Newsletter September 2021

Dear Members and Friends,

We hope that the return from holidays for some and the beginning of the new school year for others will be favourable in all respects, with a lot of enthusiasm.

 1° Ukraine: fight against human trafficking and assistance to victims

Returning from a mission in this country where Vivere has been involved since April 2004, Mike summarises the situation in a few broad outlines:

  • The war in the East, in the Donbass region, continues to claim the lives of combatants every day. Thousands of families have fled the region, forcibly displaced, to find themselves in camps or scattered far and wide, all in a precarious situation. The spectre of the annexation of Crimea haunts people’s minds and raises fears of new territorial appetites from the Kremlin.
  • Massive corruption is rampant in many parts of the administration, including the judiciary.
  • The military and political pressure exerted by Russia makes all our partners and interlocutors on the spot fear the drift towards a Belarusian situation. The Ukrainians are desperate to receive support, a helping hand, from the countries of Western Europe.
  • The national currency, the hryvnya, continues to depreciate, severely affecting the purchasing power of basic goods, while tens of thousands of jobs have been destroyed.

In such a context, the mafias of human traffickers find a new breeding ground for their criminal activities. This observation is shared by our friends at IOM-Kiev (International Organisation for Migration) with whom Vivere maintains a close relationship.

In KHARKIV: Vivere provides unwavering support to lawyer Gennady G. who devotes most of his time to the legal defense of victims of trafficking who have the courage to press charges against their torturers. From the start of our collaboration to date, 37 trials have been launched to defend 170 victims. Up to 2019 the results were encouraging, with most of the defendants sentenced to prison terms. But since 2020 the disruption linked to the pandemic coupled with the intensification of corruption and the waltz of prosecutors constantly transferred from one region to another, court hearings have too often been postponed and our proceedings have stalled. Ungrateful, difficult period.

In ZHYTOMYR: in terms of actions launched in the courts, the obstacles are the same as in Kharkiv. In one case, the defendant was first remanded in custody. Shady negotiations and bribes then allowed him to be transferred to a supposedly supervised residence, where he was easily able to escape and disappear into the wild. Since he is a Moldovan citizen, we are now trying to initiate extradition proceedings. In another case, the proceedings dragged on due to negligence on the part of the investigating judges and countless postponements of the hearings. We have just learned that, against all logic, the court decided to close the investigation without trial, and therefore with the charges being dropped. In both cases those who have suffered exploitation are over-victimized by the bankruptcy of the justice system.

Fortunately, the other aspects of the work carried out by our partner, the ‘Avenir’ association, are moving forward:

  • Medical, psychological and material assistance to repatriated victims.
  • Prevention of trafficking among particularly vulnerable people who are privileged “preys” by the mafia: destitute single-parent families, unemployed, orphans. Gangsters do not hesitate to forcibly recruit unprotected children as young as 10 – 12 years old, either for begging or for sexual exploitation. These photos show Olga Makarchuk-Bolkunova, Avenir leader, leading an art therapy session at an orphanage in Zhytomyr. The children were invited to draw a picture of “what you want most in the world, and the house of your dreams”.

2° Syria

Last month the team on the ground was able to assist 65 infants with supplementary feeding: 26 new babies were added to the 39 previously attended.  Including baby Lana in this picture.

In our countries, those who are sceptical or even hostile to the welcome of refugees from violence and who love indiscriminated forced removals would be well advised to read this article by Amnesty International of 7th Sept. summarised as follows “Syrian security forces subject Syrians returning home from abroad to detention, enforced disappearance and torture, including sexual violence… No part of Syria is safe.”

Syrie: Torture, viol, disparitions forcées: le sort des  Syrien·ne·s de retour au pays —

3°  Pakistan: actions against the death penalty and life imprisonment of minors

  • In Bahwalpur our lawyer and friend Waheed Ahmad (seen from the back on the right in the photo) is constantly going back and forth between the families of the accused minors and the victim whose murder they are accused of, trying to get the charges dropped.
  • In Sialkot on 4 September, we held our 21st awareness-raising session for lawyers to learn the legal tools they can use to counter the extreme demands made on children in court (at the time of the alleged offence).

4°  R.D.Congo: assistance to vulnerable elderly people who are abandoned, homeless and have no other recourse

The work begun in Katogota a year ago is being consolidated, thanks to the discreet, simple and effective action of our partner ACMEJ. Four old men found in total destitution, reduced to sheltering at night in makeshift shelters, have been ‘adopted’ by host families in this rural village. Each of the four abandoned men now has a roof over their heads and the warmth of a family home. Being themselves dependent on very meagre incomes to feed their families, these families receive food aid as a ‘helping hand’ to compensate, somewhat, for the burden of the extra mouths to feed. These photos show Eric Muvomo, head of ACMEJ, distributing food and clothing to the four beneficiaries:

Thanking you always for your attention to this work, and at your disposal for any information you may wish to receive.

With our best consideration,

The Vivere Committee