Travel Agency: A Critique of Anti-Trafficking Campaigns

By Sharma, Nandita | Refuge, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Travel Agency: A Critique of Anti-Trafficking Campaigns


Sharma, Nandita, Refuge


Abstract

This paper offers a critical evaluation of anti-trafficking campaigns spearheaded by some in the feminist movement in an attempt to deal with the issues of unsafe migrations and labour exploitation. I discuss how calls to "end trafficking, especially in women and children" are influenced by--and go on to legitimate--governmental practices to criminalize the self-willed migration of people moving without official permission. I discuss how the ideological frame of anti-trafficking works to reinforce restrictive immigration practices, shore up a nationalized consciousness of space and home, and criminalize those rendered illegal within national territories. Anti-trafficking campaigns also fail to take into account migrants' limited agency in the migration process. I provide alternative routes to anti-trafficking campaigns by arguing for an analytical framework in which the related worldwide crises of displacement and migration are foregrounded. I argue that by centering the standpoint of undocumented migrants a more transformative politics emerges, one that demands that people be able to "stay" and to "move" in a self-determined manner.

Resume

Cet article propose une evaluation critique des campagnes contre la traite des femmes menees par certaines personnes appartenant au mouvement feministe, et cela dans une tentative pour resoudre les problemes de migrations dangereuses et d'exploitation des travailleurs. J'examine comment les appels pour << arreter la traite, specialement des femmes et des enfants >> sont influences--et servent a legitimer--aux pratiques gouvernementales visant a criminaliser la migration volontaire des gens qui voyagent sans permission officielle. Je demontre comment le cadre ideologique anti-traite sert eventuellement a renforcer des pratiques plus restrictives en matiere d'immigration, a la nationalisation des notions d'espace et de domicile et a criminaliser ceux qui sont rendus clandestins a l'interieur des territoires nationaux. De plus, les campagnes contre la traite ne prennent pas en consideration le peu d'influence des migrants dans le mecanisme de la migration. Je propose des voies alternatives aux campagnes contre la traite, en demandant la raise sur pied d'un cadre analytique qui donnerait une place de premiere importance aux crises mondiales jumelees aux deplacements et a la migration. Je soutiens, qu'en ramenant le point de rue des migrants sans-papiers au centre de la discussion, on arrive a une politique qui acquiert un pouvoir de transformation et qui requiert que les gens aient le droit de << rester >> et de << circuler >> a leur gre.

Introduction

There is no doubt that the issues addressed by anti-trafficking campaigns are in urgent need of attention: unprecedented levels of migration, unsafe migration practices; the exploitation of migrants; and the growing use of migrants as unfree, indentured, or even enslaved labour. However, anti-trafficking campaigns are unable to remedy these concerns. This is in part because the framing of these grave problems as one of "trafficking" or criminal "smuggling" assumes that the affected migrants are moved against their will and that the "trafficker" is the main culprit in their exploitation. (1)

Such a flaming of the problem leaves many crucial questions unasked, questions such as: What are the conditions from which migrants are moving? How are most people able to migrate if not with the assistance of smuggling operations? What are the labour market options currently available for migrants, particularly undocumented ones? What are the factors that expose undocumented migrants to heightened vulnerability within nationalized labour markets? How are the (im)migration regimes of national states implicated in this?

I will try to show that far from helping migrants, especially women and children who are the main focus of many anti-trafficking efforts, anti-trafficking and/or anti-smuggling campaigns exacerbate the conditions that cause harm to migrants.

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