U.S.-bound migrant caravan in tense standoff at border between Mexico and Guatemala

By Roberto Ramirez

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (Reuters) – A large caravan of Central Americans was preparing to cross the Guatemalan border into Mexico on Monday, posing a potential challenge to the Mexican government’s pledge to help the United States contain mass movements of migrants.

The migrants were massed on a bridge connecting the two countries early on Monday morning in what appeared to be a tense standoff with Mexican migration officials and soldiers.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to punish Mexico and Central American countries economically if they fail to curb migrant flows, resulting in a series of agreements aimed at taking pressure off the United States in absorbing the numbers.

Migrants crossed into Mexico in small groups during the weekend after Mexican security officials blocked an effort by some Central Americans to force their way through the border.

The bulk of at least 2,000 migrants remained in the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman, opposite the Mexican town of Ciudad Hidalgo, with some saying they planned to set off for Mexico en masse early on Monday, believing that they stood a better chance of making progress in a large caravan.

Mexico has offered migrants work in the south, but those who do not accept it or seek asylum will not be issued safe conduct passes to the United States, the interior ministry said.

The ministry said in a statement on Sunday afternoon that Mexican authorities had received nearly 1,100 migrants in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco and set out various options to them in accordance with their migration status.

“However, in the majority of cases, once the particular migration situation has been reviewed, assisted returns will be carried out to their countries of origin, assuming that their situation warrants it,” the ministry said.

According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people have entered from Honduras since Wednesday, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration obliging them to assume more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants.

Mexico has so far controlled the border at Tecun Uman more successfully than in late 2018, when a large caravan of migrants sought to break through there. Many later crossed into Mexico via the Suchiate River dividing the two countries.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Diane Craft)

‘You have to fight’: For women refugees, finding work is doubly hard

By Claire Cozens

Geneva (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the 25 years since she was forced to leave her homeland, Congolese refugee Jacqueline Zandamela has built up her own fashion business and raised four children alone after she was widowed in 2001.

It has not been easy.

A housewife until she fled conflict in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo for Mozambique, Zandamela first had to learn Portuguese, then go through the long, bureaucratic process of applying for permission to work.

“It was just another reality. Hard. Far from my family,” the 52-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday on the sidelines of a United Nations conference on refugees.

“When I started to support my family through sewing, I hadn’t really thought of setting up a fashion studio.

“But because of the demand there was for my clothes, I took on some Mozambicans, and now we have 10 industrial sewing machines and four domestic ones and I work with 11 people.”

Finding work is not easy for any refugee, but women say they face particular challenges in accessing jobs, from sexism to the burden of caring for children and elderly relatives.

Many come from cultures in which women traditionally have not gone out to work, a problem compounded by issues such as domestic violence and child marriage, which disproportionately affect refugees as they grapple with poverty and trauma.

This week the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a U.S. aid agency, published a study that found women refugees also face significantly higher legal barriers to employment than men.

These range from laws that stop women entering certain industries to a failure to mandate equal pay for equal work in many countries that host high numbers of refugees. Some also restrict women’s right to work after marriage or childbirth.

Even in Germany, often cited as a model system, just 6% of refugee women work, compared to 53% of local women, according to the IRC.

Anila Noor, a Pakistani refugee in the Netherlands who campaigns for the rights of refugee women, said that for many, even the idea of going out to work was difficult.

“My mother thought I’d be married and that’s it. And then in Europe they suddenly ask, ‘what do you want to do?’. This is a new question for me,” she said.

“Every time, someone else is deciding for me, and now you’re asking what I want to do?”

GIG ECONOMY

IRC President David Miliband said the significant social and economic gains to be had from bringing more refugee women into the workforce meant it was essential to overcome those barriers.

“It’s not good enough just to say there are cultural barriers to refugees working,” he said while in Geneva for the Global Refugee Forum, a two-day conference of political, business and humanitarian leaders.

“It’s really important that we take advantage both of the traditional jobs, where you’ve got an employer, but also self-employment, home working, flexible working, and offer real opportunities to turn the gig economy into a lifeline for refugees.”

One of the key aims of this week’s U.N. gathering is to enable the more than 25 million people now living as refugees around the world to be more self-sufficient.

Dominique Hyde, director of external relations for the U.N. refugee agency, said women refugees were often the sole providers for their families.

To help them help themselves, host countries should be “providing shelter, providing education for the children so that they don’t need to be worrying about that”, she said, adding that there was a need for language and skills training.

With the average refugee now staying outside their homeland for more than a decade, aid agencies say more and more will need such assistance.

Today, with all her four children grown up and either in work or higher education, Zandamela combines running a successful fashion business with helping other refugee women navigate the challenges she once faced.

“There are refugees who come to me and I help them with translation. When they come (to Mozambique) they don’t know the language,” she said.

“And when they come to me I tell them, you mustn’t just sit back, you have to fight.”

(Reporting by Claire Cozens @clairecoz, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Japanese women fight for right to wear glasses to work

Japanese women fight for right to wear glasses to work
By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Japanese women have taken to Twitter to demand the right to wear glasses to work after reports employers were imposing bans, in the latest social media outcry against rigid rules on women’s appearance.

The hashtag “glasses are forbidden” has been trending after a Japanese television show exposed businesses that were imposing bans on female staff.

“These are rules that are out of date,” one Twitter user posted under the hashtag, while another called the reasons given by employers “idiotic”.

One woman who works in restaurants tweeted that she was repeatedly told not to wear her glasses because it would appear “rude” and they did not go with the traditional kimono she wore.

The tweet, posted under the handle @wine_kimono last month, has since been shared nearly 13,000 times.

“If the rules prohibit only women to wear glasses, this is a discrimination against women,” Kanae Doi, the Japan director at global advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

The latest outcry came after a campaign earlier this year that demanded Japanese companies stop forcing their female staff to wear high heels to work.

More than 21,000 people signed an online petition started by a Japanese actress earlier this year that called for a ban on compulsory high heels at work, in what has been known as the #KuToo movement.

In response, a Japanese minister said dress code expectations were “necessary and appropriate” in the workplace.

Japan was ranked 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, well behind other developed countries.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Central Americans stalled at U.S.-Mexico border, mull work offers

A migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America to the United States, prepares to get on a bus bound for Mexicali at a makeshift camp in Navojoa, Mexico November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICALI, Mexico (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants from a caravan of Central Americans were stalled at the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday, where a handful said they welcomed recent Mexican offers of employment in the face of a hostile U.S. reception.

The Mexican government last week reiterated job offers to the migrants, saying that those who obtained legal status could occupy thousands of vacancies, most of them in the country’s “maquiladoras,” doing factory work.

Since arriving at the border last week, they have been denied entry through the gates linking Mexico to the United States.

Dozens of the mostly Hondurans waited in lines to bathe and washed clothes sullied from 2,600 miles of relentless travel.

Several members of the caravan, which left the crime-wracked city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Oct. 13, told Reuters they would be willing to stay put in Mexico rather than face rejection across the border.

“If we had work, we would stay. This has been very tiring,” said Orbelina Orellana, a 26-year-old Honduran mother of three, waiting at the Alfa and Omega shelter in the city of Mexicali, which borders Calexico, California.

“I cry a lot to not be able to feed them as I’d like,” Orellana said of her children. “I just want an opportunity.”

Briefly stalled by Mexican riot police on a highway crossing between two southern Mexican states late last month, a dozen migrants told Reuters they rejected such offers, preferring to try their luck in the United States.

But on Saturday, some said that thinking had changed.

“We had the idea to cross to the United States, but they told us it will be nearly impossible,” said Mayra Gonzalez, 32, traveling with her two children. “We cannot starve as we wait to find out if they’ll give us asylum. Better to work, by the grace of God, here in Mexico.”

In a sharp reversal of longstanding U.S. policy, President Donald Trump’s administration last week began enforcing new rules that curtail asylum rights for anyone who arrives without documents at the U.S. border.

Trump earlier this month deployed almost 6,000 troops along the long U.S. border with Mexico.

As they wound north through Mexico, the migrants were helped along by local authorities and residents who offered food, clothing and even free rides on daily treks that averaged 30 miles a day, much of it on foot.

But that welcome became noticeably frostier as the caravan reached the border.

In Tijuana, a city long accustomed to a population of migrants in transit, deportees and U.S. pleasure-seekers, a clutch of local residents last week threw rocks at the migrants, telling them to go home.

But some said the Central Americans could help boost the local economy.

“We are not against migration,” Ulises Araiza, President of the Association of Human Resources of Industry in Tijuana, told Reuters.

“We know the situation that these people face in their country. But we also favor order so as to integrate them into the labor sector, because only in Tijuana do we have a demand in the maquiladora industry for 5,000 people.”

(Writing by Delphine Schrank, editing by G Crosse)

As sanctions bite, North Korean workers leave Chinese border hub

: A North Korean waitress cleans the floor of a North Korean restaurant in Dandong, Liaoning province, China, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By Philip Wen

DANDONG, China (Reuters) – North Korean workers have begun to leave the Chinese border city of Dandong, following the latest round of sanctions seeking to restrict Pyongyang’s ability to earn foreign currency income, local businesses and traders say.

Almost 100,000 overseas workers, based predominantly in China and Russia, funnel some $500 million in wages a year to help finance the North Korean regime, the U.S. government says.

Dandong, a city of 800,000 along the Yalu river that defines the border with North Korea, is home to many restaurants and hotels that hire North Korean waitresses and musicians. Their colorful song and dance performances are a tourist attraction.

Thousands of predominantly female workers are also employed by Chinese-owned garment and electronics factories in Dandong, with a significant proportion of their wages going straight to the North Korean state.

The Wing Cafe used to advertise its “beautiful North Korean” waitresses on its shopfront by the Yalu. The sign is now gone, and cafe staff said the waitresses had returned home in recent weeks after their visas expired.

“There have been changes in government policy,” the manager of another restaurant said. “It’s not convenient to say more.”

Recent videos circulating on Chinese social media appear to show hundreds of North Korean women waiting in line to clear immigration at Dandong’s border gate. A Reuters reporter saw a group of around 50 North Korean women waiting to cross the border on Friday morning.

 

HARDER TO SMUGGLE, TOO

Four traders, who deal in goods ranging from iron ore and seafood to ginseng and alcohol, told Reuters the sanctions had all but crippled the usual trade.

More stringent customs checks and patrols by Chinese border police have also made it harder to smuggle goods across the border, according to the traders, who declined to be named due to the subject’s sensitivity.

“The impact has been huge. Dandong’s economy has always counted on border trade,” said one Chinese trader.

In response to Pyongyang’s sixth and largest nuclear test last month, the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 11 passed a resolution prohibiting the use of North Korean workers, strengthening an Aug. 5 resolution that put a cap on the number of workers allowed overseas.

Successive rounds of U.N. trade sanctions have now banned 90 percent of the North’s $2.7 billion of publicly reported exports.

The Sept. 11 sanctions also ordered the closure of all joint business ventures with North Korea and added textiles to a list of banned exports, which already included coal, iron ore and seafood.

In a statement on Thursday, China’s Ministry of Commerce ordered the implementation of the new sanctions across the country within 120 days.

 

FORCED TO LEAVE

The sanctions allow workers to serve out existing contracts. Business people in Dandong, through which most of trade between the two countries flows, said contracts could not be renewed and new visas were not being approved.

A Chinese supervisor at a factory making electronic wiring for automobiles said while most of its 300 North Korean workers were on multi-year contracts expiring at different times, those who arrived in Dandong after Aug. 5 had already been forced to leave. He did not say how many.

The sanctions have come as a rude jolt to Dandong businesses and traders who had long rolled with North Korea’s unpredictability but believed their neighbor’s economic reliance on China would keep its belligerence in check.

Dandong is one of the larger cities in Liaoning province, whose rustbelt economy has struggled under national campaigns to curb industrial overcapacity and ease pollution. Liaoning was China’s worst performer in the first half of 2017, registering GDP growth of 2.1 percent, compared with the national rate of 6.9 per cent, according to official statistics.

“The economy hasn’t been doing well here for the past two years,” said one trader. “This is making a bad situation worse.”

 

(Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Bill Tarrant)