Human Trafficking in Mauritius
Mauritius, an archipelago on the southeastern coast of Africa, is a nation with a large migrant population. In recent years, it has become a hub of human trafficking. The U.S. Department of State’s 2022 Trafficking Persons Report (TPR) gave Mauritius a Tier 2 ranking. This means that the country’s government while having made some effort, has yet to meet the global standard for minimizing trafficking. Here are six ways to alleviate human trafficking in Mauritius.

Criminalizing and Tracking Foreign Trafficking Recruiters

Mauritius has begun reforming its judicial system with the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2009. This led to the imprisonment of a handful of national traffickers annually. In 2021, the government identified six potential victims. This act, however, does not criminalize recruiters who conduct trafficking abroad before reentering Mauritius.

It is currently legal to be a citizen of Mauritius, traffic in another country and return. The U.S. Department of State suggests broadening and making adjustments to the Mauritius trafficking laws to outlaw trafficking abroad. Human trafficking activities on foreign soil present a hurdle for solving trafficking issues in Mauritius. Mauritian police told Migration EU Expertise (MIEUX+) that it is quite difficult to prosecute transnational cases of human trafficking due to poor international cooperation and insufficient evidence for convictions.

Prosecution of Complicit Officials

The Mauritian government has yet to investigate or prosecute any government official complicit in trafficking. The 2022 Mauritius Human Rights Watch noted that “impunity was a significant problem for police and investigations involving officers often continued for years.” Officials known for human rights violations were disciplined but rarely fired, let alone prosecuted.

Inefficient Justice System

The lack of prosecution is in part due to the inefficiency of the justice system. According to the World Prison Brief, as of July 19, 2022, prisoners who waited for trial comprised “51.4 percent of the total prison population due to a backlogged court system.” The Mauritius prison system prevents fair punishment for traffickers. In addition, the Trafficking Persons Report notes that “though a Mauritian law prohibits the practice, employers routinely retain migrant workers’ passports to prevent them from changing jobs,” enhancing vulnerability to forced labor.

The State of Protection Services

The Ministry of Gender and Family Welfare in Mauritius systemically provides referral procedures for child victims. Currently, there are no programs in place for adult victims. The government spends nearly $1 million on shelters for children, yet only one shelter is designed to protect human trafficking victims in Mauritius. There are also no streamlined procedures for adult trafficking victims, which leads to uneven assistance and potential re-traumatization of victims. The TPR urges the opening of more shelters and streamlining the method of assistance. NGOs from the EU and the Mauritian government are beginning to work together to solve this issue. Governmental collaboration with MIEUX+ in the ongoing action plan Mauritius III aims to refine “the capacities of public officials to identify and refer” victims of human trafficking in Mauritius.

Better Monitor Migrants

According to the Trafficking Persons Report of 2022, instead of checking into migrants’ histories, Mauritian police regularly send back Malagasy women attempting to enter Mauritius alone with little money. Since July 2021, the Ministry of Labor’s Special Migrant Works Unit has worked to inform migrants of their rights. However, border workers were not informed on how to profile potential trafficking victims, did not refer any migrants for future investigation and they also did not report any violations of incomplete contracts.

Looking Ahead

There are ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking in Mauritius. Halley Movement, founded in 1989, is the lead organization of a coalition serving Mauritius and other African-Indian Ocean island states. It addresses child abuse by holding conventions, counseling parents and testifying in court. Via its program Helpline Mauritius, this organization provides vulnerable children with guidance and support.

Halley Movement empowers youth by connecting them to jobs within the private sector and funding educational programs such as Basic Education to Adolescents (BETA) which services elementary school dropouts. The Mauritian government has also held awareness campaigns on signs of trafficking that target frontline workers and local committees. These programs help combat trafficking by helping children escape abuse and rejoin society as normal people.

– Caroline Crider
Photo: Flickr