Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Bangladesh, an example of climate migration

Golam Sorowor, Finance Secretary of BAFLF

Bangladesh is a densely populated country, which is a clear victim of global exploitation regarding the impacts of climate change. These impacts already include the rapid expanse of soil salinity due to rising sea levels, tidal flooding, intensifying storm surges, increased temperatures, heavy rainfall, flash floods, droughts, land slides and river erosion. The consequences of climate change are that farmers and rural communities are experiencing increasing livelihood insecurity, malnutrition, unemployment, poverty, human trafficking, forced migration as well as food, land and water crises.

More than half the area of Bangladesh is barely five meters above sea level. A 1 meter rise in sea level would submerge a fifth of the country and turn 30 million people into “climate refugees”. The issue of climate refugees will become a major problem in the coming decades in Bangladesh. Many of the major cities hare already under pressure, particularly the capital city Dhaka. In 1974 the population of Dhaka was 177000; in 2017 it stood at 1.8 million. By 2035, it will be 3.5 million (World Bank report). Two thousand people come from different parts of the country in search of jobs and shelter every day. The 10 most dangerous cities in the world due to climate change include the capital Dhaka. “Global climate refugees” will face increasingly protected borders, as in the case of India, which is militarizing its border with Bangladesh, so that already today deaths are reported every month.

Agriculture in Bangladesh is largely dependent on climatic factors. One cyclone may destroy a significant volume of the seasonal harvest. Cyclone Sidr destroyed nearly 95 percent of crops in coastal districts when it crashed into Bangladesh in 2007 (ABD, 2013). Cyclone Aila flooded nearly 200,000 acres of agricultural land with salt water (97 thousand acres of Aman is completely destroyed) and 300,000 people were displaced (243,000 homes have been completely devastated). Increased soil salinity and maximum temperatures will lead to decrease in the yield of rice. A change in temperature could also decrease potato production by more than 60%. The flash flood in 2017 in Haor reduced rice production by more than 15.8 million tons. Research has shown a 69% decrease in rice production in a coastal village in 18 years. About 1/3 of the area of Bangladesh is influenced by tides in the Bay of Bengal.

To address the climate and food crises the government is promoting private agribusinesses, higher investment in seed, fertilizers and machinery, adopting hybrid seeds and imposing GMOs in the name of food security. Bangladesh already released the country’s first GMO crop bt. Brinjal in 2014. A GMO potato is in the pipeline and the government announced plans for the commercialization of the world’s first Genetically Engineered rice Golden rice in 2018. All this instead of protecting peasants and supporting small scale agroecological farming.

The World Bank and other international donors strategy for corporate led ‘food security’ is a risky strategy for farming in the context of climate change. Their real interest behind this policy is to enable transnational seed and chemical companies to access agricultural markets in Bangladesh. Therefore, it is important to promote farmers’ rights to seeds and empower rural communities so they can protect their own livelihoods. Ensuring Food Sovereignty is the best alternative to the current agriculture policy in Bangladesh.

Climate change, Food Sovereignty and Agriculture encompass multidimensional policy issues of human well-being, environmental management and good governance. Consequently, any strategy to address food sovereignty & sustainable agriculture integrating climate change should consider livelihoods as an integral component. An ecosystem approach to Agriculture and Food sovereignty should be included in all national policies and action plans to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Voices from the field 2

Modern slavery of strawberry harvesters

Mohammed Hakach, National Agricultural Sector Federation (Fédération Nationale du Secteur Agricole), Morocco

I took over ten years for the reality of thousands of Moroccan agricultural workers in Spain to come to light. This reality is characterised by suffering, isolation, exploitation and various kinds of harassment. Moroccan rural women are “legally” exported to carry out temporary work in the strawberry fields in the South of Spain in the framework of immigration known as “circular” via the ANAPEC agency that falls under the Ministry for Labour.

The suffering of these unfortunate strawberry workers begins when they are recruited, and ends with harsh working and living conditions.
Spanish agricultural employers impose selection criteria that are reminiscent of the slaves in Gorée Island in Senegal. Workers must be young, mothers to children of under thirteen years of age; their hands should be calloused and lined, as this shows that they are of rural origin. Their figures must be suitable in terms of height to enable them to work easily in the greenhouses.

And as to the working, living and pay conditions, the victim’s revelations as well as the media reports are unanimous: this is a case of modern slavery.
The National Federation of Agriculture, through the voice of its women’s agricultural sector workers organisation has tirelessly been denouncing the conditions that the immigrant women have to endure. They consider that the current situation is intolerable. The Moroccan State and Spanish State must be held accountable.

Voices from the field 3

A letter from a mother

The letters written by migrants are a valuable source of information on their situation, journeys and the abuse they endure. They are also an important aspect of migration literature. Several farewell letters have been found in the pockets of migrants drowned in the Mediterranean or have been by migrants in distress while in prison. We chose this letter sent by a mother to an immigrant aid association after being separated from her child at the US border.

I’m Claudia. My story began when I crossed the river on May 21, 2018. Immigration took me that day. I was coming with my son Kevin. They took down our information and took us to the ice box where we spent 3 hours. Then they transferred us to another place that they call the kennel. My son and I were there. He was very worried and would tell me that he did not want that food, that we are prisoners and on the 23rd of that same month, they separated me from him with lies and that hurt me a lot because I was not able to say goodbye to my son. I only told him they were taking me for some medical exams, but in reality I was headed to the criminal court. Supposedly, on the way back from court we would be reunited with them but it was not so. I cried so much. I felt that I was going insane, and something was missing in my life. I was not complete. They transferred me to Laredo. There I spent 12 days, then Taylor where I’ve spent 24 days. My credible fear interview was denied and I will see the judge. But it is not fair. My son has been detained for so long. One comes to this country to seek asylum, not to be imprisoned like a criminal and for them to take your son. In all this time we’ve only spoken three times and the last time he told me that he is sad and asked “When are we going to be together?” and that broke my heart. We want justice and that they reunite us with our children soon. We are human beings and there are many mothers suffering. 28 June 2018
Original in Spanish here.

Voices from the field 4

The Palestinian Nakba: an ongoing process of displacement and exile

Aghsan Albarghouti, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Palestine

Seventy long years have passed since the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 where over 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their lands, farms and homes and seek refuge in camps scattered across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in neighboring Arab countries. Today, millions count amongst the Palestinian refugee population and are scattered in numerous cities around the world.

Seventy years on, and the Nakba continues. It continues as thousands of Palestinians are forcibly displaced from their lands and homes not solely in Palestine but in neighboring countries. It continues as Palestinian refugees in Iraq and Syria have been forced to leave their homes multiple times over the years. It continues as a reflection of the difficulties and harsh conditions under which refugees live in Lebanon.

The Nakba continues with the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; with Israeli policies of dispossession and house demolishment; with the wars Israel has been waging against Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip; with the settlements that continue to be built on Palestinian lands; with settler aggression sanctioned by the occupying state; and with the attempt to entrench Israeli control over the occupied city of Jerusalem and expel the city’s Palestinian inhabitants.

The recently passed Israel nation state law is another reflection of the continuation of the original violence against the indigenous Palestinian population. This law sanctioning the ever-existent Israeli policies of apartheid seeks to further rid the land of Palestine of its original inhabitants as continues to be done by the Israeli occupying state.

Clearly, the continuation of the Nakba against the Palestinian people within and outside Palestine necessitates collective action and real solidarity towards achieving justice that include the return of refugees to their homes, and the freedom of our land.

Voices from the field 5

Crises and struggle like surviving Amarbail

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, member of WFFP

The word “Migrant” is a mark of disaster and the struggle of migrants to breathe is just like that of a tree struggling to survive from mistletoe (Amarbail). Being a migrant is not a crime but they are forced to live a life worse than prisoners throughout the world.

A significant number of migrants exists in Karachi (especially Bengalis and Burmese) and they live close to the sea and next to the industrial area. Most of them work in fishing related professions or as laborers. Their crisis begins with the struggle to obtain National Identity Cards (NIC) which is a prior requirement to be officially entitled to basic human rights, such as access to education, health care and better jobs.

Income-earning opportunities are so limited for migrant fishermen that they live way below the poverty-line in Pakistan. The major reason is the lack of CNIC. They are not allowed to apply for government jobs or sail boats on the sea for fishing purposes. The only way for them to earn bread & butter is to work as laborers on boats or peeling shrimps at home without any legal shelter. They don’t get their rightful wages due to their legal status.

The only healthcare service available to them is outdoor service in hospitals. Their patients are not admitted in severe circumstances nor issued blood from blood banks without a CNIC.

Migrants’ children are forced to leave their education after elementary classes and are pushed towards illiteracy even in the 21st century. With the introduction of new restrictions to admission in primary schools, even their hopes for primary education are fading away. This act is entirely against the state’s obligations; “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children”.

Due to a lack of education, jobs and other necessities, their young people are involved in drug trafficking and street crime in order to fulfill their financial needs.

The current generation of fishermen in Pakistan are not migrants. They are here because of their forefathers’ migration. NADRA (National Database & Registration Authority) seems to go against the Pakistani Citizenship Act 1951 that states that “every person born in Pakistan after the commencement of this Act shall be a citizen of Pakistan by birth” by not issuing them CNIC.

Bengali communities think that their neighbors are welcoming and give them support to resolve day to day problems. Pakistani society is very hospitable but they are being refused the possibility of merging into society by the departments.

Voices from the field 6

Migrant seasonal workers in the South of Italy

Unione Sindacale di Bas, Italy

The Italian trade union Unione Sindacale di Base (USB) aims to represent, defend and promote the rights of working men and women; and to oppose the fragmentation of workers struggles by connecting and unionizing workers in their territories.

In Italy seasonal agricultural workers -many of whom are migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East- face extreme conditions of exploitation, repression and racial discrimination. This is instigated by an industrial model of production that depends on the exploitation of farm workers and of peasants. In Italy, the situation is further exacerbated by a right-wing immigration law which forces migrants to have a work contract in order to obtain a temporary residence permit. This creates a black market where migrant workers are forced to accept inhumane work conditions with the hope of not being deported.

In Southern Italy, especially in the regions of Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria, migrant seasonal workers are mainly engaged in the harvesting of citrus fruits, tomatoes and olives depending on the season. They live packed in inhumane conditions, packed into camps, abandoned factories and sheds. They work for two euros per hour under extreme conditions and are subject to violence and intimidation. One of the latest victims was the 29 year old Malian trade unionist and worker Soumalia Sacko, murdered in the Plain of Gioia Tauro near Reggio Calabria. Soumaila was looking for plates for their shacks with two compatriots when he was shot in the head.

This tragic event led the USB to organize multiple mobilizations in several Italian cities to demand justice and claim workers’ rights. This story was followed by the national media and opened up the way for the USB to start a conversation with the ministry of agriculture and the ministry of labour.

Workers, as well as peasants, are the last link in the production chain and farmers are often forced to exploit workers because they are trapped a treadmill of production.
The innovative position brought forward by USB and La Via Campesina supported by Crocevia is not to side with either peasants or workers but to bring together both groups and to unite in the struggle against a production model that, squeezing the peasants and not allowing for a decent income, leads to the exploitation of migrant seasonal workers.

Soumahoro Aboubakar says: “We are asking for the rights of workers, men and women, regardless of skin colour, to be recognized and respected. On this plain in Calabria, like in many other territories, working men and women have decided to break the chains of exploitation because they believe that united we can really enforce our rights, and divided we will go nowhere especially in a context of a permanent and systematic “hate campaign””.