DISCLOSURE that this country was one of 13 countries involved in an Interpol-coordinated operation targeting human trafficking in the Caribbean, Central and South America will surprise no one given the long-standing concerns over this country’s vulnerability to this nefarious practice.
While the details of the exact nature of our involvement in Operation Libertad are scarce, our being named on a list of countries involved in an exercise that involved 500 officers, netted 22 arrests, and rescued 350 potential victims underlines the extent and complexity of this transnational scourge.
The difficulties of pursuing investigations into human trafficking cannot be overstated. A key part of the problem is the reluctance of victims to come forward as witnesses. According to Interpol, because these victims can earn more than they would in their home countries, some don’t identify as victims, making it difficult to gather evidence and prosecute cases. Other victims are manipulated and intimidated into providing false information. It is also important to remember that behind the numbers are very real, tragic stories involving human beings of flesh and blood.
“Whether it is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter, there is an intensely personal story that is usually – unfortunately – accompanied by a lot of suffering,” noted Interpol Executive Director of Police Services Tim Morris this week.
Locally there has been much vacillation over the nature and extent of this problem. What is clear, however, is that problems with border control as well as various economic, social, institutional and geopolitical factors have created the perfect conditions within which human trafficking can happen.
For example, this country’s recent move to deport Venezuelans in the country illegally, including some reportedly seeking asylum, only serves to make it harder for exploited people to come forward to seek refuge. People who may have been lured here by promises of a better life and then deprived of wages may think twice before cooperating with police or revealing themselves given the possibility of deportation back to a life of suffering that led them into the path of traffickers in the first place.
Interpol’s support is therefore most welcomed, especially given the international complexion of the issue. The experience of people rescued also serves to underline the need to raise awareness amongst vulnerable communities in both source and destination countries and to ensure appropriate support mechanisms are in place. Traffickers ensnare people into slave labour and sex work by deception and exploitation of their vulnerabilities.
We must begin to teach people to see the warning signs. And we must also teach people to spot the signs that a person has been trafficked, such as rehearsed responses in social interaction, physical injuries and appearing malnourished. If we are to make real headway, we must bring to light the hidden face of trafficking in the region.