Ethnic Fragmentation, Conflict, Displaced Persons and Human Trafficking: An Empirical Analysis

Ethnic Fragmentation, Conflict, Displaced Persons and Human Trafficking: An Empirical Analysis

Ethnic Fragmentation, Conflict, Displaced Persons and Human Trafficking: An Empirical Analysis

The link between ethnic conflicts and international trafficking is an issue that has recently received a surge in international attention. The main argument is that internal conflicts encourage the internal displacement of individuals from networks of family and community, and their access to economic and social safety nets. These same individuals are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked, by the hopes of better economic prospects elsewhere. In this paper, we take this link between ethnic fragmentation, conflicts, internal and internally displaced people from a country and international trafficking to the data for the first time, making use of a novel dataset of international trafficking.

While there is an extensive empirical literature linking ethnic fragmentation to conflict, and an equally extensive literature linking conflict to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and international refugees, scant empirical attention has been accorded either to the link between IDPs / refugees and international human trafficking or to the link between ethnic fragmentation, conflict, IDPs/refugees and trafficking. Given that the factors that force migration within and across international borders are similar to the ones that are at play in the trafficking context, it would seem natural explore the link. However, before we look into the existing literature in this area, it is necessary to unravel the causal link from ethnic fragmentation to conflict since the issue of IDPs and refugees is crucially linked to the incidence and intensity of conflict.

Is ethnic fragmentation a cause for conflict within nations? The answer is not clear. Prior to 1980, only fifteen countries could be identified as homogenous with the two Koreas, Portugal and Japan leading this select group (Connor, 1983; Lee, 2002). Correspondingly over the 1950-1989 period, Gurr (1993) finds that non-violent protests by ethnic minority groups increased by 230%, violent protests rose by 430% and rebellions increased by 360%. Since the end of the Cold War the fraction of countries that could be characterized as ethnically homogenous has fallen further with the break-up of the ex-Soviet Union, and as Reilly (2000) reports, of the 110 major conflicts globally over this time period, 103 were intra-state in nature. A primary cause of ethnic conflict across nations arises out of interactions between ethnic groups and government, through either (i) government coercion in response to the threat of dissent and rebellion from ethnic groups; (ii) ethnic groups having a mobilization advantage and are therefore more likely to engage in protest or (iii) democratization, which ties a government’s hands with respect to coercion thereby allowing ethnic groups the leeway to mobilize and protest (Lee, 2002). Lindstrom (1996) in fact finds support for the hypothesis that ethnic fragmentation is positively correlated with conflict, in consonance with the theory that ethnic fragmentation is closely related with mobilization for dissent.

The literature on the link between ethnic fragmentation and conflict can be further classified into two branches – democratic and non-democratic societies. In democratic societies, the main cause of conflict is increasing inter ethnic-group economic inequality caused by (i) economic policies instituted by the government, (ii) the classic tragedy of the commons case wherein one ethnic group fails to internalize the costs that their choices impart on other ethnic groups, (iii) bureaucratic corruption, (iv) the ‘resource curse’ where the rents from natural resource extraction accrue only to a minority group within a country and finally (v) political transitions. In so far as issues (i), (ii) and (iii) above are concerned, Horowitz (1985) notes that individuals often derive enjoyment from seeing benefits accrue to members of their group (be it class- or ethnic-based) even when they themselves do not directly share in those benefits. Empirically, Alesina, Baqir, and Easterly (1999) find that U.S. cities characterized by higher levels of ethnic fragmentation and economic inequality exhibit higher overall levels of both government spending and debt while at the same time devote lower shares of total spending towards investment in public goods. This suggests that cities with higher ethnic fragmentation and inequality spend more on patronage for conflicting special interest groups. Thus, any economic or social policy that is deemed to confer additional benefits purely to a particular ethnic group can be a cause for dissent and conflict. An additional cause of ethnic conflict stems from the inability of international, national and regional powers to adequately provide security for minority groups. Finally for nondemocratic countries, ethnic conflict is more often than not linked to repression of ethnic groups by military dictatorships, and frequent struggles for power through coups and rebellions.

However, it can be argued that that ethnic fragmentation (or the share of an ethnic group in the total population) within a country does not necessarily imply dissent even in the face of perceived unjust economic and social policies — what matters probably more is the relative strength of an ethnic group vis-à-vis others within a country. While the theories linking ethnic fragmentation and conflict are wide-ranging and still debated, the link between conflict (ethnic, religious, ideological, or otherwise) and the problem of IDPs and refugees is far more clear-cut. IDPs and international refugees constitute the spectrum of people fleeing conflict, post-conflict returnees, people displaced by environmental and natural disasters, people displaced by development projects like large dams. Spiegel (2004) notes that by the end of 2002, there were approximately 40 million displaced people globally with 15 million refugees (UNHCR, 2003), and 25 million IDPs (Global IDP Project, 2003). Moreover, IDPs and refugees are either the poorest or those stripped of resources by stronger groups (Mani, 2005). Displacement leads to the breakdown of social structures and informal and formal insurance mechanisms along with a disruption of employment, healthcare, education and financial services making IDPs and refugees a vulnerable group. Specially affected amongst the IDPs and refugees are women and children who suffer the most in terms of food insecurity, hunger and unequal distribution of material goods. As a result, women and children are the most at risk of exploitation and abuse, including coercion into transactional sex for survival. Indeed, Mani (2005) points to the case of Sierra Leone where provisions were allocated to women refugees in exchange of sexual favors with the threat of violence.

While studies do document that women and children are the most vulnerable amongst IDPs and refugees it does not necessarily imply that this group are also victims of trafficking across international borders. Our hypothesis that conflict-prone countries with a high number of IDPs and source countries for refugees may also turn out to be the source country for trafficked victims is based on two sets of information delineated below. First, data on the countries of origin for asylum seekers into North America, Western Europe and Australia closely mirror the country of origin of trafficked victims into these regions. Second, case studies based on two ethnically fragmented and conflict prone countries — Nigeria and Nepal — show that the IDPs and refugees, specially, women and children, are indeed victims of trafficking.

Data on international refugees and asylum seekers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that the global refugee population grew from 2.4 million in 1975 14.9 million in 1990. After reaching a peak at the end of the Cold War the global refugee population had declined to 12.1 million in 2000 (UNHCR 1995; UNHCR 2000, Castles and Loughna, 2003). Refugees came mainly from countries affected by civil conflict with the top ten countries of origin in 1999 being Afghanistan (2.6 million), Iraq (572,000), Burundi (524,000), Sierra Leone (487,000), Sudan (468,000), Somalia (452,000), Bosnia (383,000), Angola (351,000), Eritrea (346,000) and Croatia (340,000).

Next we look at the top ten countries of origin for asylum-seekers entering USA, Canada, Western Europe and Australia from 1990 to 2001 According to Castles and Loughna (2003), the countries of origin of the top ten asylum seekers into the USA over the 1990-2001 period were El Salvador (223,887), Guatemala (178,047), Mexico (66,338), China (60,926), Haiti (51,308), Nicaragua (34,411), India (30,985), Russia (20,913), Pakistan (16,700) and Cuba (16,600) with the share of the top ten being 70% of the total number of asylum seekers over this time period. Notable here is the fact that the top three countries in question (El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico) are also ethnically fragmented and conflict ridden countries with a significant number of IDPs and refugees from neighboring conflict prone countries like Nicaragua and Honduras. A similar pattern for asylum seekers can be also observed for Canada with the top ten countries of origin for asylum seekers being Sri Lanka (40,009), Somalia (21,120), Pakistan (18,680), China (17,651), Iran (15,590), India (14,106), Mexico (8,940), Hungary (8,915), Israel (8,527), DR Congo (8,229) with the share of the top ten being 46% of the total number of asylum seekers over the 1990-2001 time period. Once again, the top three countries of origin of asylum seekers into Canada (Sri Lanka, Somalia and Pakistan) are ethnically fragmented and conflict ridden countries. Moreover, Somalia is also host to refugees fleeing conflict and food insecurity from Ethiopia and Sudan, Pakistan being host to Afghan refugees while DR Congo hosts refugees from Rwanda. Coincidentally, data from 2002 also show that the USA and Canada are also host countries of trafficked victims from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador (Akee, 2009).

For Western Europe the top ten countries of origin of asylum-seekers over the 1990-2001 time period were FR Yugoslavia (935,973), Romania (412,326), Turkey (392,867), Iraq (272,918), Afghanistan (192,581), Bosnia & Herzegovina (184,005), Sri Lanka (169,666), Iran (143,651), Somalia (142,148), DR Congo (123,441) with the top ten share of the total number of asylum seekers over the 1990-2001 time period being 59%. All countries in the top ten list are ethnically fragmented with either prolonged periods of civil conflict or in political transition. Similar to the USA and Canada, Western European countries are also host to trafficked victims from the conflict prone countries of Eastern Europe (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, amongst others) and Africa (Somalia, Nigeria Sierra Leone and Mozambique, amongst others). Finally, for Australia the top ten countries of origin of asylum-seekers between 1996-2001 were Indonesia (7,529), China (6,649), Iraq (5,378), Philippines (4,665), Afghanistan (4,241), Sri Lanka (4,025), India (2,873), Fiji (2,134), Iran (1,910), Thailand (1,263) with the top ten share of the total number of asylum seekers over this time period being 65%. Needless to say, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been plagued by prolonged ethnic conflicts, and Australia is also a host country of trafficked victims from Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia, amongst others.

However, one cannot draw a definite conclusion that the pattern of asylum seekers and trafficked victims are positively correlated from a casual look at the data. After all, asylum migration (which is legal) and trafficking (illegal) are distinctly different channels through which people move or are moved across borders. While it might well be that trafficked victims could be either be misled with the hope of gaining asylum in host countries by middlemen or that trafficking becomes the next best alternative in response to stringent immigration laws in host countries, the dynamics of legal migration is distinct from that of illicit migration like trafficking where migrants face different levels of risk, vulnerability and employment outcomes in the host countries. Suffice to say, that some of the push factors behind asylum migration, namely (i) repression of minorities or ethnic conflict, (ii) civil war, (iii) high numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) relative to total population, (iv) poverty as reflected in low per capita income, (v) low position on the Human Development Index (HDI), (vi) low life expectancy, (vii) high population density and (viii) high adult literacy rate; mirror closely the push factors that induce trafficking, namely (i) poverty, (ii) lack of educational opportunities and (iii) armed conflict (Castles and Loughna, 2003; Akee, 2009). To get a better sense of what drives the positive correlation between conflict, IDPs/refugees and trafficked victims we look at two case studies, from Nigeria (ethnic, religious and resource conflict) and Nepal (ideological conflict).

Our data on trafficking suggests that Nigeria is hub country of trafficked victims (women and children). In other words, it is both a source as well as a host country for trafficking. Victims are trafficked out of Nigeria to Western Europe, South Africa and Gulf countries while trafficked victims enter Nigeria from West African countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire (Akee 2009). Recent evidence suggests that traffickers in Kano state exploited the annual pilgrimage to Mecca to traffic children, men and women for different exploitative purposes like prostitution, begging and domestic work. Moreover, and historically, women are recruited in the Edo state and are trafficked into Italy, Netherlands, Spain and other countries to work as prostitutes (de Haas, 2006; Ehindero et al. 2006; and Carling, 2005). Concurrently, Nigerians are the fifth largest group of asylum seekers in Western European countries while at the same time host a large number of refugees and asylum seekers – majority of whom are from Sierra Leone, Chad, Liberia, DR Congo, Sudan (Darfur), Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Cameroon (de Haas, 2006). There are also two major issues that lead to a high degree of labor mobility within Nigeria: conflict and the institution of ‘foster’ children. Religious and ethnic conflicts (in Plateau and Kano states in 2004 and in Benue state in 2001 respectively) as well as conflicts over crude oil mining and refining in the Delta area has led to Nigeria having the highest number of IDPs in West Africa — estimated to be as high as 1.2 million at the end of the 1990s (de Haas, 2006). Further, child fostering is a well-established practice in Nigeria in which poor rural families send their children to family members in urban areas so that they can get better education and employment opportunities. However, several of these children end up working as child laborers. Thus, IDPs, refugees into Nigeria, and foster children combine to constitute a vulnerable group susceptible to traffickers (de Haas, 2006).

Nepal, unlike Nigeria which is a hub country of trafficking, is a source country for trafficked victims primarily into India. Further, armed conflict between Maoist guerillas and the ex-Royal Nepalese Army has led to an estimated displacement of 200,000 people both internally and across the border (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2006; Bharadwaj et. al 2007). However, a high percentage of the displaced population in Nepal constitute women and young girls, who in addition to lacking access to basic needs are vulnerable to trafficking (Tamang 2009).

With the above background in place, we empirically test whether there is indeed a correlation between ethnic fragmentation, conflict, IDPs/refugees and trafficking. In what follows, we use religious and linguistic fragmentation, in addition to ethnic fragmentation and different measures of conflict to understand which type(s) of fragmentation and conflict(s) are most significant in explaining the presence of IDPs within and refugees from a country, as well as the factors that increase the incidence of trafficking between countries.

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