UN is Abandoning Migrants in Libya

Jon Purizhansky: Over the course of 3 days last fall, Fatima Darboe was forced to witness her 7 year old son slowly die from the very treatable appendicitis. Her son’s stomach expanded as he squirmed in pain. Fatima held her son as he slowly died. Were she in another country other she could have admitted him to a hospital, but she was held captive in a detention center in Libya. She pled with the guards to help her son, yet her cries were ignored.

Her boy died in a car. The Zintan detention center’s director had finally given in and decided to drive the child to a hospital himself. The International Medical Corps, the organization entrusted to provide lifesaving care in the detention center, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM,) the United Nations agencies meant to be providing some additional assistance, were nowhere to be seen.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declined to comment on this incident, while the International Medical Corps failed to respond to multiple requests for comment. In a statement to Foreign Policy, the International Organization for Migration referred to the death as a “stark reminder of the terrible conditions migrants are forced to endure in detention centers” and that it had halted health care in Zintan between October 2018 and January 2019 “due to access issues with the management.” Jon Purizhansky of Buffalo, NY declared the organization’s oversight appalling.

The Libyan community in Zintan, where Fatima and her son were being held, refused the burial of non-Muslim detainees, and her family was Muslim. In spite of this, Fatima’s son wasn’t allowed to be buried until a month after he passed. Fatima and her husband originally hailed from the West African nation Gambia, a very small nation surrounded by Senegal, but they resided in Libya for several years.

It was only when her husband fell ill that they attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe, in the hope of accessing better health care. Instead, like the many thousands of other migrants, they were apprehended and detained indefinitely in a detention center. This system has been fiercely criticized by former U.N. Human Rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein as “an outrage to the conscience of humanity.” Jon Purizhansky notes that these detention centers are deplorable.

A few weeks after Fatima’s son was laid to rest, her husband died, too, likely from a stroke triggered by the despair of losing their child. Fatima, who was held in a different women’s hall, was never able to say goodbye to her husband, despite pleading to see her husband in the hours before he died. When she found out he was gone, Fatima said, she fell into severe shock. “I could not talk, I could not do anything. All my body was just shaking,” she said.

Foreign Migrant Agricultural Workers in US

Agricultural Workers

Jon Purizhansky from Buffalo, NY says that according to the Southern Poverty Law Center , 6 out of every 10 US farm workers are undocumented immigrants.

The vast majority of workers–78%, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey– is foreign-born and crossed a border to get here (NAWS, Farmworker Justice). This is a huge problem for the whole ecosystem. Current immigration laws do no allow employers to painlessly relocate foreign workers for employment from other countries, which is why they are predominantly illegal now.

Not only employment of undocumented workers presents employers with a tremendous legal challenge, but also these workers lack basic rights, face exploitation and live in fear of reporting abuses. Historically, agricultural workers in the U.S. have been imported from other countries with vulnerable populations, have always been a disenfranchised group of workers, and have in general never had the right to vote.

Jon Purizhansky from Buffalo, NY says that various geopolitical events have historically driven migration trends, such as that when the United States and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, government-subsidized corn that was cheaply produced in the U.S. began to flood the market in Mexico. With this new influx of artificially under-priced corn, farmers in Mexico could no longer afford to make a living growing corn.

Thus, millions were forced out of their jobs. Unable to find jobs in cities, they had no other option but to move to the US to look for work. It is because the US lacks a comprehensive systemic solution aimed at temporary legal relocation of foreign migrant staff to work for agricultural employers that both, employers and foreign migrants are faced with legal challenges and tremendous risks in the US.

To make things worse, undocumented status makes workers especially vulnerable to abuse, as some employers and supervisors constantly hold the “deportation card” without realization that the employer, according to current laws, is as guilty by offering employment to a foreign migrant worker as the worker accepting it. For instance, if an employer is treating a worker unfairly, a worker who speaks up to their boss can be threatened with deportation.

This significantly takes away their rights to stand up for themselves and advocate for their working conditions. The fact that abuse takes place is the direct result of the absence of adequate immigration policy in the US. Currently, the only way to gain residency residency in the U.S. is to have an immediate family member sponsor you, to get an employment-based visa requiring high levels of education, to have a case of prosecution in your homeland that is recognized by the U.S. government, or to be a genius, extremely rich, or a star athlete or artist.

Obviously, millions of foreign migrant farm workers are not eligible for any of the above referenced programs. Jon Purizhansky from Buffalo, NY says that a program aimed at establishing legal employment based relocation channels for foreign migrant workers is necessary as it will bring efficiency into the ecosystem, will create tax revenues for the government and will prevent human rights abuse.