The fine line between humanitarian rescue work and human trafficking

I half-watched a programme on DSTV about 2 weeks ago. (‘half-watched’ as in I was busy with a number of other things and this was on in the background).

The investigative journalist covering this story, explained how, for many thousands of North Koreans desperately trying to escape the awful starving and brutal realities of life under the ‘Dear Leader’  Kim Jong-Il in Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (we generally refer to it as North Korea),  their only route of escape to safety, economic opportunity and very often also reunification with their families, is to cross North into the Peoples Republic of China, then head South East into Thailand before being transported into South Korea.   At every stage of this treacherous journey, they face capture and deportation back to DPRK where hardships and brutalities worse than they had already endured, certainly awaits them.

Those who ‘facilitate’ this ‘journey to safety’ do so after securing a commitment from them that once they have successfully arrived in South Korea, they will hand over the entire amount awarded to them by the South Korean government as a ‘starter amount’ (I have to be vague about what it’s called, the amount and why its awarded – ‘cos i was half-listening)

The reporter concluded by explaining how this was a humanitarian mission fraught with extreme danger 24/7.

I remember realising that there is a fine line between this kind of humanitarian action and human trafficking.

Off-hand, the similarities are clear and important but so are the differences. Some of these possibly are that the ‘person being illegally transported’ is a willing participant, rather than being unwilling; and that the ultimate intent of the ‘operation’ is to achieve a ‘better, more secure and potentially more prosperous existence’ for the person concerned than the existence the person has left behind – the persons human rights are being secured to a greater measure.

So,  it is likely that ‘willingness’ and ‘human rights’ are defining factors, among others, in the legal sense, as to which side of the line this kind of action falls.

However, it’s also probably the case that since DPRK is not a favorite for most countries, no-one is likely to speak for them and against this action, in order to stop it – or to find another, more politically acceptable solution.  Therefore, if it is the case that this would be less ‘acceptable’ if it were taking place from a country with a better international reputation, which I suspect it is, then ‘reputation’ becomes another defining factor – just not in the legal sense (relating to the body of International law), but in the social sense.  This is a complicating factor.  So too is the extent to which China and Thailand are aware of what is happening.  Another complicating factor is ‘state sovereignty’ -the reality is that sovereignty is applied or ignored by other states where needed.

There are so many more factors and thoughts to capture on this that I will come back to it later – but I’m posting it for now.

It remains on my mind…

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