Protection stalks transnational women workers

For many transnational women workers, life in the global economy is hard. They often deal with separation and alienation, abuse, isolation, and more, and worse. For some, the monetary rewards make it worthwhile. For others, the periods of autonomy, however partial, and the developing mastery of strange and foreign cultures is a kind of reward. For others still, over the years, they develop bonds, ties, community, intimacy. And for many, after all is said and done, they did what they felt they had to do, and really there’s nothing to be said, as far as they’re concerned.

That the contemporary world is a hard place for transnational women workers may be worth repeating, but it’s not news, and it’s not new. The `birth’ of the global economy, of world-systems of development and trade, with its reliance on women’s cheap and available labor, produced new species of vulnerability, precariousness, exploitation, hardship; and women workers have developed new strategies of survival with dignity and of struggle. We know this already.

The contemporary world is not only a hard place for transnational women workers. It’s an unforgiving place. Ask those whose names must be withheld. Ask them about `protection.’

There’s a woman from Moldova whose name must be withheld. At 14 she was abducted, forced into prostitution, and shipped from Moldova to Italy, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Israel and the United Kingdom. For seven years, she was regularly beaten, raped, threatened with death. According to various reports, she was treated as a slave.

In 2003, she was arrested in a brothel in England. No one bothered to listen to, or to ask for, her story. No one asked if she needed, wanted or could use `protection’, and none was offered. Instead, she served three months in Holloway prison, and then was summarily turned over to the UK Border Agency. At Oakington detention centre, she was shot through the Detained Fast-Track system, and then ejected. It was all very efficient. Seek protection in this world, and ye shall find deportation.

The woman was shipped back to Moldova. The men who had kidnapped her in the first place knew she was coming, found her, savagely beat her, and forced her back into prostitution. Four years later, in 2007, she was again arrested in England and sent to Yarl’s Wood. There, someone from the Eaves Housing Poppy Project identified her as a refugee, and helped her to make a successful asylum claim. At last, someone saw her, identified her, as a woman, as a human being.

This week, four years later, the United Kingdom Home Office finally agreed to a `groundbreaking’ settlement with the woman, paying her a `substantial’ amount for having so efficiently sent her back into a place where she was destined to encounter extraordinary violence against her person.

Today, the woman remains anonymous, her name is withheld, because the men who kidnapped, tortured, and exploited her are still out there, and her life and the lives of her family members are in danger.

There is a woman from the Philippines whose name likewise must be withheld. She is a domestic worker in Dubai. She is 42 years old, the mother of one. She has worked as a maid for three years. She has worked in one household, where the conditions have been intolerable. And yet, for three years, she tolerated the intolerable. Finally, in January, she gave her boss a one-month notice, after three years of mental abuse, 16-hour work days, 7 days a week. Her boss refused to accept her resignation. He told her she must stay.

He said he controlled her. Her visa depended on her employer. He placed a visa ban on her, and informed the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department. The Department concurred. In Dubai, as in all the United Arab Emirates, a visa ban means one must leave and one can never return.

The employment agency that had placed her offered to replace her with a new maid. The employer refused.

Having exhausted every possible legal means, the woman fled. She sought refuge at the Philippines Overseas Labour Office. They offered to help her fight, to help her stay and find another job, to help her get the visa ban lifted.

But they could not offer the woman protection. In Dubai, every month, over fifty domestic workers appeal to their various embassies for help, for protection. This was just one more case.

The woman was arrested and taken to Al Wasl immigration holding prison, where she now awaits imminent deportation. “All I want to do is work hard for a good family. Now I have to go back with nothing. I can’t stand to tell my family in the Philippines, they rely on me for financial support.”

These stories of abuse are altogether unexceptional. They are absolutely ordinary stories of ordinary violence committed by ordinary employers, States, everyone against ordinary transnational women workers, women whose names must be withheld. They are part of the everyday, of the parable of protection that is global, intimate, and everywhere. In the global economy, protection stalks transnational women workers.


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And Jimmy Mubenga is dead


Jimmy Mubenga came to England seeking asylum, seeking life. According to his wife, Makenda Kambana, he was on a government hit list, “They killed my father and they threatened to kill Jimmy. They were looking for him. We had no choice but to leave.” Earlier this week, on Tuesday, October 12, Mubenga boarded a plane for Angola, having lost his last battle for asylum in the UK. Within 50 minutes on the plane, he was dead.

Witnesses report that the guards, G4S private deportation `escorts’, jumped on Mubenga and throttled him to death.  Escort deportation has become big business. Most of the 11 immigration removal centers in the UK are run by private firms, in particular G4S, GEO Ltd or Serco.

MPs are calling for an investigation, the former chief inspector of prisons as well. Many informed will raise their voices and eyebrows and hands in surprise and dismay at the violence. Charges of `excessive force’ and `brutality’ are heard across the land.

But Jimmy Mubenga is dead. As are …

Kenyan asylum seeker Eliud Nyenze, who collapsed in April this year at Oakington detention center, run by G4S. Nyenze complained of intense pain, so bad he was reduced to crawling around on the floor, begged for painkillers, and was denied any sort of medical attention. He died in excruciating agony.

Manuel Bravo, an Angolan asylum seeker who in September 2005 was found dead, hanged, in Yarl’s Wood.

Joy Gardner, a Jamaican woman applying for compassionate leave to stay in Britain, killed in front of her five year old son and her mother, September 1993.

These are the prominent, the recorded, names that have come up in discussions of Jimmy Mubenga’s death. Their deaths, the manner of their deaths, the impunity of those who killed them, is said to haunt the story of Jimmy Mubenga. The passengers on that British Airways flight are described as “haunted by the last cries of a dying man.” Understandably. The nation is haunted.

But Jimmy Mubenga is dead, and will remain so. He is not haunted by the past, but his name, his death, is haunted by the future. He is haunted by those who continue to seek asylum.

On Wednesday, October 13, the day after Jimmy Mubenga was killed, Malawian Florence Mhango and her ten-year-old daughter Precious were again blocked from receiving asylum. Precious is seeking asylum because she and her mother fear that if returned to Malawi, by law her estranged father can force her into marriage.

On Thursday, October 14, it was announced that the four-year ban on repatriating Zimbabwean failed asylum applicants would be lifted. Why? Because the Unity Government of Zimbabwe has worked.  That many, including the Zimbabwean diasporic and overseas communities, believe that the situation is worsening, that a bloodbath may very well be imminent, is of no matter. That Robert Mugabe, on Friday, called for national elections whether or not the constitution has been passed, is of no matter.  That the violence continues is of no matter.

What is important is that the Zimbabweans be sent back, be sent out. Take EM, an MDC member raped and beaten by policemen in her own home, send her back, because she has failed the test of asylum. Take Pauline Enagbonma, an albino woman who fears for her safety as an albino in Zimbabwe, and send her and her three young children back, children who have spent the majority of their lives in the UK. Take Nokuthula Ngazana and her famous 18 year old daughter Gamu, and send them back. Nokuthula Ngazana came to the UK, with her daughter, to study. Home Office claims she filed for visa extension “out of time”, and since Gamu was listed as her dependent on the application, she too must leave. Send them all back, along with all those whose names go unrecorded.

Seize them and you shall seize the day.

Send them all back for they have failed the test of asylum. In the protection of the State, there is no excessive force, there is no brutality. Those notions, like Nokuthula Ngazana’s application, are out of time.

Precious Mhango haunts Jimmy Mubenga, Gamu Nhengu haunts Jimmy Mubenga. The tens of thousands of children, of women and men seeking asylum and those who in the future shall seek asylum in the United Kingdom, they haunt Jimmy Mubenga.

And Jimmy Mubenga is dead.


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