Those who seek to aid refugees fleeing persecution are being tarred with the same brush as the profiteering human smugglers.
Across Europe, the press is running salacious stories about illegal immigrants tricking their way into a country, aided by ethnic mafia. Anti-racists need to face facts about the trade in human beings and realise that the criminals who make a fortune on the backs of the desperate are the creation of European immigration and asylum policy.
Cast your minds back to the Second World War and imagine what it was like living in Nazi Germany. Then, brave people risked their lives helping Jews escape the Holocaust. Then, criminal gangs preyed on Jewish suffering, taking life savings in exchange for a safe passage. Then, those in positions of power turned a blind eye if the bribe was big enough.
All three tendencies exist today.
Victims of smugglers
The sealing of all borders gives new scope for criminal fraternities like the mafia, which can add the trade in human beings to existing operations like drug-smuggling. A fortune is made on the backs of the desperate.
The Vienna International Centre for Migration Policy Development estimates that smuggling immigrants into Europe earned crime syndicates between $100m and $1billion in 1993. In Italy, according to a DIA report, the international mafia charges the following fees: from Albania, 1m lire (£440); from Russia and the CIS, 3m lire; from Asia, Africa and South America, 7m-10m lire. Official sources say that the Russian mafia nets £12million a year through the traffic in human beings. Italian magistrates in Bolzano investigating illegal immigration networks estimated that $7billion was netted from smuggling 20000 people.
- 121 immigrants smuggled by the mafia to Naples paid £3000 each to be taken by container ship from Istanbul. Conditions experienced during the passage are grim. Members of the Italian clandestine network investigated by Bolzano magistrates had raped young women in transit. Many of those smuggled are simply abandoned once they reach their destination, or forced overboard by launch pilots – sometimes at gunpoint – several hundred yards offshore. A Moroccan who could not swim died this way after drug traffickers threw him overboard. Payment of your life savings is no guarantee of reaching your final destination alive.
- 18 Sri Lankan Tamils suffocated at temperatures of more than 35 degrees centigrade in a container truck parked in the Hungarian city of Györ. The bodies were only discovered when local residents complained of a swarm of flies and smells coming from the truck.
- There was only one lifeboat on board a 13-metre yacht used to bring twenty Sri Lankan Tamils to Italy. The Italian smugglers sailed off in it when the yacht capsized. Six Tamils are missing, presumed dead; the remainder survived by drifting on a raft for 15 hours. They have been issued with deportation orders.
Black market in documents
The trade in false documents also opens up the possibility for corruption amongst police, immigration officers and embassy officials, as only they are in the position to sell such documents.
If a visa is a ticket to freedom; if a residence or work permit means escape from illegality and the underground economy, no wonder then that ‘illegals’ will pay a small fortune to obtain such documents on the black market.
- Employees at the Italian consulate in Lagos, Nigeria have been operating a visa scam whereby documents were sold at an estimated cost of $1000-$3000.
- Immigrants paid police officers at Orly airport, Paris, a commission so as to gain entry to France. The police superintendent of Paris is amongst those suspended pending an investigation.
- Tamils were found to be paying US$5000 in order to obtain false travel documents to enter the Netherlands.
- A German court official in Cologne was convicted of selling residence permits to ex-Yugoslav nationals at a fee of DM3000. A Berlin immigration official and a court translator were charged with illegally issuing residence permits to 57 asylum-seekers between 1992 and 1993.
- Following police labour inspection raids in Liège, Belgium, official public records at the town hall were inspected and several public servants accused of issuing false residence permits to Chinese and Vietnamese gangs which employ ‘illegals’ under slave-like conditions.
Women and children procured
Criminals are also active in procuring women and children to meet the demands of the western market for prostitutes.
Women from Africa, Latin America and, increasingly, eastern Europe are lured to the west on the promise of a work permit and well-paid jobs as waitresses and dancers, only to be sold into bondage. Once inside Europe, passports are confiscated and in order to pay off inflated debts for food, accommodation and travel, the women are forced to work a 12-hour day as prostitutes, suffering imprisonment, violence and rape. Criminal proceedings against seven pimps in France exposed a recruiting ring whereby women from the Ukraine were brought in on false documents, called ‘heifers’ and treated like cattle. Needless to say, women are propelled toward the black market in false documents in order to escape such slavery. Nigerian women in Italy pay 3m lire (£1,300) for documents to aid regularisation.
According to the European Union, 500000 women may be living illegally in Europe after being smuggled in by international traders and organised crime syndicates. The Foundation Against Trafficking in Women believes that the Netherlands has become an important transit-point for this lucrative trade and that a quarter of Holland’s 30000 prostitutes are held in slavery. Seventy per cent of Vienna’s estimated 4000 prostitutes come from abroad, mainly from eastern Europe.
The women also have to face brutal racism among their clients. In Turin, Italy, Nigerian women called a demonstration after six prostitutes were murdered and a further two disappeared in the space of two months. Italian men are ‘looking for sex without complications, but then cannot handle the fact that they have done it with a “nigger”‘, one of the women explained.
But street prostitution is not the only method of exploitation and debasement. In Sweden, an official inquiry has been launched to investigate the abuse of women by Swedish men who import wives from abroad only to dump them, leaving them vulnerable to expulsion. Donna Hughes, a lecturer at Bradford University, recently told a conference on pornography that the Internet is being used to market women for sex in an ‘unprecedented’ way, for instance, by providing a Mail Order Brides catalogue, with women from the Philippines, Costa Rica, Eastern Europe and South America popular choices.
One neglected aspect of this brutal trade involves children. In Italy, reports il manifesto, young children and even babies are being sold into prostitution, theft and beggary. Young unaccompanied refugees may be specially vulnerable. In the Netherlands, 270 children have gone missing from asylum-centres. Police in Eindhoven are investigating whether the 100 children who disappeared from one centre over a period of eighteen months could have been abducted by criminal organisations. In September 1995, Dutch police discovered nine 12-year-old Indian boys in a building owned by the head of a criminal organisation involved in child-smuggling. Although the boys were taken to an asylum-centre, all but one of them has since disappeared.
The ethnic argument
The way the traffic in humans is reported nearly always obscures the international aspects of the trade, evades criticism of European laws which victimise whole communities and conflates ‘ethnic’ gangs with ‘ethnic’ victims.
The press portrays the real victim of ethnic-based crime as European society itself, overrun by Asian, African and eastern European mafia.
The Vietnamese in Germany provide a case in point. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Vietnamese guestworkers, once employed in the hazardous industries of the east, have been left stranded and without funds. The new Germany no longer needs them. Their residence permits were revoked in 1994, rendering them illegal overnight. Now facing concerted attempts to repatriate them, the Vietnamese have been forced to sink or swim in the black market for illegal cigarettes.
It is a deadly livelihood. Sellers do not keep much money from sales and must pay for their pitches outside supermarkets or train stations. Constant police raids have put a premium on safe sites, which now have to be bought for up to DM30000 (£13000). Hence, ‘wars’ have emerged between rival gangs seeking territorial control. Since 1992, 41 Vietnamese have been murdered in Berlin. The latest seven victims were shot through the head in a mass execution.
The in-fighting and resulting murders are used, not to re-examine society’s attitude toward the Vietnamese, but to subject them to another round of political and popular racism. The politicians have used the bloody murders to justify the repatriation of the Vietnamese en masse, while the press have concentrated on scare stories about the Vietnamese underworld. Nobody wants to examine how racist policies criminalise communities, or to see the poor Vietnamese street seller as a powerless victim. Nor does it suit political purposes to admit that crime is international, not ‘ethnic’, and that even within the ruthless world of international crime there is such a thing as a race hierarchy. For the Vietnamese gangs in Berlin who exploit their Vietnamese compatriots are on the lowest rung of a mafia hierarchy, in which Russians, Baltic nationals, Germans and Swiss control the sale of contraband cigarettes.