When the so-called refugee crisis reached a peak in 2015, the German Development Agency (GIZ) started a new line of investigation: checking the links between corruption, migration and forced displacement. The investigations have a clear gender angle, reflecting the depths of suffering faced by migrant women and girls.
On behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Anticorruption and Integrity Programme of GIZ convened a session on ‘Corruption and Migration: How Women and Girls Pay a Heavy Toll’ at the European Development Days 2017. This was attended by around 100 policymakers, students and academics – demonstrating the strength and breadth of interest in this very topical issue.
With the hashtag #weshare, the GIZ, UNU-MERIT / MGSoG and Transparency International pooled the results of various studies, culminating in three key angles:
i. Corruption as a driver: How corruption contributes to the root causes of forced displacement, sparks human rights violations, and escalates conflicts. Also, how corruption drives outward migration, hampering economic development and reducing opportunities for youth in particular.
ii. Corruption as an enabler: How corruption facilitates irregular migration, in the worst case supporting criminal networks and smugglers leading to unsafe and highly risky passage for migrants and refugees. ‘Sextortion’ is an especially damaging type of corruption often encountered during all stages of migration and especially during transit.
iii. Corruption as an obstacle: How, in both transit and hosting communities, corruption hinders fair and equal access to services for refugees and migrants, making it even harder to integrate.
The panellists shared their different experiences and showcased the wide range of linkages between corruption, migration and forced displacement. See below for the audio recording, session images, and summaries from three of the speakers.
PhD Fellow, UNU-MERIT
Corruption plays a crucial role throughout the entire migration process, yet this connection is mostly ignored in academic and policy debates. First, corruption plays an important role as a push factor for migration by endangering all aspects of human security.
The most prominent connections that could be identified are the role corruption plays in violent conflict, arms trafficking and state-sponsored violence, which are all major causes of forced displacement in many countries. Then there is the impact of corruption on economic security. We also argue that high-level corruption, in particular nepotism and patronage systems, which tie economic and political elites closely together, are the most damaging types of corruption in this relationship.
Corruption is not only an important driver of migration but also accompanies migrants along their entire migration process. Our research shows that women are especially vulnerable to corruption throughout their journeys. Corruption has been found to come into play whenever legal options for migration are limited. Therefore, in the country of origin it has been identified as a way to facilitate and / or speed up the migration process – for instance, when issuing authentic or fake travel and / or identification documents. During transit women face the highest risk of corruption, where bribes are demanded at every step of the way – by border guards, soldiers and other officials. Once arrived at the destination country, corruption still plays are role, for example frequent reports of police corruption in Southern Europe or corrupt landlords in Germany.
Of course, not all women are equally vulnerable to corruption and we identified some factors that increase women’s vulnerability, such as lack of education and language skills, travelling alone, and lack of financial resources. What unifies the experience of all migrant women is the kind of corruption they face: where men pay with money, women most often have to pay with their bodies for everything they need along the journey.
MENA Regional Advisor, Transparency International
Corruption takes various forms, and women are especially vulnerable to a particular gendered form of corruption called ‘Sextortion’. This is when sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe, and in this case the corrupt abuses his authority to extort and obtain sexual favours from his victims. There are numerous accounts of women who were forced to pay with their bodies to have access to a public service, to advance at school or at work. It also happens to migrant women who fall victim to smugglers and criminal gangs while travelling. Women pay a heavy physical and mental price when they are exposed to extortion. In some cases, it even proves fatal.
The problem of sextortion is widespread, yet few cases come to the surface. Victims of sextortion often suffer in silence in fear of reprisal, shame and stigmatisation. It is also more difficult to prove in court than the extortion of money, and therefore it is often overlooked as a form of corruption.
To overcome these challenges and fight this invisible crime, we must first firmly define it. A specific and clear definition of sextortion, both as a form of corruption and a criminal offence, should be included in national and institutional anti-corruption legal frameworks as well as in the ethical rules and professional codes of conduct. We must also create confidential channels for women to feel safe reporting on this crime and be protected from retaliation and reprisal, along with providing legal, psychological and community support for these victims and empower them to speak up.
Head of Programme (Decentralisation and State Reform – PADRE), Mali, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Mali is known as a net provider and transit country for migrants from around the West Africa region. This study drew our attention because Germany’s BMZ funded Decentralization and State Reform Programme is trying to tackle the root causes of migration and corruption. It aims to help citizens take a more active role in decision-making and resource-sharing, while seeking more accountability from national and local governments in terms of service delivery.
In the Malian case study, the two main reports used as background material were i) the 2014 survey results of the statistics Office and ii) the 2013-2014 governance report by the auditor-general.
Accordingly, a large portion of the Malian population who happen to be the tax payers at local level perceive corruption as a highly prevalent phenomenon, hampering the proper discharge of mandates by public officials, especially police, tax administrations, officials in the health and education sectors. For example, the survey rated as high the deliberate exclusion and screening of beneficiaries of public services according to their economic status. Most exacerbating was the perception that citizens’ voices do not have an influence on their leadership (MPs, local government officials, etc.). The prevailing perceptions of corruption were further evidenced in the 2013-2014 auditor-general’s report which reveals that roughly €234 million have disappeared from public accounts due to corruption (fraudulent billing practices and non-payment of taxes collected).
Admittedly, the systemic impediments lie in the overly-centralised powers, resource concentration and public management systems that are not simply robust enough, causing leakage and corruption, reducing the perspective of the citizens and thus pushing them to out-migrate in the search for better opportunities. The Malian case study helped to establish a pattern of causalities between corruption and migration.
Corruption Watch, the South African Chapter of Transparency International has tackled exactly this topic with their project ‘Lokisa’, which showed the harmful effects of corruption upon arrival in the host country through an impressive video.
What this session showed clearly is that after having analysed the specific interplay between corruption, migration and force displacement, what needs to be done is to develop and adapt anti-corruption measures that will specifically tackle corruption in the context of migration and forced displacement.
What we need are safe spaces for victims to press charges against the perpetrators. We need a rights-based and participatory approach to migration management. We need to tackle corruption especially in the justice system and the education sector to reduce the root causes of displacement and increase opportunities for young people in their home countries. We believe that all of this is possible and will continue to work on the topic.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / S.Brodin