The right to move for work

Many Central Americans stop at nothing to reach the United States. In China, the global economic downturn is affecting the 200 million migrants who moved from the countryside to work in factories. Many of these migrants are exploited.

Jaime Curri took a gamble that thousands of people take every week. And this time he lost.

He is one of a constant human stream of people who leave their homes in Central America, to jump on the cargo trains crossing Mexico, heading north to the United States in hope of a better life.

Jaime Curri could have died next to the train tracks in an isolated part of Mexico but for the passing of a train repair team the only came by once a week.

“What happened to me was something difficult, when I grabbed the train from here to Medias Aguas. It was 5 in the morning when I fell asleep and fell [in between the cars] onto the train tracks. The train [at first] didn’t do anything to me.

I was lying face down in the gravel and the train was passing over – ‘ring-ding-ding!’ – and the last car was what caused the gust of air – ‘shoos!’ – and it lifted me up as if I were a plastic bag. It lifted me up and opened my legs. The last wheel of the last car was what did it. When the air lifted me up, it threw my foot over the track and the last wheel broke it off.”

He lost his foot, and could have lost his life, but he hasn’t lost his determination to get to the United States. His story is echoed again and again by people who are leaving countries where the scarce employment on offer pays barely enough for a family’s monthly food bill, let alone the small essentials such as clothes, pens, notebooks for their children.

The prospect of a job that could lead to a better future for your children doesn’t always mean that people have to cross a border to reach for it. In China, an estimated 150-200 million people are believed to have left impoverished villages in the neglected rural areas to head for the great cities that have fuelled China’s decade long economic boom.

Du Jun is 42 years old and has been an economic migrant for more than half his life. When he first moved to the city, he was astonished by the elevators, by the high rise buildings where he sought work as a manual labourer.

Those were the glory days when he earned more money than he ever could have on his small parcel of land back home.

For years, he sent money home to keep his family, to help his young daughter who wanted to study to become a doctor.

But the global economic crisis has put a brake on China’s building boom, and the world is no longer buying goods at the rate it once did. Du Jun, like hundreds of millions of his countrymen, is afraid.

“I still haven’t found a job. This year the pressure is enormous. It’s about our survival. And it’s not just about me. At home, in my village, I have a daughter and my elderly parents. They all need money. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep.

Then I sit there in the dark and smoke one cigarette after another and worry how I am going to make ends meet. At the bottom of my heart I am really scared because I don’t have a lot of savings to fall back on.”

These days, Du Jun spends his days visiting the giant labour markets where the dwindling numbers of contractors go to find casual labour. There are days when he gets lucky and finds employment for a few weeks, or days. And then, there are the days when even that sparse supply of luck runs out.

Luck is also something that has been a very elusive thing for Joyce. Born in rural Nigeria, she was only a child when she found herself responsible for her sick mother and two younger brothers. 

At the age of 14, she met someone who told her that if she allowed him to take her to Spain, he would find her well-paid work in a restaurant there. So she left her home, to secure a better future for her family, but there was no job in a restaurant. Instead, she found herself in a brothel.

She was beaten and threatened by her tormentor, used by clients, silent and isolated in a new country where she didn’t understand the language. Later, one of the working women befriended her and promised her a better future in the Netherlands.

Once again, Joyce put her trust in the wrong place, and she found herself back in the eastern Dutch city of Arnhem, in almost exactly the same circumstances.

“I feel empty, I feel I’m so dirty because my dignity was taken away, my pride; it makes me feel worthless.”Waiting for her luck to change
Joyce was finally liberated after a police raided the brothel where she was working. Relieved at being able to relate her story, Joyce was sure that now at last, she would find some empathy. But the police didn’t believe her story, and when she couldn’t show proper legal documentation, she was put in prison. She says:

“Victims like me don’t deserve to be put in prison, because it’s like somebody who is bleeding and seeking help, and people are running away from the person instead of running to the person and trying to help and stop the pain.”

Joyce’s luck finally changed. She is now out of prison and has managed to secure permission to stay in the Netherlands. Her story, however, is no doubt being repeated amongst countless young women and children, who’ve been trafficked and forced into work they hate, and who are living away from their families, just waiting for their luck to change.

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The right to move for work
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