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ST. MAARTEN: Tier 2‡

The Government of St. Maarten does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included the appointment of a new anti-trafficking coordinator and continued cooperation with civil society. However, these efforts were not serious and sustained compared to efforts made during the previous reporting period. The government did not provide adequate protection services for victims identified and it penalized them with detention and deportation back to their country of origin. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not secure any convictions. Therefore St. Maarten was downgraded to Tier 2.

St. Maarten is an autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For the purpose of this report, St. Maarten is not a “country” to which the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act apply. This narrative reflects how St. Maarten would be assessed if it were a separate, independent country.

Significantly increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers.

• Screen all migrant workers for trafficking indicators, provide adequate protection to those identified, and cease the deportation of victims.

• Fund protection services, including shelters.

• Train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges on proactive victim identification and victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases.

• Establish a new central reporting bureau to improve coordination of victim protection and prevention efforts.

• Adopt and implement formal standard operating procedures to guide officials, including health workers, on victim identification and referral.

• Increase outreach to all incoming migrants, including domestic workers and foreign women on temporary entertainment visas, to ensure they are informed of their rights, the anti-trafficking hotline, and ways to seek assistance.

• Raise awareness among the general public and vulnerable groups about trafficking in St. Maarten.

The government decreased prosecution efforts. The penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from 12 to 24 years of imprisonment or a fine, which were sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Authorities conducted one investigation of forced labor in a case involving three domestic workers (one in 2017 involving one suspect and three in 2016 involving five suspects) but did not prosecute the traffickers implicated despite strong indicators of forced labor. Victims claimed exhausting hours, restricted freedom of movement, sleeping in inappropriate spaces, receiving fewer wages than agreed, confiscated passports, and possible debt-based coercion. There were uncorroborated media reports that officials from the public prosecutor’s office attempted to intimidate the victims into signing paperwork needed to receive a one-way ticket back to their country of origin. Victims refused to sign and demanded receipt of unpaid wages. At the end of the reporting period, authorities indicated victims received unpaid wages and were returned to their country of origin. The government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers in 2018; over the last six years, the government has only convicted three traffickers. Law enforcement officials, including police and immigration personnel participated in an annual regional training event focused on investigations of trafficking crimes.

The government decreased efforts to identify and protect victims. Authorities identified 42 victims (96 in 2017), but the government did not report providing any with protection services (five in 2017). In 2018, St. Maarten continued recovery efforts from the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, which placed a strain on resources and hindered the government’s ability to provide services. Authorities deported victims identified to their country of origin. While the government did not have standard operating procedures for the identification or referral of victims, informal agreements between government agencies were in place, and immigration officials and other stakeholders continued to use an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators. Officials routinely screened for trafficking among adult entertainment workers during immigration procedures, labor inspections, and required medical screenings. During the reporting period, the National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking (NRB)—the lead agency for coordinating the government’s efforts to combat trafficking and emergency response to cases—ceased to operate. Victims received shelter through the Red Cross and local NGOs. The government provided one NGO with a subsidy to assist in providing victim services and support; however, it did not provide any services to victims of trafficking in 2018. The temporary residence program served to encourage victim assistance in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; however, the government did not report granting such benefits during the year. The government had a formal policy to protect identified victims from being punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their trafficking; however, the government detained identified victims and deported them back to their country of origin. The anti-trafficking law allowed victims to request restitution as part of criminal cases or file a civil suit against traffickers; however, victims identified during the reporting period did not stay in the country long enough for prosecutors to seek restitution or for victims to file a civil suit.

The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The 2013-2018 national action plan for the elimination of trafficking expired during the reporting period. The government appointed a new anti-trafficking coordinator focused on prevention efforts and coordination of services. Authorities continued making public service announcements, generating social media and news releases, and participating in radio and television shows; however, it was unclear if any were specific to trafficking. The government did not make any efforts to reduce the demand of commercial sex or forced labor. The government did not conduct any new awareness campaigns during the reporting period. The government informed employers of migrant workers about applicable laws and made the national hotline accessible by phone and email.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in St. Maarten. Women and girls from Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Russia are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, including women working in regulated and unregulated brothels and dance clubs. There are indications that some traffickers target foreign women in St. Maarten’s commercial sex industry with debt-based coercion. Government officials’ reports indicate a significant number of migrant workers are vulnerable to traffickers’ coercive schemes in domestic service, construction, Chinese-owned markets, retail shops, landscaping, and housekeeping. Government officials report that traffickers may be coercing workers from Asia and the Caribbean in exploitative conditions indicative of forced labor. Migrants transiting St. Maarten en route to the United States and Canada may also be vulnerable to human trafficking, specifically Cuban and Brazilian nationals. There are indicators Colombian and Venezuelan women may travel to the islands under false pretenses and become victims of trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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