Travel has become more common in recent years and technology has made it far more accessible. Rather than going with a tour agency, those who are interested to visit any country is able to build their own itinerary from scratch from the information provided on the internet. However, along with the boom in tourism industry, the ill effects have begun to show. Earlier this year, a ring of 20 people were arrested in the United States. Their crime? Coaching pregnant Chinese women how to enter into the United States to deliver their babies, earning them an American citizenship as a result. Their ringleader? Donguyan Li, a 41-year-old Chinese citizen who would earn between $40,000 and $80,000 from her ‘clients’ who, in desperation to gain citizenship for their unborn children, would pay this extravagant sum to fly to California and stay in upscale apartments while they awaited the birth. The arrests marked part of the first ever federal crackdown on the birth tourism business and draws serious attention to a less glamorous side of the travel and tourism industry. The birth tourism business isn’t the only part of the industry that depends on illicit or unethical practises – just consider the refugee smuggling business, perhaps Europe’s newest growth industry.
Smugglers who were once targeted for smuggling illegal drugs or cigarettes across international borders have now refocused their efforts on a more fragile cargo: that of human bodies. Each and every day thousands of refugees from camps in Syria pay upward of $5,000 to be transported to those European countries that have declared themselves open to the influx of refugees, promising them safe harbour and refuge. Officials tasked with monitoring the situation have identified Sweden as Europe’s preferred refugee destination, with government having recently announced that Syrian refugees who arrive in one piece will be granted permanent residency and the right to resettle their entire families within the country. By arranging boats, illegal taxis and overland ‘refugee smuggling guides’, border smugglers are earning an extremely lucrative profit and this is fuelling the growth of the industry as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate.
These border smugglers are advertising their services quite openly, via Facebook, internet forums and other social media platforms. And they aren’t particularly concerned for the safety of their clients. Boats continue to be found capsized in the seas that separate Western Europe from Turkey and Lebanon, and trucks filled with decomposing bodies are sadly no longer a rarity. Since 2015, over a million refugees have fled war, poverty and violence in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, making their way to Europe by whichever means possible, making it the largest refugee crisis in the region since World War 2. Greece was initially the favoured destination, until its camps became overrun and violence broke out in border regions struggling to cope with the mass influx of people seeking food, water, accommodation and employment.
Even the remote Southern island of Australia has become caught up in the corrupt people smuggling industry, with the government infamously having ‘paid off’ people smugglers in 2015 to return a boat that officials intercepted carrying 65 refugees. It also goes without saying that the situation on the border of Mexico and the United States is only continuing to worsen. In recent days there has however been a slight change in demand for the people smugglers profiting from sneaking people over the border. In the wake of the Mexican government’s announcement that it would give humanitarian visas to foreigners seeking refuge from violence in the region, thousands of Central Americans have attempted to enter the country and benefit from its temporary hospitality, with the ultimate goal of making it into the United States. Last week, the Mexican government had received more than 12,000 applications at the southern border it shares with Guatemala, and the number is only growing day by day.
There is a growing number of global tourism operators profiting from human misery, unethical practises and questionable tours. Slum and orphanage tourism, tiger sanctuaries, ivory and shark fin shopping tours, and human safaris – which sees indigenous tribes perform for paying tourists – are just some of the disturbing new trends in international travel. Child adoption has also become a global problem, with many questioning whether child welfare is still the priority of adoption agencies and orphanages or whether it has become merely a lucrative trading opportunity. For several years’ now, international organizations have raised concerns that international adoption has increasingly become an industry geared toward child traffickers rather than welfare organizations, with a number of entities including UNICEF and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption arguing that orphans being adopted from abroad should remain a “last-case scenario, with more emphasis placed on helping keep children in their home country, such as providing day care, foster care, better orphanages and more domestic adoption”.
It has even become necessary to do serious background research into volunteer projects and opportunities offered by tourism operators for fear of the wrong people benefitting from the plight of orphans, vulnerable animals or communities. It is truly a sad and distressing reality we live in if it is one where some serious cynicism, double guessing and more information is required by those seeking to impart some good on the world before they commit to a tour or project.