Would you like to read 3,000 words about women from economically disastrous Madagascar taking exploitative jobs in the Middle East that often leave them in physical danger? Well, you really should, but if you’d rather spend your work day looking at cat pictures we understand. That’s why we read Aaron Ross’s piece in the Nation so you don’t have to. (Although, again, you should.) Here are five things we learned about human trafficking in Madagascar.
1. Madagascar’s 2009 coup caused the US and other nations to withdraw aid, leaving the country economically vulnerable.
Before the coup, foreign aid made up 40 percent of Madagascar’s budget. But the regime change caused the United States to withdraw aid, including import tariff exemption under the African Growth and Opportunities Act of 2000. Other countries also refused to support the new government, and a 2011 OECD report found that Madagascar was “perhaps the most under-aided country in the world,” according to Ross. This led to a nearly 50 percent reduction in public expenditures, a tripling of the dropout rate, and a huge drop in available jobs.
US Embassy workers warned that withdrawing AGOA support would mean a huge hit for employment, but the administration did it anyway. This led to the disappearance of 30,000 to 50,000 jobs.
2. With no jobs in Madagascar, thousands of women are migrating to the Middle East to find jobs as domestic workers.
There could be more than 10,000 Malagasy women working in Lebanon alone, and about 3,000 have migrated from Madagascar to Kuwait in the last two years. The president of Madagascar’s Union of Qualified Domestic Workers says studies show that most of these women used to work in Madagascar’s textile industry, decimated by the loss of AGOA.
3. Migration to the Middle East is technically illegal — but government officials are sometimes supporting it anyway.
Madagascar has banned migration to “high-risk” countries, including the Middle East. But people desperate for work are going there anyway, seduced by the supposed abundance of domestic work — and Ross reports that government officials are helping them, covertly and sometimes overtly as well.
4. Conditions for Malagasy workers are dismal at best, dangerous at worst.
Ross reports: “Few workers are even allowed to leave the house unsupervised, much less enjoy the day off each week, and the month off each year, guaranteed in the contracts. Many are prevented from calling their families. Salaries are routinely withheld without explanation.” The workers sign contracts, but exploitative bosses ignore them. Ross spoke to one woman who reported 21-hour workdays, insufficient food, and physical violence from her employers. A man Ross interviewed said that he tried to bring his wife back to Madagascar after discovering she hadn’t been paid for five months, but was told he’d have to buy her out of her contract for more than $3,000.
5. Some trafficked women have come home dead — and even missing some organs.
Ross writes, “More than thirty have died under opaque circumstances. Some of the bodies have been returned missing organs. But the deaths have not been seriously investigated.”
Here’s the chilling conclusion to his article:
In mid-February, Herynirina was informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that his wife had died in Saudi Arabia a few weeks earlier. On March 15, her body arrived back at Ivato Airport, its organs missing, according to the local news. A medical report from the Saudi authorities claims they were removed to preserve the body. The cause of death was officially listed as a heart attack.
Herynirina is the man who was told he’d have to pay $3,000 to get his wife back. One can’t help wondering whether they found a way to get the money out of her in the end.