BEIRUT: During 2011, Italy was the shipping point for many cases of human trafficking and modern-day slaves from Africa, where they would be used mostly for forced prostitution.
However, after numerous reports of these illegal actions, awareness was raised about this phenomenon, to the extent where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Italian Education Ministry and The CNN Freedom Project's Executive Editor Leif Coorlim to incorporate CNN content into the Italian education system in 2016.
CNN Freedom Project materials will be made available through the network of educational institutions across Italy.
"The whole point behind the freedom project is that it raises awareness of human rights abuses and human trafficking issues which might be going on in the house next door or along your street that you might not necessarily be aware of," Hala Gorani, Anchor of CNN's The World Right Now, told Annahar, in an exclusive interview during her visit to Beirut to attend a Human Rights Watch Event.
Under the agreement with Italy– facilitated by CNN International Commercial and CNN Freedom Project supporter The Essam & Dalal Obaid Foundation (EDOF) – video material from CNN Freedom Project will be used to increase awareness about human trafficking and modern-day slavery among Italian students. The project – spanning reports, documentaries, and digital content – will be used in classrooms to promote practical solutions to improving the care of people affected by such issues. Italian students will also be encouraged to join and contribute to the CNN Freedom Project's efforts.
This is one of many tangible changes resulting from the CNN's Freedom Project.
Gorani highlighted that CNN's choice to focus on this particular aspect of human rights – human trafficking – is due to its long-standing presence in the world, rather than something related specifically to the current news cycle, adding that "sometimes it does relate to the refugee crisis, but often times it's about sex trafficking, domestic migrant abuse etc.. and existing in all parts of the world, be it in the Middle East, Asia or wherever."
The CNN anchor noted that this initiative prompts government action through the efforts of investigative reporting which potentially leads to government toward changing laws or addressing certain situations. "There have been many cases where reporting has kind of pressured governments into changing laws or placing new ones to address a certain situation in order to act upon these phenomena," Gorani said.
In Lebanon and the Middle East's human rights spectrum, she explained, that even outside the project's focus the network has frequently reported on refugee cases across the region and within Lebanese territories especially about laws protecting domestic workers from human rights abuses.
When asked about the underlining cause of the problem, Gorani notes that the main cause for its existence is money, since the only way to dim human trafficking is by making it a less profitable business to people. "Policing, awareness and making it less appealing to people are actually managing the symptoms but the problem fundamentally is that it's still a profitable business, so that's where you have to address things," she added.
The anchor stressed that the problem not only exists in the third world or countries in conflict, but is an equal opportunity blight within countries in every corner of the world, noting that the Freedom Project has worked in many parts of the world such as the United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere where human rights are codified into law and well defined.
Places where viewers would not expect to find prevalent human trafficking.
"If you look at many cases, a lot of them exist in Europe, especially of sex workers in eastern European countries that traffic women who were promised jobs in waitressing or hostessing and they end being used for forced prostitution, thus western countries are not immune," she added.
Aside from the Freedom Project, Gorani expressed a frustration among the masses with the ongoing regional conflicts, such as Syria - now in its sixth year -, because of the human and economic costs that have been incurred.
"When I speak to Lebanese people they say they just want a solution, even Syrians who in the beginning were very hopeful and passionate about change, are now so desperate that they say they don't care anymore if they go back to the way it was. Time is essential now, you need to find a solution quickly otherwise it will become a problem that's bigger than it is now, and I don't see a solution quickly," she said.
Gorani stressed the tremendous generosity given by ordinary people in countries taking in the unbelievable number refugees, when "looking at the in Lebanon which are 1.2 million possibly more, those are the official numbers, you look at Jordan, hundreds of thousands, Turkey over a million and we're just talking Syrian refugees not refugees from other countries," she said, adding ", imagine if in Europe a country like France had 20 million refugees from a neighboring country, I mean they are arguing about 10 thousand which would have no overall impact on the country whatsoever."
In terms of GCC countries' role in the refugee crisis, Gorani highlights the legitimate question asked by the world of why the richest countries of the region are taking in no official refugees, while European countries such as Germany are accommodating a huge number of refugees.
"Gulf countries such Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and others counter this claim by offering to fund hosting countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, while giving Syrians family visas, that they didn't give before, but that doesn't really replace large-scale refugee management because these are small numbers," she said, stressing that both answers don't satisfy everybody and is far from it, "I think maybe when history will look back on this issue there will be these questions hanging over these [Gulf] countries as to why didn't they do more?"
While multiple proposals have been made by the Lebanese government as well as other officials that Syrians be sent back to Syria and to be kept within regulated safe zones away from conflicts, The CNN correspondent finds that while safe zones might be appealing on paper, historically they don't work.
"First of all, who is going to police the safe zone from the air, that means you need a no-fly zone, who is going to police the safe zones on the perimeter, that means you need some sort of military force and secondly, you group a bunch of people in a safe zone where there's not necessarily infrastructure, jobs, schools, hospitals then this is another refugee camp within the country," Gorani told Annahar, adding that when grouping a number of people together makes them vulnerable to group attacks, which would then turn people into defenseless targets.
She also points out that in a country like Syria, safe zones have no way of working, seeing that there large parts of the territory which are ruled by militia groups, lacking central authority anywhere within the country especially in the north. "I mean you need to solve the conflict first and then maybe try to figure out how to establish passages back to people's homes," the anchor added.
Gorani hopes the fate of Syrian refugees will not be the same as their Palestinian counterparts, who thought decades ago they were going to be gone from home for a year and have now had almost three generations of children and descendants in Lebanon, while facing difficult situations where they don't have access to work and services in countries that are not their own.
"Hopefully this wouldn't be the case for Syrians because if there is a stabilization of the situation in Syria then hopefully many Syrians will choose to return, but won't be the case for Palestinians who have no option of returning," Gorani said, stressing that Syrians just happen to be the last wave of refugees but there are others who have been in Lebanon a long time and in other countries thus making it part of the unfortunate fabric of the region where it's one wave after the other.
For Gorani, who is of Syrian heritage, the conflict and its toll are "heartbreaking."
"Definitely with the refugees in Europe and all, it's been heartbreaking because these are people who didn't want to leave, Syrians are very a proud people and frankly from a personal level outside of my work when I want to contribute money, or when I want to contribute help, some people will refuse and say they're proud and they just want to work, so it's heartbreaking to see people so desperate. Frankly because if they were given an option then they would return home, I really do, I think most of them would return home because why would they choose to live in another country, unwanted in a tent or with their kids outside of school," Gorani told Annahar.
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