Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

September 16, 2007

Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought this would be a good post to get back in the swing of things.

One would think that by now people in the U.S. would be experts regarding Iraq. Since George W. Bush talks so much about “bringing freedom” to the Iraqis, saying things like “the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad”, I assume all law-abiding, patriotic citizens should at least know something about Iraq’s culture, its geography, languages spoken, not to mention everything about the daily struggles of the Iraqis. Yeah right, and first thing tomorrow morning, I’m buying a Jaguar for myself and a Porsche for my wife.

It is so incredibly frustrating that the average American is completely ignorant of the current human crisis and refugee situation in Iraq. If this were the 1930’s, with no TV, print, or internet, I would understand, but nowadays information is at the tip of the fingertips, one search engine away.

Take this recent article from WireTap Magazine:

Child prostitution is an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Damascus. Out of economic desperation, Iraqi refugee women and girls are forced into these roles. Frequently, women who have lost their husbands or girls who have lost their fathers resort to prostitution to support their families. And sometimes families that have no other financial resources sell their daughters into the sex industry. It is a tragic and horrifying reality.

There are no official figures as to how many of the Iraqi refugees work as prostitutes. But Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women’s group Women’s Will, told The Independent that she puts the figure at 50,000. No one knows how many of the prostitutes are children.

Take a guess if this has EVER been discussed, or at least mentioned, in the mainstream media, with the seriousness this deserves. You certainly won’t hear it from the likes of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. They just don’t to talk about the problems, and even if they do, they certainly won’t address the causes of it:

The increased trafficking and prostitution is yet another result of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. There are roughly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, perhaps 2 million within the Middle East. UNHCR estimates that 50,000 Iraqi refugees arrive in Syria each month. This situation represents the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948 and is currently the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Syria has been accepting more refugees without visas than any other country in the world. On Sept. 11, however, the Syrian government announced new visa restrictions that will sharply decrease the numbers of Iraqis wishing to enter Syria.

50,000 Iraqi refugees each month. That’s over half a million last year just to Syria alone. Syria has done a lot for Iraqi refugees, yet you really don’t hear much about it. What you do hear is that Syria might get a can of good ol’ butt whoopin’, shock-and-awe style, if it doesn’t do what the U.S. wants. If George W. Bush really cares that much for Iraq’s people, then he must be bending over backwards helping Iraqis, right? Wrong:

[…]In a July 2007 press statement, Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, states, “The Syrian authorities have responded very positively to the Iraqis’ needs, but they and the Jordanian authorities should not be left to bear the weight of this crisis alone.” He went on to scold nations who had previously committed to providing financial assistance but had yet to cough up the funds.

But a lack of money is not the only problem. Refugees International underscores that offers from the international community to resettle Iraqi refugees have also been scarce. For example, the United States initially promised it would accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees by October of this year, yet, to date, has accepted only 133. Sweden, which had allowed thousands of Iraqis to resettle, has recently closed its borders to them. The silence of other nations on this issue is deafening.

7,000 measly visas for Iraqi refugees that are fleeing violence, civil war and ethnic cleansing, and of those only 133 have been accepted. Is this the high standard the U.S. currently has in place for the refugees in the very same fucking country it is “liberating”? I mean, give me a fucking break. It’s not like the U.S. has never helped refugees before. In 1975, President Ford brought to the U.S. 131,000 South Vietnamese that had worked for the Americans.

We can do a lot better. But I digress. The average American, especially those belonging to that elusive “28%” of the population that still backs Bush in whatever fantasy he spits out of his mouth, doesn’t have a clue as to what an average Iraqi refugee has to live with:

According to the UNHCR, Iraqis arrive with three to five months’ worth of savings. Due to a scarcity both of resources and of housing, they live in overcrowded neighborhoods outside of Damascus, such as Jeremana, often cramped seven to a room with few furnishings. Iraqis are not allowed to work in Syria, so when their funds run out, they are unable to support themselves. Consequently, many work illegally. Yet these jobs are difficult to come by and poorly paid, and workers frequently face discrimination. A report published by UNHCR and UNICEF last year states that an estimated 450,000 Iraqis in Syria “face aggravated difficulties” related to their “ambiguous legal and unsustainable income.” As their savings dwindle, the situation of Iraqi refugees is bound to deteriorate further. Sybella Wilkes, the UNHCR Regional public information officer in Damascus, says that “64 percent of the people who have arrived here have run out of savings.”

Bassam Alkadi, of the Syrian Women’s Observatory, agrees that the economic desperation is leading to an increase in prostitution. “The standard of living for Iraqis,” he says “has gone downhill very quickly.”

Yet according to Dubya, freedom is on the march. Sometimes I wish I were more eloquent so I can convey my thoughts and emotions better, but such is not the case here. The Iraqi refugee crisis is something I, along with others that truly give a damn about human rights, have been discussing since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. One of my main gripes, though, is the hypocrisy that people have towards all of this. They care about the Iraqis, yet don’t want or don’t care to find out what’s really happening. It is all horseshit. Just admit it – this war has nothing to do with WMDs (guess who still believes that nonsense), democracy, or human rights. The average American does not understand or care much about human rights, and neither does Dubya.

Who are you going to believe, me or the president of the United States? Hint: I have been known to be right on occasion.


Low-Cost Antimalarial Pill Available!

March 2, 2007

A child finds out he got Malaria

God, finally some good news to cheer my day up!

A new, cheap, easy-to-take pill to treat malaria is being introduced today, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas.

A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. Adults with malaria will take only two pills a day for three days, and the pill will come in three smaller once-a-day sizes for infants, toddlers and youngsters.

Needless to say, this is a very good thing, and a team effort as well:

“This is a good thing,” said Dr. Arata Kochi, chief of the World Health Organization’s global malaria program, who has publicly demanded that drug companies stop making pills that contain artemisinin alone because they will lead to resistant strains of malaria. “They’re responding to the kind of drug profile we’ve been promoting.”

[…]Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s fourth-largest drug company, based in Paris, will sell the pill at cost to international health agencies like the W.H.O., Unicef and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rollout of the drug is the result of a two-year partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a campaign started by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to find new drugs for tropical diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, has long been one of the harshest critics of the pharmaceutical industry, charging that it spent billions on drugs like Viagra, Ambien and Prozac for rich countries and almost nothing on diseases killing millions of poor people.

But, recognizing that new drugs would have to come from the industry’s major players, Doctors Without Borders founded the initiative in 2003 and began seeking partnerships. This is the first to come to fruition.

See, ain’t that the way to do things? Major disagreements, but communication is still open, and compromise. I know a government or two that could apply these principles into practice.


Seizing the chance to end homelessness

February 19, 2007

Mother & Baby homeless picture

(Picture by John McCabe, from AliceBernstein.net)

Here is a great op-ed by Henry Cisneros (yes, the one that was persecuted a la Bill Clinton for his sexual escapades) about the need, and opportunity, to end homelessness in the U.S.:

The most recent estimate, and the first in more than a decade, shows that at minimum 744,000 men, women and children experienced homelessness in the United States on any given night in January 2005. Distressingly, about 23 percent had a disability and were homeless for long periods.

These numbers are derived from taking a snapshot of the problem; the reality is that homelessness is quite fluid and that over the course of the year about 3.5 million people are without a home.

These grim statistics add up to a single truth: There are too many people who experience homelessness and far too many who spend years — quite literally — sleeping on the streets. What these statistics do not address, but what we know is also true, is that many more people are living on the periphery of homelessness, at risk of eviction or living in a precarious situation because they cannot afford their housing.

Certainly we have the resources to end homelessness. And, importantly, we have the knowledge. Across the country, new solutions have emerged, strategies that focus less on shelters and soup kitchens — the proverbial hot and a cot — and much more on long-term solutions like preventing homelessness in the first place and getting people back into permanent housing rapidly instead of letting them languish in emergency shelter.

He is definitely right in that we do have the resources. In fact most countries do – they just need to focus the money on where it counts, not on petty things like war and corruption. This is especially true after hurricane Katrina.

While only government can fully stamp out homelessness, individual civic groups are the ones that are leading the way:

One breakthrough strategy is called Housing First. This approach minimizes the time people spend in a shelter by providing access to permanent housing and then, after people are stably housed, services that address other needs. That way, the individual or family has stable housing while they sort out how to make improvements in their lives.

I have seen great success with this approach across the United States, with marked decreases in homelessness. In San Francisco, Housing First approaches helped reduce homelessness by 28 percent; in Columbus, 46 percent among families; and 43 percent among families in Hennepin County, Minn.

The entire article is pasted below… Read the rest of this entry »


Global Warming to Hit Poor Worst

February 6, 2007

From PlanetArk:

NAIROBI – The world’s poor, who are the least responsible for global warming, will suffer the most from climate change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told environment ministers from around the world on Monday.

“The degradation of the global environment continues unabated … and the effects of climate change are being felt across the globe,” Ban said in a statement after last week’s toughest warning yet mankind is to blame for global warming.

In comments read on his behalf at the start of a major week-long gathering in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Ban said all countries would feel the adverse impact of climate change.

“But it is the poor, in Africa and developing small island states and elsewhere, who will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming.”

Why Africa will be one of the most affected is not secret:

Experts say Africa is the lowest emitter of the greenhouse gases blamed for rising temperatures, but due to its poverty, under-development and geography, has the most to lose under dire predictions of wrenching change in weather patterns.

The entire article is pasted below. Read the rest of this entry »


Bratz dolls just stopped being cool…

December 30, 2006

Ok, and with this posting I acknowledge I may stop being “cool” with plenty of readers that bought those cute Bratz dolls over Barbie dolls for Christmas. While Barbie dolls are still more popular, and profitable, than Bratz dolls, many people buy them for a myriad of reasons – such as their ethnic diversity, or because they just party and shop and nothing else – but unfortunately, like many toys, they are manufactured under the worst conditions possible:

The pouty Bratz dolls so popular as Christmas presents are made at a factory in southern China where workers are obliged to toil up to 94 hours a week, among other violations, a labour rights group said in a report released Friday.

The report by U.S.-based China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee details allegations of harsh working conditions, especially during peak delivery months, and of violations of workers’ rights to injury and health insurance.

That’s 94 hours of work a week! And as you can guess, none of these workers has a trust fund. In fact, they get paid 51.5 cents an hour.

The report by China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee is available here and let me tell you, it is more damning than a sperm-stained blue dress. They included everything, and I mean everything in the report – including pictures of the “cheat sheets” given to the workers in order to fool labor monitors!

And what about the workers? Well, they are definitely protesting, but unfortunately their bosses are not listening:

There was already a strike in June 2006, when workers who had more than ten years employment at the Hua Tai factory walked out demanding that the management pay their health insurance and pension as is required by law. The workers wanted to march to the local labor bureau to present their just demands, but were blocked and prevented from doing so by the Nanling Village public security forces.

[…]Now management is demanding that every worker quit and wait out one month before returning as a “new” worker, who will be given a temporary contract limited to less than eight months. Already some workers are being kept on month-to-month contracts.

There’s going to be another strike on January 2007, so watch this space.

By the way, does that sound like Wal-Mart, keeping all workers as temps and not paying them their full benefits? If you guessed “yes”, give yourself a pat on the traps. There are reasons they are keeping their mouth shut:

There is another dirty little secret behind the Bratz dolls—a secret that MGA, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us do not want us to know: It’s that the workers in China are paid just 17 cents for each doll they assemble, and that the total cost to produce the doll is $3.01. When the Bratz dolls enter the U.S., the companies mark the price up by 428 percent—another $12.88—and retail the dolls for at least $15.89. It’s a good deal for the companies and a very bad deal for the young workers in China, and—for more than one reason—for parents and children across the United States and Europe.

The National Labour Committes does some outstanding work, so please support them if you can.

They even made a video of Bratz Yasmin and Cloe discussing their life at the factory, which is hilarious (note I said hilarious, and not “professional” but then again making videos is not in their job description)

All work and no play would make a Bratz doll, well, not a Bratz doll. But if Bratz could speak, they would sing the Sweatshop Blues:

* Routine 13 ½ to 15 1/2 –hour shifts, seven days a week.
* Workers at the factory 94 ½ hours a week.
* Paid just 51 ½ cents an hour and $4.13 a day.
* Workers denied work injury and health insurance, in direct violation of China’s law.
* Taking a sick day results in loss of three days’ wages.
* Workers failing to meet their production goals must remain working—unpaid—until the target is met.
* Workers are not allowed paid days off to get married.
* Ten workers share a small dorm room, sleeping on metal bunk beds. There is no shower or TV.
* If a worker breaks a doll, she is docked five hours’ wages.
* Before the gullible Wal-Mart auditors arrive, the workers are provided a Cheat Sheet with a list of the “correct” answers, which they must memorize.
* Now the factory wants to fire every worker and then bring them back as temporary workers with contracts limited to just one to eight months—which will strip them of any legal rights they have. The workers are planning to strike in January 2007.
* The workers are paid just 17 cents for each Bratz doll they assemble.
* The total cost of production for a Bratz doll made in China is $3.01. When the doll enters the U.S., the companies mark up the cost by another 428 percent, adding $12.88, for a retail price of $15.89.

Don’t let these assholes get away with this. Drop them a note and tell ’em who sent you while you are at it.

Company contact information:

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Lee Scott, CEO
702 SW 8th Street
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716
Phone: 479-273-4000
Email Wal-Mart 

Toys R Us, Inc.
Gerald L. Storch, Chairman and CEO
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, New Jersey 07470-2030
Phone: 973-617-3500
Email Toys R Us

MGA Entertainment
Isaac Larian, CEO
16380 Roscoe Blvd., Suite 200
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Phone: 818-894-2525
Email MGA


Climate Change Clash in Africa

December 27, 2006

This is an intriguing article linking conflict, the arms trade, poverty, disease and climate change all into one. Think this is far-fetched? Welcome to the real world, where everything is interconnected. The title, “Climate Change Clash in Africa” is not just change in the environment:

It’s been a bloody first half of the dry season in Uganda’s Karamoja region. October to February is the time when grass turns brittle, mud dries and cracks, and competition for scarce resources increases. More than 40 people have died in recent weeks in fighting between Karimojong warriors and the Ugandan Army in the arid northeast of the country.

The semi-nomadic Karimojong are pastoralists who protect their cows, violently if necessary. The warriors are well-armed, and this has put them on a collision course with Uganda’s government. But the recent clashes are a symptom of more universal problems.

As elsewhere in Africa, the population in eastern Uganda continues to grow as the environment deteriorates, putting more and more pressure on a land that grows ever drier. At a United Nations conference on climate change held in neighboring Kenya last month, environmentalists warned that Africa would bear the brunt of global warming.

With more people forced to share fewer resources, experts warn that conflict will increase. “Climate change will hit pastoral communities very hard,” says Grace Akumu, executive director of environmental pressure group Climate Network Africa. “The conflict is already getting out of hand and we are going to see an increase in this insecurity.”


What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethelem today?

December 26, 2006

I honestly don’t know, but she wouldn’t be happy. From the Independent:

In two days, a third of humanity will gather to celebrate the birth pains of a Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem – but two millennia later, another mother in another glorified stable in this rubble-strewn, locked-down town is trying not to howl.

Fadia Jemal is a gap-toothed 27-year-old with a weary, watery smile. “What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem today? She would endure what I have endured,” she says.

[…]They stopped to collect her sister and mother and set out for the Hussein Hospital, 20 minutes away. But the road had been blocked by Israeli soldiers, who said nobody was allowed to pass until morning. “Obviously, we told them we couldn’t wait until the morning. I was bleeding very heavily on the back seat. One of the soldiers looked down at the blood and laughed. I still wake up in the night hearing that laugh. It was such a shock to me. I couldn’t understand.”

Her family begged the soldiers to let them through, but they would not relent. So at 1am, on the back seat next to a chilly checkpoint with no doctors and no nurses, Fadia delivered a tiny boy called Mahmoud and a tiny girl called Mariam. “I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital,” she says now. For two days, her family hid it from her that Mahmoud had died, and doctors said they could “certainly” have saved his life by getting him to an incubator.

[…]Since Fadia’s delivery, in 2002, the United Nations confirms that a total of 36 babies have died because their mothers were detained during labour at Israeli checkpoints. All across Bethlehem – all across the West Bank – there are women whose pregnancies are being disturbed, or worse, by the military occupation of their land.