Govt identified over 400 victims of human trafficking last year

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Noting that the Guyana Government has increased efforts to protect victims of human trafficking, the US State Department has revealed that over 400 trafficked persons were identified within the country last year.

According to the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the Department, the Government identified 407 victims while nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) identified one.

This is in comparison to 2022, whereby the Government had identified 327 trafficking victims.

“The Government screened 281 potential victims among individuals in commercial sex, compared with 305 potential victims screened in 2022. Of the identified victims, 274 women and seven girls were exploited in sex trafficking, and 116 men and 10 boys were exploited in labor trafficking,” the report revealed.

The victims included 21 Guyanese nationals and 386 foreign nationals from Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Russia, and Venezuela.

Some victims stayed in shelters while others were granted work or residency permits; others were repatriated.

Specifically, the report revealed that shelter was offered to all of the victims but only 312 accepted. In the previous year, the report noted, all the victims had accepted the opportunity to stay at shelters.

“The government provided victims assistance including shelter; food, transportation, and clothing, including through direct financial assistance; counseling; medical checkups; and legal assistance including support for court appearances; other available services included training; job referrals; employment opportunities, including small business support for foreign victims; and help with integration,” the report noted.

NGOs also provided shelter and translation/interpretation for victims.

Meanwhile, the Government gave 333 victims residency permits and 18 victims work permits while eight were repatriated.

In the prior reporting period, the Government did not grant any foreign victims temporary residency status or work permits as it received no requests for such.

Notably it was revealed that the Government did not facilitate the repatriation from abroad of any victims, compared with one Guyanese victim in 2022.

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security’s Countering Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) Unit is the lead government agency coordinating victim care services.

For the period under review, the unit hired four additional staff, bringing the total to seven. According to the US Department of State, in prior reporting periods, observers noted it had insufficient staff to effectively undertake its work.

The report also recognised the increase in funding for the unit to conduct its work, from GY$44.15 million in 2022 to GY$63.83 million in 2023.

The work of the unit includes a national referral mechanism (NRM) which involves an assessment of the victim’s needs and vulnerabilities. After this assessment, the NRM would direct a voluntary reflection period of 10 days for the victim during which the victim should not be interviewed. Social welfare officers would then explain the victim’s rights and conditions for cooperating with investigators.

The third step is the Ministry’s referral for accommodations at an accredited shelter. If the victim refused shelter services, the Ministry arranged for the victim’s safe repatriation (if a foreigner who has requested such) or for social inclusion in the country.

Meanwhile, during the reporting period, the government operated and fully funded four shelters for adults with a total capacity of 50 and three children’s homes, which also housed child victims of other crimes. The government had also constructed a fourth children’s home in the region bordering Venezuela, which has a large migrant population, for child trafficking victims and child migrants.

The US State Department also found that local authorities would evaluate and place child trafficking victims in foster care.

Additionally, the Government continued to subsidise two NGO-run shelters; one for male and female victims with space for 28 that was used during the 10-day reflection period and the other for up to 40 adult female victims of trafficking and other crimes that provided victims with the same services as the government-operated shelters.

“Shelter services were not time-limited. The government and NGOs encouraged victims to stay in a shelter for their own protection,” the report outlined, adding that social workers maintained contact with victims who declined shelter.

It was also noted that authorities offered victims psychological therapy before and after trial proceedings to help prevent re-traumatisation.

Additionally, the country’s laws prohibited face-to-face confrontations between suspects and victims, thereby reducing further trauma to the victim.

Nevertheless, the report outlined that authorities may have re-traumatised some victims during questioning.