Guyana increased protection efforts for TIP victims – US report

…says human traffickers exploit domestic, foreign victims

The Guyana Government’s continued serious and sustained efforts to tackle human trafficking during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the country retaining its Tier 1 status in the United States Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report 2021.
In the report, which was released on Thursday, Guyana was lauded for increasing investigations into human trafficking, identifying and assisting more victims, creating the first anti-trafficking hotline in Spanish, opening an additional shelter, and creating standard operating procedures for victim identification.
According to the report, the Government increased its protection efforts during the reporting period of 2020.
It was noted that in 2020, the Government identified 199 victims and another five were found by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Of these 204 victims, some 127 were sex trafficking victims and 77 were labour trafficking victims. They included 127 Venezuelans, 27 Haitians, 24 Dominicans, 22 Guyanese, three Jamaicans, and one Cuban. There were 151 females and 53 males, and ten of them were children.
The discovery of these trafficking victims was a significant increase from 102 victims identified by the Government and three additional victims identified by an international organisation in 2019.

Exploiting domestic and foreign victims
Guyana’s trafficking profile in the report shows that over the last five years, human traffickers have been exploiting both domestic and foreign victims in Guyana.
“Traffickers exploit victims in labour trafficking in mining, agriculture, forestry, domestic service, and in shops. The Government reported 78 per cent of human trafficking perpetrators in 2020 were men, predominantly Guyanese; 14 per cent of traffickers were from Venezuela, while less than three per cent were Dominican and Haitian. NGOs reported that traffickers are often middle-aged men who own or operate nightclubs. Some traffickers are also family members of the victims,” the report detailed.
It went on to outline that migrants, young people from rural and Indigenous communities, and those without education are the most vulnerable to human trafficking. Women and children from Guyana, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Suriname, and Venezuela become sex trafficking victims in mining communities in the interior and urban areas.
While both sex trafficking and labour trafficking occur in remote interior mining communities, limited Government presence in the country’s interior renders the full extent of trafficking there unknown. Additionally, the report stated that some Cuban nationals working in Guyana may have been forced to work by the Cuban Government.
On the other hand, it was reported that traffickers exploit Guyanese nationals in sex and labour trafficking in Suriname, Uruguay, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries.
Nevertheless, the US TIP Report recognised that the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security’s Counter Trafficking (C-TIP) Unit identified as well as provided social welfare and assistance to victims. However, it was noted that while authorities developed standard operating procedures for victim identification, this is yet to be implemented pending an additional Government review.

Care and assistance
During the reporting period, the Government referred 100 victims to shelter or protective services, compared with 99 victims in 2019. Guyana was also lauded for opening a new shelter for trafficking victims in a rural district, bringing the total number of Government-operated shelters offering specialised care, including food, training, translation, legal services, medical services, and psychological therapy, for trafficking victims to five.
In addition to financially supporting two NGO shelters that house adult female trafficking victims, the Guyana Government also provided $4.52 million in direct financial assistance to victims who chose not to stay in a shelter. A total of 226 victims benefited from some form of assistance during the reporting period.
Additionally, it was noted that both foreign and Guyanese victims received the same access to care and assistance. However, the report flagged the inadequate presence of trafficking shelters for male or child trafficking victims and few employed trauma-trained staff. It pointed out too that victim assistance remained a serious concern in areas outside the capital and for Venezuelan, child, and male victims. In some instances, officials did not screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including Venezuelans, those working in the mining sector, and Cuban medical professionals working in the country.

When it comes to prosecution, while the Government meets the minimum standards, the report highlighted that not many traffickers were prosecuted. In 2020, authorities reported 31 new investigations – 23 for sex trafficking and eight for labour trafficking. This is compared to 27 in 2019 and 30 in 2018.
One of these was a labour trafficking investigation from the previous reporting period. There was only one new prosecution for sex trafficking in 2020, compared with three prosecutions in 2019 and 11 in 2018. The prosecution was for one case of solicitation of trafficking victims. Further, one trafficker was convicted during the reporting period – the same as the two previous years.
In February 2021, a non-Guyanese was convicted of trafficking a Venezuelan woman for sex, following charges brought in June 2020. He received four years’ imprisonment and payment of $1 million in restitution to the survivor.
“Limited human and financial resources, in part due to the pandemic, hindered the Government’s ability to identify and investigate trafficking cases in the country’s remote regions… The Government reported deficiencies in Police trafficking investigative skills and that victims were often unwilling to testify against traffickers out of fear or due to financial incentives; the Act required witness testimony of victims in order to prosecute. The Government reported both of these factors contributed to the low prosecution rate,” the report details.
However, it was noted that the Government funded training for 144 Police, investigators, probation officers, and prosecutors on trafficking, trauma-informed investigations, and prosecution.
Consequently, the recommendations in the US TIP Report 2021 include increased prosecutions and convictions in sex and labour trafficking cases under the 2005 TIP Act; investigation of trafficking cases in remote regions; funding of specialised victim services, particularly for child, adult male, and Venezuelan victims in their native language; reduced delays in court proceedings and pretrial detention of suspects; monitoring of the working conditions of Cuban medical workers; and development of standard trauma-informed victim identification and referral procedures and training of law enforcement officials and front-line responders in their use, among others.
This TIP report comes on the heels of the Government of Guyana last week revoking visa-free travel for Haitian nationals after it was discovered that more than 38,000 Haitians who arrived here since 2015 cannot be accounted for.
It is believed that Guyana was being used as a conduit due to its easy access by traffickers to illegally move Haitians and other foreign nationals to neighbouring countries including Suriname or Brazil.
Only Wednesday, the Region 10 Commander disclosed that 71 foreign nationals, 60 of whom were Haitians, were found in the jungle at the Kurupukari crossing after being abandoned in the forest and left starving for at least a week. (G8)