As of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, Trinidad and Tobago remains on the Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking. Refugees from Venezuela and other migrants from South America are the primary victims of human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago, facilitated by members of the Trinidadian coast guard and customs office. The crisis in Venezuela has caused a large number of Venezuelan refugees to seek shelter, whether permanent or temporary, in Trinidad.
Cultural and language barriers make finding employment or housing incredibly difficult for refugees. This is making them prime victims of human trafficking schemes. Most commonly, traffickers sell these victims into sex slavery, “or forced labor in domestic service and the retail sector,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
Fortunately, the government is increasing its efforts to fight human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago. Between 2017 and 2020, the Counter Trafficking Unit in Trinidad has investigated 125 cases of human trafficking in total, with the majority of these being sex trafficking. Simultaneously, United Nations Agency IOM is aiding the government of Trinidad and Tobago in improving the lives of victims.
The U.S. Department of State has identified Trinidad and Tobago as a Tier 2 watchlist country for human trafficking. Tier 2 watchlist countries are countries that, while not fully meeting the standards of the Trafficking Violence Protection Act to eliminate trafficking, are making significant efforts to do so.
In 2011, the government of Trinidad and Tobago passed the Trafficking in Persons Act. The act is criminalizing labor and sex trafficking with minimum sentences of 15 years, the U.S. Department of State reported. The government has prosecuted 14 traffickers since 2011, though the courts have not convicted a single trafficker under the law in that timespan. The government underwent legal system reforms in 2019 to address the backlog of cases. It opened five new courts with divisions specializing in human trafficking cases to make the system more efficient, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Trinidad and Tobago also created the Counter Trafficking Unit or CTU. It solely dedicates its time to investigating, stopping and prosecuting human trafficking in Trinidad. While this unit suffers from budget and personnel constraints, it still demonstrates a commitment to ending human trafficking.
Trinidad and Tobago improved its training and education for officers dealing with human trafficking. “The CTU produced a Pocket Guide for Frontline Officers” to aid in identifying victims of human trafficking, the U.S. Department of State reports. The government also implemented important, though limited, screening procedures for immigrants to identify those at high risk of human trafficking. By undergoing this screening, immigrants also gain access to programs such as translation services and English as a Second Language class.
United Nations Agency Efforts
The International Organization for Migrants, or IOM, is a United Nations Agency that provides services and advice to the government and migrants alike concerning migration. The IOM has been advocating and providing services to victims of human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago for multiple years.
The IOM provides services including “accommodation, emergency assistance, medical health services, vocational training and psychosocial support.” In one case, the IOM even advocated for the release of a victim of human trafficking who was arrested after fleeing her captors.
Additionally, the IOM provides specialized help to foreigners who become victims of human trafficking. It is working to break down cultural and language barriers that prevent victims from receiving the help they need. The IOM has urged the government of Trinidad and Tobago to continue ramping up its efforts to fight human trafficking. It has also pledged its support and cooperation if needed.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of State published recommendations to the Trinidadian government in the fight against human trafficking in Trinidad, including:
- Implementing further justice system reforms to work through case backlog.
- Implementing an “anti-trafficking national action plan.
- “Undertaking proactive victim identification, screening and protection among migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.”
- “Improve cooperation between the CTU, prosecutors, judiciary and NGOs to increase the number of cases that proceed to trial.”
- “Train law enforcement and prosecutors in proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving and corroborating evidence of trafficking.”
In implementing these reforms, the government can adequately protect both foreigners and nationals and prove it is serious about fighting human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago.
Human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago is a serious issue. Vulnerable refugees from Venezuela continue to come into the country in large numbers and traffickers continue to prey on them. Fortunately, with the help of the IOM, Trinidad and Tobago is working to fight this issue. There is no sign that the government will relax its response to trafficking, continuing to implement best practices and work to solve the problem.
– Benjamin Brown