Trinidad and Tobago remains firmly in Tier 2 in the US report on human trafficking, a position it has held for three years.
The US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report has been published annually since 2001, and TT was added to the list in 2009, slipping in 2010 to the Tier 2 Watch List, a category for nations that are working to control this crime but are doing poorly at it. Nations in Tier 3 don’t comply and don’t do much about the problem at all. Since 2011 this country has been ranked as Tier 2, dipping to the watch list in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
It isn’t through a lack of effort. The report has been gracious about local efforts to meet the challenges of the crime, but there seems to be an institutional inability to achieve more meaningful advances in the national anti-trafficking effort.
Human trafficking is today’s slavery and the report details its significant cost, which it estimates as affecting 24.9 million people worldwide. This is very much a crime of individuals, people abusing their positions of power to enslave those without the means to defend themselves or to escape their circumstances. It is here that the power of the State, of nations united in common purpose, can make a significant difference.
Among the initiatives suggested are the strategic boycott of business supply chains that make use of forced labour, enhanced training for first responders who are often the first to encounter trafficking victims, and making criminal cases involving labour and sex trafficking a priority. There are powerful incentives to do so in 2019, given the flow of vulnerable citizens from Venezuela seeking refuge in our country and an established pattern of abuse of these new arrivals.
The 2019 report noted that the lack of screening of Venezuelan refugees for trafficking indicators as a serious lapse and there has been no indication that the recent registration exercise engaged that area of concern in the interview and certification process. Nor did registration reach refugees who could not register because their free movement may be constrained by traffickers.
It is compelling to note that despite having anti-trafficking laws on our books since 2011, seeing clear-cut cases of constrained liberty of the disadvantaged in our headlines, and the implementation of an intelligence-led anti-trafficking task force operating under the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, there hasn’t been a single conviction under that law.
The rigorous establishment of procedures to manage the potential for human trafficking in this influx of Venezuelan refugees will be a valuable step forward in the education and training law enforcement professionals in what’s required to discourage trafficking and forced labour in TT.