The Trafficking in Persons Act defines Trafficking in Persons (TIP) as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force”. Trafficking in Persons is simply modern slavery.
Guyana, in 2017, was elevated to Tier I status in the United States Department of State’s annual TIP Report and retained that status in 2018. According to the Report, this means “that the Government of Guyana fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of Trafficking in persons” and, that “the government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by increasing funding for victim assistance, identifying and assisting more victims for the third consecutive year, and opening and operating a trafficking shelter outside of the capital area.”
Through a Ministerial Task Force of stakeholder agencies, which fall within the purview of the Ministry of Public Security, TIP is addressed through an action plan that guides all of its activities and initiatives by dealing with the issue mainly, in four strategic areas: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership (the ‘Four Ps’).
Awareness is integral to the prevention of Trafficking in Persons. The Task Force and the Ministry of Social Protection, therefore, have conducted several awareness activities, including radio programmes, outreaches to communities and schools, special competitions, production of videos, public engagements, mounting of banners, and the distribution of branded material, such as hats and bags.
It is also imperative that capacity building be done to strengthen the relevant institutions to proactively prevent possible cases. In 2018, Coordinator of the Task Force (Ag) Mr. Oliver Profit, and five members of the Guyana Police Force attended a TIP training at the International Academy of Law Enforcement in Roswell, New Mexico, USA.
“These different training courses that we have been able to receive as members of the Task Force, from different international organisations… [have] enabled us to ensure that whatever we learned is passed on to our local experts, especially the frontline officials. So, from 2016 all the way through the last action plan period, we would have been able to do a lot of training programmes that were not available in Guyana before that period,” Mr. Profit said.
Through the Task Force, Police Officers, mines officers, wardens attached to the Ministry of Natural Resources, medical practitioners, the media corps, and other stakeholder agencies have benefited from several trainings on how to address TIP related to sector specific issues.
The Government, through the Ministry of Social Protection, has increased its subventions to non-governmental organisations that manage victim care facilities, to ensure the protection and safety of victims and to guarantee that they are given the necessary counselling and other resources to move forward with their lives. It has also increased overall, the number of care facilities, adding transitional facilities, and creating a space for male victims.
Mr. Profit explained that the transitional facility is important to protect the identity of persons who were already confirmed as victims, while also providing a facility for suspected cases until those cases can be confirmed to be instances of trafficking.
Often, persons seeking employment and looking for a better life can become vulnerable to TIP if they are unaware of red flags in the recruitment process. In that regard, political tensions in neighbouring Venezuela has caused an increase in migrants from that country to Guyana, making Venezuelan migrants a vulnerable group of persons.
Minister of Citizenship, Mr. Winston Felix said recent reports have revealed that there are over 5,600 Venezuelan migrants who have arrived in Guyana. As part of the Government’s policy not to criminalise them for immigration offenses, Guyana has accepted them without passports, once they have presented their national identification cards.
“We do not criminalize them for immigration offenses and we do not return them to Venezuela from where they fled. We understood clearly that many Venezuelans had faced economic stringencies in the country to the point that they were driven to seek a better life in the countries bordering theirs,” Minister Felix said.
At the same time, the Government is making provision within the system to address their needs. “We realise that these cases require more interpreters, so we had a training for interpreters; an introductory training which included foreign missions, local private companies that provide interpretation services, and now we’re looking forward to following up on those types of trainings for a more victim-centered approach so we can understand how better we can reach their needs… but we also understand that there are other needs… in terms of helping them to have a temporary stay in Guyana,” Mr. Profit said.
Minister Felix added that “the police [are] playing a special role in monitoring and taking actions where we get reports of illegal activity. So, if the police have recorded an increase [in cases of trafficking], it has come as a result of the vigilance we are showing in suppressing illegal acts committed against the Venezuelans… So there are two things, how we receive them and how we record them, and secondly, the fact that we are protecting as much as possible against these ills in the society.”
The Task Force will soon be launching Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for prosecution that are aligned with international best practice. Additionally, the SOPs will ensure that best practice is followed with regard to interviewing victims and suspects, investigating the crime, ensuring that prosecutions are done in a way that will legally build stronger cases and taking care of evidence.
The Government has partnered both internationally and locally to address issues of TIP. In 2017, Government facilitated the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and the European Union (EU), dialogue on migration and peer to peer exchange meeting on Trafficking in Human Beings at the Marriott Hotel. The meeting was facilitated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and attended by First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger. It featured representatives from 20 countries.
Locally, Government has partnered with non-governmental organisations to assist in achieving its mandate in fighting against TIP. One such organisation is the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO), which has done a lot of work to identify cases through its network of regional women miners. The GWMO is represented on the Ministerial Task Force for Trafficking in persons and several other inter-agency groups such as the National Networking Group on Trafficking in Persons.
GWMO Co-Deputy Coordinator, Social Services Committee, Ms. Reisa Roberts, said that collaborating with the Government has advanced their work.
“We were able to provide a more substantial programme with our girls. We were able to send them off to school; we’re able to provide health care as well as counselling for them, our counselling comes from the Ministry of Social Protection… For all of the rescues that we go out to and for all of the persons that we bring in, we work with the Ministry of Social Protection to ensure that those victims are given the proper care when they get to town to ensure their statements are taken in a timely manner from the police force… even while within our care, Ministry of Social Protection still continues to give them the psycho-social support that they would need,” she said.
Ms. Roberts also said that her organisation collaborates closely with the Ministry of Public Security to ensure that due care is given to ensure that cases are prosecuted. “As it relates to even some of our victims who would have been rehabilitated, if at any point in time they would have had any problems as it relates to prosecution within the system, we have an open way with Ministry of Public Security… so that we can appeal for them, on their behalf.”
Through Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership, the Government continues to fight against TIP and is committed to implementing programmes to sustain and improve efforts to combat the crime.