News and Sentinel. December 28, 2023.
Editorial: Refugees: West Virginia offers safety to those in need
As talk of welcoming refugees swirls across the country, data from The Refugee Processing Center shows there are people finding sanctuary in West Virginia as they flee countries many might not expect.
Looking only at November 2023, the center’s statistics show the Mountain State opened its arms to five refugees from Iraq, three from Nicaragua and one from Congo. For the United States as a whole, in November, there were 1,884 refugees registered from Congo, 1,350 from Syria, 1,080 from Afghanistan, 606 from Burma and 247 from Guatemala, to name the top five.
A report by Stacker, using The Refugee Processing Center’s data, says more than 3 million refugees have found new homes in the United States over the past 50 years or so.
We are, still, a nation where those fleeing violence, persecution and war can find some peace and start over.
And, as Mountain State residents will have noticed, the refugees (so far, anyway) are not coming from some of the countries making the headlines in recent months. We’ve forgotten about what is happening in Congo as it struggles through decades of civil war. We don’t talk much about Syria, or even Nicaragua and Guatemala. And Burma? When was the last time any of us thought about Burma? Well, so long ago that since 1989 the nation has been officially known as Myanmar. Even the RPC hasn’t caught up.
Violence and strife afflict nations all over the globe. Yet we, here in West Virginia and the United States, have the luxury of paying attention only to a conflict or two when the situation warrants. Perhaps that kind of safety and stability is precisely why those from all over the world seek refuge here.
It is encouraging to know there are people and organizations in West Virginia willing to offer that safe haven when it is sought. Many more may seek it soon. The RPC says the number of refugees coming into the U.S. in 2023 was significantly higher than in the prior two years. Surely when those people arrive they will find out that once you are here, you are a Mountaineer. And Mountaineers are — always — free.
Daily Telegraph. December 30, 2023.
Editorial: Heinous trade: Local businesses can help combat human trafficking
When a child, teen or young adult is showing a hand with his or her fingers clasped around their thumb, this means they’re in trouble and cannot readily call out for help. It’s a way victims of human trafficking can make their plight known.
A new program aimed at identifying victims of human trafficking and stopping it, WV Businesses Against Trafficking (WVBAT), was a topic when West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner visited local leaders recently at the First Community Bank in Bluefield.
“With the open borders we’re seeing more and more transport of people. It can be for anything from sex trafficking, it could be businesses using illegal aliens, all sorts of things,” Warner stated. “There’s a whole list of problems you can have with human trafficking, so this initiative we’re assisting in a nationwide effort to get the businesses involved because businesses are where these people interact.”
Warner recalled one human trafficking case in Iowa. A truck driver who was trafficking a young woman pulled off at a roadside store to refuel his truck. She went to the restroom and spotted a sticker advising women in distress how to seek help. This prompted her to tell a store clerk about her plight.
“The clerk reported and they had the guy arrested before he left the parking lot,” Warner stated. “That’s the sort of thing where the businesses are interacting with the customers. So that’s what we’re trying to do: educate the businesses, educate their employees and educate the public at large about signs to watch for.”
This sort of scene could easily play out in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. Two major highways, Interstate 77 and U.S. Route 460, intersect in Mercer County and continue into neighboring counties with plenty of rest stops and other reasons to pull over. The fact that so many motorists go through the region every day makes participating in the WV Businesses Against Trafficking even more important. Employees of roadside businesses are often the people who are most likely to encounter victims of human trafficking and contact law enforcement.
Another goal of the WVBAT program is to educate children about how they can help themselves when they are being trafficked. Warner said one tactic victims can use is showing a hand sign. This sign can be used when victims cannot call out for help.
“It’s a thumb inside a fist, and when you close the fingers, that’s a plea for help,” Warner said.
Businesses can learn more about WVBAT with help from the WV Fusion Center that has two dedicated employees who offer free training sessions to any organization that joins the initiative. These trainings can be tailored to suit the specific requirements of each organization, according to information from the Secretary of State’s Office. This is beneficial for smaller businesses that might be potential hotspots for trafficking activities but might struggle with the costs of hiring a specialized trainer.
Human trafficking is something that happens everywhere. It’s not confined to faraway places. Today’s internet technology and intestate highway system can be used to bring victims and perpetrators together, so all the eyes and ears that the business community and the public at large can provide to law enforcement is crucial for combating this heinous trade.
If a situation seems suspicious or a child is using the thumb inside a fist sign, do not be shy about contacting local law enforcement and reporting the circumstances. Businesses can help by participating in the WVBAT program and teaching employees how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
If human traffickers cannot hide, they cannot succeed.