Veronica Fynn Bruey of
Veronica is a born and bred Liberian war survivor. Despite the challenges she endured during childhood she has gone on to better things. She is an award-winning scholar with an extensive interdisciplinary background, holding six academic degrees from world-class institutions across four continents.
She is a Module Convenor at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, the Director of Flowers School of Global Health Science, a faculty affiliate at Seattle University School of Law, and a research affiliate with the University of London’s Refugee Law Initiative.
She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Internal Displacement; the co-Founder and Executive Director of Tuki-Tumarankeh; the Founder of the Law and Society’s (USA) Collaborative Research Network CRN 11: “Displaced Peoples”; the Founder of the Voice of West African Refugees (VOWAR), located at the Buduburam Refugee settlement in Ghana and the lead organiser of the Law and Society Association’s International Research Collaborative (IRC): “Disrupting Patriarchy and Masculinity in Africa”.
Fynn Bruey’s work has been featured in and profiled by the Global Washington, the Law and Society Association, the Seattle Spectator, The Georgia Strait, the United Nations Mission in Liberia Radio Show, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Morning Show, amongst others.
She has authored three books, several book chapters, and peer review articles in reputable academic journals. Fynn Bruey has conducted studies, taught, consulted on projects, and spoken at international conferences in over 25 countries.
AGN reached out to Veronica at her current base in the USA to gain her insights.
AGN: Why did you decide to embark on your intervention Tuki-Tumarankeh and when did you decide to do so?
VFB: The organisation came about as part of a process. Firstly I should just highlight that the name of the organisation is derived from a Wolof expression which means ‘it is the traveller who faces the most difficulty’. Wolof speakers are typically found in the Senegambian region of West Africa.
1) While based in Toronto and studying for a Masters in Law, I observed there was a lack of resources dedicated to internally displaced people, both with regards to Africa and around the globe in general. This led to me establishing the ‘Journal for Internally Displaced People’ in 2009.
2) As a member of the ‘Law and Society Association (LSA), which is an American professional association that has as part of its remit the establishment of Collaborative Research Networks (CRN), I observed among the myriad of causes different members of LSA had organised to address, there were no platforms that focused on displaced people.
Having experienced displacement as a child due to the war in my native Liberia, coupled with the repeated observation of the lack of resources and studies geared towards displaced people, Tuki-Tumarankeh was founded in 2016. It aims to advance the welfare of displaced peoples, globally, through the conduct and promotion of high quality academic research.
She considers herself an academic advocate; constantly writing, publishing and attending conferences. Activities she engages in that lead to more immediate direct impact range from teaching to collaborative research works.
AGN: One can never trivialise the horror of human trafficking irrespective of the scale. It appears this crime has mushroomed, do you have any indication as to when more people began to be ensnared in this horror?
VFB: In so far as Liberia is concerned the war ended in 2003. Trafficking and exploitation were rampant during the war, child soldiers were part of the terrible reality of that period.
From about 2005 when people started returning home after the war, a lack of systems, devastation of infrastructure, and a lack of economic opportunity gave rise to people turning in on themselves and terrible exploitative practises that had subsided after the end of the war again began to increase. In this regard I would say 2005 is the period when things started to escalate again.
2005 is significant with regards to state intervention in tackling human trafficking and exploitation because that is the year in which the ‘Trafficking in Persons’ law was passed in Liberia.
The situation in the country is compounded by a dual legal system that appears to exist between the urban and rural areas. Practices that have been deemed exploitative and hence outlawed by the government will not necessarily be considered as such by those who wield influence and power in the rural domain.
AGN: Are there any peculiarities associated with human trafficking and exploitation that solely or are more likely to manifest among internally displaced persons (IDPS) in comparison to other groups?
VFB: Based on my research experience in Liberia, IDPs as a result of conflict are almost always trafficked by way of transactional/coercive sex work. Girls are often sex slaves for rebels, soldiers, UN and NGO’s workers. Because girls are often moving/migrating from one place to another unaccompanied, they are more vulnerable targets from numerous traffickers (rebels, soldiers, foreigners, distant relatives, etc).
AGN: Do you feel you have adequate data to enable you fine tune your operations?
VFB: The short answer is no. As an example, I conducted a project in Liberia which sampled responses from 12,000 people, however, the data was not robustly collected by those tasked to do so. This led to further resources being expended in order to painstakingly scrub the data so as to enable extraction of meaningful data points. Better systems need to be put in place and more comprehensive structures need to be set up and maintained.
The gaps are not always immediately obvious. Those with appropriate credentials on the ground have not always attained an appropriate level of practical training to enable them conduct their duties in line with what is expected from external bodies. This sometimes only becomes apparent after resources have already been expended and commencement of a project.
AGN: What would you say are the key factors that lead to people seeking irregular migration as a means to an end?
VFB: In my opinion, I believe overwhelmingly patriarchal demands are the root cause. The desire for men to seek to control their environment, those within it (irrespective of the cost), coupled with the way they fail to handle their insecurities, in turn compels and or impels women to make certain choices that at times implicates them in egregious acts. In this regard, I don’t believe that people truly seek out irregular migration. Veronica acknowledges AGN has challenged her on the one-sidedness that such a viewpoint suggests, nevertheless barring exceptions, she maintains this is her view.
AGN: People are being encouraged to speak up and report suspected instances of trafficking, prosecutions of traffickers who are members of the public or officials have also been recorded. Are there any character traits you would say traffickers tend to exhibit?
VFB: Typically traffickers are bold and high risk takers that lack empathy and are very deceitful. In certain settings they can appear to be quite charming. This makes it near impossible to identify on sight who they are in society.
AGN: What types of behaviour and circumstances would you suggest indicate someone is enduring trafficking/ exploitation?
VFB: It is not easy to tell through casual observation and a lack of engagement. Sometimes people who are in exploitative situations outwardly appear to be fine. It is only when the situation deteriorates that the facade crumbles and the truth is revealed. Sometimes those who one may suspect are victims aren’t at all. Open, honest engagement is key to determining what is what.
AGN: Obviously there are a range of factors associated with a given individuals circumstance, in terms of your experience, where an individual has not sought irregular migration voluntarily, are agents typically strangers or known to the victim/ victim’s family?
VFB: I have set out above my view on the notion of irregular migration voluntarily been sought out. In terms of the modalities in relation to people who are unaware they are being targeted, typically the process begins with someone that is known to the victim or the victims family. Obviously there are exceptions, e.g. those who are directly or indirectly involved in acquisition of victims while disguising their trafficking and exploitative criminal operations as legitimate employment opportunities and so on.
AGN: While there are governments that are doing their bit, civil society/ non state actors are also very dynamic in addressing the issue of human trafficking and exploitation; e.g. providing training/ skills acquisition, education, entrepreneurship programmes to returnees and so on, having said that there are only so many skilled/ semi-killed workers that stagnant or contracting economies can absorb productively.
Unemployment and underemployment are very high in Africa across the socio economic spectrum. Do you feel the approach of training and assisting returnees to set up small businesses and trades will yield a long term strategic benefit that will make a pivotal difference?
VFB: Again the short answer is no, however I do believe the following would be helpful;
• Better engagement between government and local communities across the socio economic spectrum through channels that enable all nationals irrespective of educational attainment to be more involved in the process of decision making and governance so as to lead to a more inclusive, holistic and meritocratic environment.
• A heightened sense of individual responsibility towards the greater good. Those who benefit from a modern education, re-orienting the way they engage across the board in a manner that revolves more around the collective locally and nationally rather than the pursuit of individual achievement at the expense of the wider populace.
• Greater investment in education that is geared towards today’s and tomorrow’s needs, underpinned by policies that are expansionary in their economic outlook. Thus allowing for a more enabling environment that puts the transformative power of a modern education within easy reach of the populace.
AGN: Do you feel it is desirable for non state actors to collaborate and do you feel it happens to a satisfactory level?
VFB: I am very much in favour of greater collaboration between different organisations. I feel it doesn’t happen enough due to limitation of resources rather than because of anything else.
AGN: Thank you Veronica for your insights and for keeping the fire burning.