Report Places Iraq Sixth In Global Slavery Index
Actions of ISIL since the beginning of 2014 and an inability to enforce slave labour laws condemned by Walk Free Foundation
Almost 10% of people living as slaves throughout the world are doing so in Iraq, according to a report released 31 May. Whilst the report identifies ISIL as the main drivers of slavery, it also highlights the plight of migrant workers from Asia who remain at risk, despite laws bought in to protect them, and the challenges faced by displacement.
An estimated 403,800 people (1.13% of the population) are living in modern slavery in Iraq, many as a result of the over two-year conflict with ISIL. The report highlights the case of at least 3,000 Yazidi women and children sold into slavery in 2014, and the forced recruitment of children into the conflict by the extremist group. The children are forced into service as suicide bombers, informants, bomb makers and human shields.
Children are also being recruited by the Popular Mobilisation Forces, although the report is “unclear to what extent children join alongside relatives and caregivers, versus those forcibly recruited.”
Walk Free Foundation reports that some children who believed they were joining the police found themselves taken to PMF training camps.
The third group identified as being most at risk are foreign workers, especially those from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.
Yalla spoke to Elmer Cato, Chargé d’Affaires en Pied for the Philippines in Baghdad. He said that for their safety, Philippine citizens are severely restricted in employment opportunities in Iraq.
“As a result of the offensive mounted by the Islamic State in 2014, the Philippines was forced to place Iraq, except the Kurdistan Region, under Alert Level IV. This alert level calls for the mandatory repatriation of Filipino nationals from Baghdad, Basra and other parts of Iraq as well as a temporary hold on the processing and deployment of new workers to all of Iraq.
“As such, there has been no new deployment of Filipino workers to Iraq since 2014 and any Filipino worker in Iraq who goes home to Manila will not be allowed to return to Iraq. Those exempted from this policy are returning Filipino workers who have valid employment contracts in the Kurdistan Region.”
In the chaos of mid-2014 many migrant workers desperate to leave Iraq found themselves stranded, as employers retained their passports. This was despite a 2006 investment law passed in Baghdad which ensured the right of non-Iraqi workers to remit their salaries.
Workers in this category are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Cato revealed that cooperation between the Iraqi and Philippine governments had had some success in dealing with the issue of trafficking.
“The Philippines has been working closely with the Iraq [Government] in addressing the issue of trafficking in persons. With the assistance of the Iraqi Government, through the Kurdistan Regional Government, and in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, we were able to rescue and repatriate 12 trafficking victims in Erbil. In February, two Filipino nationals wanted in the Philippines for fraud and trafficking were arrested in Erbil and are awaiting deportation.
Article 37 of the 2005 constitution states “forced labor, slavery, slave trade, trafficking in women or children, and sex trade shall be prohibited”. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has no staff trained to inspect workplaces, meaning employers determine conditions without fear.
Modern slavery is on the rise in Iraq, says the report, because of the “fertile ground” created through a number of issues. Protracted displacement, dwindling financial resources, limited employment opportunities and a loss of assets enable exploitation.
A major obstacle to obtaining aid is the lack of identification, often lost in the chaos fleeing the fighting. For women with ID cards who have been estranged from their husbands, or widowed, the problem is equally acute, as ID is often registered in the name of the male head of the household, without whom access to services and aid is almost impossible. Consequently women and girls are vulnerable to enforced sex work, or forced marriage at ages well below the legal age of 18. Access to education also limits the prospects of young people, especially girls.
Walk Free Foundation, founded by Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, makes several recommendations at the end of its country report on Iraq.
Its primary point is that Islamic scholars qualified to interpret Shari’a law must speak out against ISIL’s enslavement and sale of women and girls. The government must rescue and rehabilitate children forced into the armed conflict. It also recommends that an NGO is created specifically to deal with the problem of modern day slavery.