Govt to target abetting agencies in TIP fight

…linked gun-running, money laundering – Benn

As authorities work closer to unearth cases of human trafficking in the country, details emerging have shown its link as a cover for drug deals, arms trade, money laundering and other criminal operations.

Ministers Robeson Benn and Dr Vindhya Persaud flanked by attendees of the workshop

Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn made this disclosure during the National Action Plan for Trafficking In Persons workshop on Monday, highlighting that human trafficking is not isolated. In fact, several illegal activities are camouflaged under this umbrella.
“Trafficking In Persons does not exist by itself. Beyond human smuggling, there are the issues under which cover is taken in respect of the drug trade, money laundering, arms trading and all other issues which relay to overarching issue of transnational crime. When we identify the linkages of this phenomena to other activities, illegal of course, we see a clear relationship, opportunity for persons who are involved in nefarious activities to use the Trafficking In Persons and the people smuggling to carry on the other problems,” he identified.
Compounding the trafficking scheme locally is the influx of Venezuelan migrants and people from other neighbouring territories – evidenced by discrepancies in the immigration records. However, authorities face difficulties in establishing whether people are migrating for economic reasons or being trafficked having seen that there is “seamless movement” between the two issues.
“We are aware of the situation in our neighbouring country Venezuela with respect to migrants moving out of that country and entering Guyana. Many of them are descendants of Guyanese but this activity envelopes on issues of Trafficking In Persons. We have issues in relation to Haitians entering our country and Cubans, too… The difficultly we have is the conflating, naturally, of migration for social-economic reasons and the question of Trafficking In Persons.”
Benn, who also chairs the TIP Ministerial Task Force, outlined that the issue of smuggling people in Guyana also extends to families who are forced to work, sometimes without pay and being held against their will. In these cases, it is difficult for them to make reports or for authorities to reach out and determine the status of their engagement.
Benn underscored, “Internally in Guyana, we have the issue of persons being moved from one place to the other, young families from the Indigenous communities, families who come and work in agriculture and other endeavours. In many instances, there is duress. There’s a fine line between whether they’re paid.”
With 225 cases of TIP reported as of 2020, he pointed to newer tactics of eliminating these acts, by targeting agencies and stakeholders that abet in such crimes. The idea is to “beef up” the country’s response holistically.
“Our view at this point in time is that we have to deal with not only the Trafficking In Persons issues, [but] how it relates to people smuggling and how we have to move against the corrupting effects that it has with the Police, immigration, officials, with people that create false identities and all of those things, which still occurs.”
Recognising that Guyana is not the only country seeking to combat Trafficking In Persons, the need for discussion with neighbouring countries and the Caribbean Community was also mentioned.

New legislation
Human Services and Social Security Minister, Dr Vindhya Persaud noted that Government is looking at new legislation and amending existing laws. Anti-TIP training will also roll out for forestry officers, Police ranks, customs officers, community policing groups, Local Government authorities, transport operators and members of civil society.
“Through the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, we have laser focus on the legislation and soon, we will be tabling new legislation in the Parliament. We are going to also update our regulations within the legislation,” Dr Persaud said.
For the campaigns, awareness will be done in both foreign languages and Amerindian dialects, she noted that for these cases to be addressed by authorities, there is need for them to be reported. The 914 hotline, a toll-free platform, can be used to highlight such activities.
“Trafficking In Persons can be considered invisible. It’s called modern-day slavery because persons lose all of their rights when they’re embraced in the grip of a trafficker. Trafficking In Persons has no age limit, no discrimination when it comes to gender or race and we need to recognise it, expose it but most importantly, report it.”
Guyana had retained its Tier 1 ranking in the 2020 TIP Report of the United States Department of State. This was the fourth consecutive year that Guyana received a Tier 1 ranking.
The Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005 (TIP Act) criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking, and prescribes penalties of three years to life imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. (G12)