Tag Archives: kidnapped

Did slaves peel your frozen shrimp? A guide to the issue and what to do

Enslaved migrant workers and children are ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp at processing factories in Thailand, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp going from one peeling shed to major Thai exporting companies. Then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, they tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.

U.S. customs records show the farmed shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. AP reporters in all 50 states went shopping and found related brands in more than 150 stores across America.

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to labor abuse, and many said they were launching investigations.

Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?

A: That’s a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

Q: What shrimp brands and companies did the AP find linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef’s Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman’s Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.

Q: AP reporters visited supermarkets chosen at random in all 50 states. Where did they find shrimp linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D’Agostino Supermarket; Dan’s Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry’s Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano’s; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin’s Super Markets; McDade’s Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall’s Food Market; Redner’s Warehouse Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van’s Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.

Q: Thailand has been in the news a lot lately with problems linked to human trafficking in its seafood industry. Why is this still an issue?

A: Thailand is one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, and relies heavily on migrant workers from poor neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These laborers often are misled by brokers in their home countries and illegally brought to Thailand with promises of good-paying jobs. They are then sold onto fishing boats or put into seafood processing plants where they become trapped and forced to work long hours for little or no money. Thailand has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the abuses. It has created new laws and is helping to register undocumented workers, but arrests and prosecutions are still rare.

Q: What are buyers and governments doing to try to stop slave-tainted seafood from reaching their countries?

A: The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Thailand for the past two years for its dismal human rights record, placing it among the world’s worst offenders such as North Korea and Syria. However, it has not issued sanctions. The European Union put out a “yellow card” warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban on products. Companies such as Nestle have vowed to force change after conducting their own audits and finding that their Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers. Others are working with rights groups to monitor their supply chains and ensure laborers are treated fairly and humanely.

With rescue near, Boko Haram stoned girls to death

Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom.

Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on May 3, their first day out of the war zone.

“We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived,” said 27-year-old Lami Musa as she cradled her 5-day-old baby girl.

She was among 275 girls, women and their young children, many bewildered and traumatized, who were getting medical care and being registered a day after making it to safety.

Nigeria’s military said it has freed nearly 700 Boko Haram captives in the past week. It is still unclear if any of them were among the so-called “Chibok girls,” whose mass abduction from their school a year ago sparked outrage worldwide and a campaign for their freedom under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Musa was in the first group of rescued women and girls to be transported by road over three days to the safety of the Malkohi refugee camp, a dust-blown deserted school set among baobab trees opposite a military barracks on the outskirts of Yola, the capital of northeastern Adamawa state.

Last week’s rescue saved her from a forced marriage to one of the killers of her husband, she said.

“They took me so I can marry one of their commanders,” she said of the militants who carried her away from her village after slaughtering her husband and forcing her to abandon their three young children, whose fates remain unknown. That was five months ago in Lassa village.

“When they realized I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel, and we have killed him. Once you deliver, within a week we will marry you to our commander,” she said, tears running down her cheeks as she recalled her husband and lost children.

Musa gave birth to a curly-haired daughter the night before last week’s rescue.

As gunshots rang out, “Boko Haram came and told us they were moving out and that we should run away with them. But we said no,” she said from a bed in the camp clinic, a blanket wrapped around ankles so swollen that each step had been agony.

“Then they started stoning us. I held my baby to my stomach and doubled over to protect her,” she said, bending reflexively at the waist as though she still had to shield her newborn.

She and another survivor of the stoning, 20-year-old Salamatu Bulama, said several girls and women were killed, but they did not know how many.

The horrors did not end once the military arrived.

A group of women were hiding under some bushes, where they could not be seen by soldiers riding in an armored personnel carrier, who drove right over them.

“I think those killed there were about 10,” Bulama said.

Other women died from stray bullets, she said, identifying three by name.

There were not enough vehicles to transport all of the freed captives and some women had to walk, Musa said. Those on foot were told to walk in the tire tracks made by the convoy because Boko Haram militants had mined much of the forest. But some of the women must have strayed because a land mine exploded, killing three, she said.

Bulama shielded her face with her veil and cried when she thought about another death: Her only son, a 2-year-old toddler who died two months ago of an illness she said was aggravated by malnutrition.

“What will I tell my husband?” she sobbed after learning from other survivors who used borrowed cell phones to try to trace relatives that her husband was alive and in the northern town of Kaduna.

Musa, who had been in pain and withdrawn after her arrival the night before, greeted a reporter with smiles on Sunday – and the news that her breasts were finally giving milk and nourishment to her yet-to-be-named daughter.

Another survivor, Binta Ibrahim, was 16 years old and accompanying her sister-in-law to the dressmaker when Boko Haram insurgents rode into their village of Izghe, firing randomly at civilians. On that day in February 2014, the AP reported at least 109 people were killed and almost every hut destroyed as the militants lobbed firebombs onto their thatch roofs.

Ibrahim, her sister-in-law and two of Ibrahim’s sisters were among scores of young women abducted.

Her two sisters escaped in the pandemonium that surrounded an air raid, but Ibrahim, who was caring for three children she found abandoned after the insurgents moved into the neighboring village of Nbitha, did not go with them.

“I had these three kids to care for and I couldn’t abandon them a second time,” she explained.

She described trekking for two days from Nbitha to Boko Haram’s hideout in the Sambisa Forest with 2-year-old Matthew and 4-year-old Elija Yohanna strapped to her back and 4-year-old Maryam Samaila clinging to her waist.

“They were so weak from lack of food that they couldn’t walk. There was nothing to do but rest when I couldn’t take another step, and then press ahead when I had recovered,” she said.

The children are Christian and Ibrahim is a Muslim. While Nigeria’s northeastern Islamic insurgency has polarized many of Nigeria’s people on religious lines, that was the last thing in Ibrahim’s big heart.

“I love them as if they are my own,” she said, striking her breast with both fists to show the depth of her love for the children, who were rescued with her and still remain in her care.

2 environmentalists kidnapped, freed in Mexico

Two Mexican environmentalists have been freed after they were briefly kidnapped by settlers seeking to carve up North America’s last large pocket of tropical rain forest, their group said on May 27.

The kidnapping follows the two-day abduction and subsequent release of a former federal environment secretary in a different part of the jungle a month ago, amid a battle over the governance and land use in the 1,290-square-mile Montes Azules – Blue Mountains – forest reserve in the southern state of Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border.

The head of the Na Bolom Cultural Association, Maria Luisa Armendariz, said two of the association’s activists and two American tourists driving with them were stopped at a roadblock inside the Lacandon jungle by settlers.

Maria Luisa Armendariz said the settlers surrounded the vehicle and threatened to burn it or tip it over. They allowed the vehicle and its occupants to leave unharmed about 20 hours later.

“They were rocking the truck, saying they were going to tip it over,” Armendariz said. “The threat was that they were going to set it on fire.”

The settlers, Chol and Tzeltal Indians who want to clear more forest land for cattle ranching, were apparently angered by the environmentalists’ support of jungle-dwelling Lacandon Indians, the official guardians of the jungle.

Settlers’ argue that they have been living in strictly proscribed settlements in the reserve for decades, and the communities’ natural growth means that they need more land for their children. They argue the few remaining Lacandon Indians – about 1,500 in total – were unfairly given reserved seats on the council governing the reserve, despite the fact they now only represent 20 percent or less of the population.

The issue came to a head earlier this month, when residents tried to vote non-Lacandon Indians into governing positions, an apparent violation of the reserve’s bylaws..

The Lacandons have lived in the jungle for centuries, wearing traditional knee-length, white-cotton tunics and waist-length black hair. They practice a sustainable form of agriculture based on multi-cropping small cleared patches in the jungle, and don’t keep cattle. They also earn money through ecotourism.

Ranching and corn farming, on the other hand, require clear-cutting large swaths of jungle. The thin, poor jungle soil quickly wears out, requiring ranchers to cut new land.

In late April, former federal environment secretary Julia Carabias was kidnapped for two days in a different part of the reserve, where her group, Natura Mexicana, works on jungle research and conservation efforts. In a statement she later published about the abduction, Carabias identified her captors only as “masked men,” but suggested they too were linked to settlers.

“We know that our activities affect some people’s interests,” Carabias wrote. “We oppose the theft of jungle plants and animals, and we oppose the invasion of protected nature areas.”

Armendariz said some of the oldest settler communities have been in the reserve far too long to be evicted, but suggested they should be portioned off from the main part of the reserve, to govern themselves, rather than trying to wrest control of the entire area from the Lacandons.

“This is the last stand,” she noted. “If we lose the Lacandons’ stewardship over the jungle, we’ll lose the jungle,” Armendariz said.

Report: Kidnapped Nigerian girls forced into ‘marrying’ abductors

Scores of girls and young women kidnapped from a school in Nigeria are being forced to “marry” their Islamic extremist abductors, a civic organization reported Wednesday.

At the same time, the Boko Haram terrorist network is negotiating over the students’ fate and is demanding an unspecified ransom for their release, a Borno state community leader told The Associated Press.

He said the Wednesday night message from the abductors also claimed that two of the girls have died from snake bites.

The message was sent to a member of a presidential committee mandated last year to mediate a ceasefire with the Islamic extremists, said the civic leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the talks.

The news of negotiations comes as parents say the girls are being sold into “marriage” to Boko Haram militants. The students are being paid 2,000 naira ($12) to marry the fighters, Halite Aliyu of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum told The Associated Press. She said the parents’ information about mass weddings is coming from villagers in the Sambisa Forest, on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, where Boko Haram is known to have hideouts.

“The latest reports are that they have been taken across the borders, some to Cameroon and Chad,” Aliyu said. It was not possible to verify the reports about more than 200 missing girls kidnapped in the northeast by the Boko Haram terrorist network two weeks ago.

“Some of them have been married off to insurgents. A medieval kind of slavery. You go and capture women and then sell them off,” community elder Pogu Bitrus of Chibok, the town where the girls were abducted, told the BBC Hausa Service.

Outrage over the failure to rescue the girls is growing and hundreds of women braved heavy rain to march Wednesday to Nigeria’s National Assembly to protest lack of action over the students. Hundreds more also marched in Kano, Nigeria’s second city in the north.

“The leaders of both houses said they will do all in their power but we are saying two weeks already have past, we want action now,” said activist Mercy Asu Abang.

“We want our girls to come home alive – not in body bags,” she said.

Nigerians have harnessed social media to protest, trending under the hashtag (hash)BringBackOurGirls.

There also has been no news of 25 girls kidnapped from Konduga town in Borno state earlier this month.

A federal senator from the region said the military is aware of the movements of the kidnappers and the girls because he has been feeding them details that he has gathered on a near-daily basis.

“What bothered me the most is that whenever I informed the military where these girls were, after two to three days they were moved from that place to another. Still, I would go back and inform them on new developments,” Sen. Ahmad Zanna is quoted as saying at the Nigerian online news site Persecond News.

Zanna said some of the girls are in Kolofata in Cameroon, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the border with Nigeria. He said one of the insurgents had called a friend in Borno state to say that he had just got married and was settling in Kolofata. Zanna also said three or four days ago Nigerian herdsmen reported seeing the girls taken in boats onto an island in Lake Chad.

Another senator from the region said the government needs to get international help to rescue the girls. The government must do “whatever it takes, even seeking external support to make sure these girls are released,” Sen. Ali Ndume said. “The longer it takes the dimmer the chances of finding them, the longer it takes the more traumatized the family and the abducted girls are.”

About 50 of the kidnapped girls managed to escape from their captors in the first days after their abduction, but some 220 remain missing, according to the principal of the Chibok Girls Secondary School, Asabe Kwambura. They are between 16 and 18 years old and had been recalled to the school to write a physics exam.

The failure to rescue the girls is a massive embarrassment to Nigeria’s government and the military, already confronted by mounting criticism over its apparent inability to curb the 5-year-old Islamic uprising despite having draconian powers through an 11-month state of emergency in three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country.

The military trumpets a success in its “onslaught on terrorists” but then the extremists step up the tempo and deadliness of their attacks. More than 1,500 people have been killed in the insurgency so far this year, compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the predominantly Christian south of Nigeria, has been accused of insensitivity to the plight of people in the north, who are mainly Muslims.

People from Nigeria’s northeast feel that they are being punished because they did not vote for Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party – the entire region is held by opposition politicians, said Aliyu, of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum. “The northeast zone is in flames and nothing is being done because we didn’t vote PDP,” she said. “Women are raped daily, our children are being carted away like animals and sold like chickens, they (extremists) burn schools, they burn mosques, they raze entire villages.”

She said it would take decades to rebuild from the destruction that has forced an estimated 750,000 people from their homes, some into neighboring countries, fleeing the terror of the zealots as well as abuses by the soldiers.

The military’s lack of progress in rescuing the girls indicates that large parts of northeastern Nigeria remain beyond the control of the government. Until the kidnappings, the air force had been mounting near-daily bombing raids since mid-January on the Sambisa Forest and mountain caves bordering Chad.

Aliyu said that in northeastern Nigeria “life has become nasty, short and brutish. We are living in a state of anarchy.”

Catnapping still under investigation, but missing hotel cat found

The beloved hotel cat that was snatched over the weekend in Fort Collins, Colo., has been found safe but scared.

Two Armstrong Hotel guests found Oreo on March 18 crying out from behind an art museum about a block away.

Hotel general manager Nick Gliszinski says Oreo’s return marks the end of a citywide search for the famed feline, but authorities are still trying to find the perpetrators.

According to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, videos showed two men catnapping Oreo from the hotel lobby on Saturday.

Oreo first came to the hotel in 2004. Since then, she has warmed her way into the hearts of hotel guests and owners.