproductive rights, gender equality, immigration, racial equality, and climate change. Homemade signs were everywhere.  Frequent chants included:  “My body/my choice!”;  “This is what democracy looks like!”; and “Women’s rights are human rights!”

What I saw on the ground was inspiring, and what I saw on my social media feeds inspired me, too. My Facebook and Instagram pages had hundreds of pictures of my “sisters” in different parts of the country marching in their hometowns. Even if we might have been at the marches for different reasons  and in different locations, we were connected and empowered.

I know that the march has been controversial at some levels – even in my high school.  Some question how the march can be successful – as there was not a singular focus. However, I did see a common focus: the need for respect.

Last week in my 10th grade European history course, we focused on the French Revolution.  One of the things I learned about was the “march” of October 1789 when more than 7,000 women marched from Paris to Versailles protesting the scarcity and high prices of bread.  They had a goal of bringing King  Louis XVI back to Paris so that he would be closer and arguably more responsive to the people. They succeeded! The crowd, numbering more than 60,000 people, escorted the royal family back to Paris. Some say that this was a major turning point in the French Revolution.

I don’t know if Saturday was a major turning point. But it was an important reminder of the power people have when they work together. It was also a reminder of the powerful voice women have and the importance of exercising it. When the marchers return to their homes, I hope they remember that the march is not a substitute for long- term action. It’s just the beginning; they need to take action in their local communities. Whether that action is calling their legislators or running for office themselves, it is important.

I am excited to see where this takes us – and I am grateful to the women who organized this march for exposing me to the possibilities of collective action.

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman (pictured on left in photo above), a 10th grade student in Washington, D.C.

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Denying thousands the fundamental human right to vote puts democracy at stake

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It’s that time of the year once again in the United States: absentee ballots are rolling in and voters are preparing to go to the polls. Some of us, even 20-somethings like me who are new to the grind, take participation in the democratic process for granted. As a child, I made the trek with my parents to our polling place every year, filled with an overwhelming sense of pride when they let me wear the “I Voted” pin. In my eyes, voting was just something that adults did – it was never more complicated than that.

Voting is a right that all of-age citizens are supposed to enjoy, thanks to the fundamental human right of “universal and equal suffrage.”[1] Recently, however, I began to realize that suffrage is neither universal nor equal in the United States. A few weeks ago at a phone banking event, I spoke with a man who is forbidden from voting for another 10 years because he is currently on parole. This man committed a felony decades ago, served his time, and yet remains deprived of his civil rights.

Minnesota law restricts “any individual convicted of treason or any felony whose civil rights have not been restored” from voting.[2] The law restores civil rights upon “discharge” of the conviction,[3] but that doesn’t happen until probation or parole has ended. The result: 75 percent of the 63,000 Minnesotans who were unable to vote due to a conviction in 2011 were living in the community on probation or parole.[4]

International human rights standards guarantee the right to vote free from “unreasonable restrictions.”[5] The UN Human Rights Committee deems a disenfranchisement law “unreasonable” if it is “[dis]proportionate to the offense and the sentence.”[6] That’s the case in Minnesota, where convicted persons who have served their time behind bars return to the community unable to vote for years or even decades. Minnesota’s blanket disenfranchisement provision, which automatically prohibits all persons convicted of any felony from voting, further breaches this doctrine, which prohibits the “automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon, regardless of the nature of the offence.”[7]

Felon disenfranchisement laws vary around the country. Two states, Maine and Vermont, have no restrictions, allowing people on probation, parole, and in prison to vote. Maine and Vermont share the approach of many democracies around the world. Minnesota, by contrast, stands with Armenia and Chile in banning people from voting even after release from prison.[8]

Compounding the injustice, as a result of racial disparities in contact with the criminal justice system, Minnesota’s policy of disenfranchisement disproportionately strips African Americans and American Indians of the right to vote, violating U.S. obligations under article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [9] and article 25 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to vote free from discrimination based on race, color, language, or other status.[10]

The numbers are sobering. According to the Restore the Vote coalition, African Americans, roughly five percent of the state’s population, made up 25 percent of those disenfranchised in 2011; American Indians, two percent of Minnesota’s population, represented six percent of those disenfranchised.[11] The impact may be long-term:[12] that “I Voted” pin helped introduce me to the importance of voting; kids whose parents are denied the right to vote are shut out of that introduction to the democratic process.

The Advocates for Human Rights is part of Minnesota’s Restore the Vote coalition, an alliance of almost 100 groups working to change Minnesota’s policy on disenfranchisement. For more than 10 years, the coalition, led in part by disenfranchised community members, has pushed for the reinstatement of voting rights for those living in Minnesota. This coalition is advocating for a human right that too many of us fail to appreciate. As Election Day approaches, consider what is at stake if Minnesota continues to deny the fundamental human right to vote to thousands of our neighbors. Perhaps this will motivate each of us to strive for a more just democracy for ourselves and our kids.

By: Ellie Benson, a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and a research intern at The Advocates for Human Rights.

[1] http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx

[2] Minn. Stat. 201.014 (2016).  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=201.014&format=pdf

[3] Minn. Stat. 609.165 (2016). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=609.165&format=pdf

[4] https://restorethevotemn.org/why-rights-restoration/

[5] ICCPR Art. 25.

[6] http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/gencomm/hrcom25.htm

[7] CCPR/C/USA/CO/4 para. 24.

[8] http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000289

[9] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CERD.aspx

[10] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx

[11] https://restorethevotemn.org/why-rights-restoration/

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Death Penalty Under Scrutiny: Is State-Sanctioned Murder Constitutional?

U.S. Supreme Court (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Supreme Court (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, October 10, the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty will raise awareness of the application of the death penalty for terrorism-related offenses with the goal of reducing the use of the death penalty. The United States and 64 other countries allow people to be sentenced to death for terrorism-related offenses.

The Advocates for Human Rights, with the assistance of pro bono attorneys, collaborates with members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty to bring death penalty issues to the attention of the United Nations to advocate for change.

Jury selection began last week in the case of Dylann Roof, the self-identified white supremacist accused of murdering nine black worshippers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina last year. Roof was recently denied the opportunity to plead guilty and serve a life sentence for his crimes; the Department of Justice will instead seek the death penalty. In response, Roof’s lawyers have chosen to challenge the constitutionality of capital punishment head-on. Their decision to oppose the death penalty in court, citing the punishment as “a legally prohibited, arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments,” follows the lead of similar influential cases that have taken place across the country in the past several years.

In the United States, the federal government has not carried out a death sentence in over a decade. The Death Penalty Information Center reports 2015 as having the lowest recorded number of executions in 25 years (28 people), as well as the lowest number of death sentence convictions in over 40 years (49 people). At the same time, public opposition to the death penalty is at the highest level it has been in several decades, marking steady progress toward abolition of the death penalty.

From the grass roots to the U.S. Supreme Court, individuals have increasingly vocalized disdain for the death penalty. The Black Lives Matter movement has recognized diminished public support for capital punishment and in its policy platform is demanding immediate action toward complete abolition. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing states to continue to use the drug midazolam in executions, Justice Stephen G. Breyer authored a 46-page dissent, arguing that “it is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment].” The drug itself is linked to causing severe pain in the process of an execution, a point which prompted some Justices to question the constitutionality of the death sentence. In his dissent, Justice Breyer noted several flaws in the system of administering capital punishment: the execution of innocent people; frequently exonerations of individuals on death row; and the negative influence of politics and discrimination on the imposition of the death penalty in the criminal justice system.

Seven states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, bringing the current total to 20. (Californians will vote on November 8 to determine whether that state will join the list.) The most recent is Delaware, when its Supreme Court ruled that the state’s statute allowing judges to overrule a jury’s decision for a life sentence was a direct violation of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution (the right to an impartial jury). In January of this year, the Supreme Court ruled similarly on Florida’s death penalty law. State by state, courts are ruling that major faults in our system of justice are in direct violation of basic rights recognized in the U.S. Constitution.

This recent trend of questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty reflects a growing awareness of defects within the criminal justice system. The system that exists today puts people with mentally illness to death, disproportionately executes black individuals convicted of murdering whites, and kills the innocent. Execution methods present a real risk of subjecting individuals to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. Moreover, research demonstrates that the death penalty does not deter future murders. In the words of Delaware’s Governor Markell: “the use of capital punishment is an instrument of imperfect justice that doesn’t make us any safer.”

dp-by-the-numbersSource: The Nation

Capital punishment endures because many still assume that it is appropriate or effective. But here is what the death penalty doesn’t do:

  • preserve the constitutional rights to life and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment
  • promote a belief in rehabilitation and reconciliation
  • punish equitably, without discrimination based on race, socioeconomic status, or disability
  • punish fairly, by ensuring that no innocent person is executed and by ensuring that all defendants can fully exercise their due process rights
  • make progress toward addressing the root causes of crime in order to prevent heinous murders
  • address the ideologies and beliefs that motivate hate crimes (such Dylann Roof’s)
  • bring back victims of the crime

Dylann Roof must answer for his shocking crimes, and for the permanent damage he has inflicted on his victims and their families. We must recognize the powerful racial dynamics at work, acknowledging Roof’s racially based murders and his privileged status as a young white male in today’s criminal justice system. Yet, we should also recognize the significance of Roof’s lawyers challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty on a federal level. If the court decides that the death penalty violates the Constitution, not only will it mark significant progress toward ending state-sponsored murder, but our country may also find the motivation and political will to reform of a criminal justice system in desperate need of justice, and to bring that system in line with international human rights standards.

By Maggie Poulos, a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, majoring in International Studies with a minor in political science. During the summer of 2016, she was an intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. She is interning with The Advocates’ Refugee & Immigrant Program during the academic year.

Click here to learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work against the death penalty.

 

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Modern-day slavery in the Persian Gulf

Trafficking word cloudThe Advocates for Human Rights receives a barrage of emails from across the globe, people who are looking for information and assistance in a wide variety of human rights issues. The requests for assistance are a window into the current human rights problems in the world, which oftentimes are virtually unknown outside of the country or region.

One example that I find especially heartbreaking is the modern day slavery that is happening in the Persian Gulf region. Through the Kafala system, a policy of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), citizens or companies sponsor “foreign” workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. This means that an individual’s right to work and legal presence in a host country is dependent on his or her employer, rendering the person to exploitation. The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Every year, thousands migrate from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf region to seek employment. With some differences, the story of these workers repeats itself; people from the poorest parts of the world are toiling in sweat and blood in the shadow of unimaginable wealth. In such conditions, however, the international community enjoys investment incentives, luxurious shopping centers, and dreams of the World Cup (many of its facilities are built by migrant workers).

They Are Entrapped

The plight of migrant workers begins in their home countries when they are deceived in the recruitment process and promised liveable wages. Migrant workers usually take out large loans to pay the fees of local recruitment agencies that arrange their work contract and travel documents. While migrant workers are heavily dependant on their salaries to survive, they should devote most of their wages to service loans.

As a common practice, sponsors confiscate workers’ passports. Even when workers have their passports, they still must have their sponsor’s permission to leave the country. Migrant workers have limited options; continue in their jobs, or quit the job and work illegally for different employers. They have reported a culture of fear and intimidation in which there is no access to justice, especially for those who work illegally.

They Are Segregated and Exploited Slaves

Most migrant workers live in substandard conditions in remote areas. In Qatar, for instance, the segregation has been built through legislation by the Central Municipal Council (CMC). With the establishment of “family zones,” migrant workers have been banned from living in Doha; and have been prevented from enjoying public areas, such as shopping centers on certain days. Such laws legitimize negative stereotypes about migrant workers and have the effect of further entrenching segregation.

The World Cup Nightmare

In response to reports of worker’s deaths (in the World Cup facilities), the Qatari government commissioned a law firm to investigate. The recommendations of this investigation about legal reforms, however, have never been followed seriously. While the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants called for Qatar to repeal its Kafala system, it seems that the Qatari government intends to rename the system without removing its exploitative provisions. According to the latest report of the International Laborer Organization (“ILO”), Qatar has failed to observe the international standards regarding migrant workers. Two years prior, the ILO asked Qatar to take meaningful actions, otherwise a United Nations inquiry would be launched in 2017 that will make possible imposing international sanctions. As Human Rights Watch reported, Qatar has promised little and has delivered far less. By continuing in this way, the International Trade Union Confederation reports that, about 4,000 workers will die before the World Cup 2022.

Any will for change?

Considering the lack of protective measures for migrant workers, host countries must make fundamental changes in the Kafala system. In addition, they have enough financial means to ensure safe work, standard living conditions, and decent wages for foreign laborers. Simultaneously, migrant workers’ countries of origin have the duty to monitor the conditions of their citizens and provide them with proper consular support. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that international companies will acknowledge their responsibility for the miserable conditions of their migrant laborers. For this reason, human rights activists across the Persian Gulf region and beyond must shed light on the lives of migrant workers to end modern-day slavery as a common practice among nations in the region.

By Mehrnoosh Karimi Andu, a third-year J.D. student (class of 2017) at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is 2016 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.