NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said while the country has maintained its position in the US Trafficking In Persons Report 2022 from last year, the government made significant strides in hopes of doing better.
“We were hoping to move higher up the ranking but I think we did well enough to have maintained the place that we were at from last year, that is to say Tier 2 Watch List and we are working with the United States in order to satisfy them because they are the assessors.”
Hinds said some of the steps taken by the country between last year and this year was training and sensitising people, broadening the opportunities for detecting the offence and screening people. Those efforts, he said, were not considered enough to move TT up the rankings. In 2020 TT was ranked Tier 2 and dropped last year.
Tier 2 Watch List means the government does not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 minimum standards but is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
It also means that the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is significant or significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions. There is also a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of human trafficking from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecutions and convictions, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials.
The report said TT does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2011 anti-trafficking law, said the report, with corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remaining significant concerns inhibiting law enforcement action.
"The government did not take action against senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in human trafficking. Victim identification and services remained weak, and the government did not formally adopt the National Action Plan (NAP) for 2021-2023. Therefore Trinidad and Tobago remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.”
To address the issue, the report suggested that the State increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials. Increase proactive victim identification, screening, and protection among vulnerable communities, including migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, especially Venezuelans and ensure victims are not penalised for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, were also suggestions made.
It added that strengthening rules to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking detection, criminal law enforcement, or victim protections; ensure trafficking is investigated and prosecuted using the anti-trafficking law.
Hinds said the government studied last year’s report and addressed the concerns but it may not have been enough.
“Those who traffic in persons I want to inform them that TT will remain a hostile country for you. Because we know it's a nasty crime. It's effectively modern-day slavery and forced prostitution in some cases and we take strong legal positions against it. And we continue to work to protect the people of TT and those who are brought here or come here in any circumstance of that nature.”
Asked if he was concerned that the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU) head Alana Wheeler was out of the position as her contract ended earlier this year, Hinds said there was a deputy who was holding on until the position was filled and, therefore, the work of the unit continued uninterrupted.
The report said the CTU investigated 23 new trafficking cases in 2021 including nine for sex trafficking, five for labour trafficking, and nine for unspecified trafficking-related crimes. In 2020 there were 12 cases nine for sex trafficking and three for labour trafficking.
The report said: “Of the total number of new and ongoing cases, the government prosecuted ten defendants including two police officers and 15 defendants including three police officers under other laws, including the Immigration Act, the Anti-Gang Act, and the Children’s Act. The government did not report convicting any traffickers in 2021 and has not convicted any traffickers since the enactment of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Act.”