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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Human trafficking or a plain case of migration?

Human trafficking or a plain case of migration?

The French detention of a plane on suspicion of its passengers being victims of exploitation raises the vital question of their intent: Were they just trying to get around labour barriers?

Human trafficking is the modern version of the olden-day slave trade. (AP)Premium
Human trafficking is the modern version of the olden-day slave trade. (AP)

Human trafficking is the modern version of the olden-day slave trade. Suspicion of it explains why French authorities detained a Nicaragua-bound aircraft over the weekend at Vatry airport, 150km from Paris, and put its passengers to questioning before letting it take-off. As reported, the Airbus A340 that landed in France for refuelling was a chartered flight from Dubai with 303 individuals—mostly Indians— including 11 unaccompanied minors. The plane’s owner, Romania’s Legend Airlines, denied involvement in any racket and claimed the passenger list was verified by a “partner" company that took it on hire. Two men were reportedly taken aside by a special French unit for interrogation as apparent crime suspects. Reports also suggest that over a dozen people off the plane sought asylum in France. As details of the incident remain sketchy and the motives unclear, we must also consider the likelihood that they were not being trafficked as human cargo for exploitation, but were headed for America—with Nicaragua as a transit point—on their own volition for a better life.

According to the 2022 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, while this scourge saw a dip in reported cases during the covid pandemic, the numbers remain alarming. The report notes that in 2020, the global count of detected victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation per million population, at 3.7, dropped to the same level as those bundled off for forced labour. In the peak year of 2019, this variable was 4.8 for the former crime and 3.9 for the latter, having risen from 1.5 and 0.2 respectively back in 2003, when the UN Trafficking Protocol came into force. That no human being should ever suffer the captivity implicit in this appalling practice is beyond doubt. Yet, it must not be confused with the phenomenon of voluntary illegal migration. This has seen such a surge that it’s become a hot political issue in many Western countries, with campaigns to secure borders finding much support, especially among conservatives. In the US, for example, Republicans sought to wall off Mexico so that people cannot hop across. And in the UK, Tories have tried to deter would-be incomers with the threat of packing them off to Rwanda.

Sovereign nations have a right to determine who they allow in, but their barriers typically warp labour markets. Rich countries often need workers from elsewhere to fill vacancies and achieve better equilibria, but many of them let an irrational resistance to cultural diversity dictate policy. Indeed, one great irony of globalization has been its resolve to dissolve borders for capital and trade, but not for people. So while capital largely gets to maximize returns wherever it can, labour is mostly held in place by a global gridlock. This asymmetry not only worsens wage gaps, it makes it impossible to test out a truly common market for the benefits promised by market theory. The EU project’s post-War advocates had hoped commercial ties would reduce conflict and soften borders for all in due course. Globally, however, politics has stayed local while profits went global. This has not helped us globalize well. And now we find that even free trade has lost its big champion, a Cold War II has got underway and a planet with soft borders sounds other-worldly. Given high levels of distrust, this may seem like a particularly bad time to advocate the freer movement of people. Even so, it’s still a worthy cause.

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Published: 25 Dec 2023, 11:38 PM IST
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