The government decreased efforts to protect victims. The AHTO, with assistance from an international organization, continued to develop a victim identification tool but reported pandemic-related travel restrictions delayed progress; consequently, the government remained without SOPs for victim identification and referral to services. Although the three new trafficking investigations involved 65 potential victims, the government reported identifying only one victim of labor trafficking – and the foreign national victim self-identified and sought help – compared with identifying four victims in 2019. In a prior reporting period, an international organization explained the small number of identified victims by stating only the most egregious cases of trafficking were likely to come to the attention of authorities because of the lack of proactive identification procedures and foreign migrant workers’ reluctance to complain to authorities out of fear that such complaints would result in job termination and deportation.
Due to a lack of formal identification procedures and Palauan law, authorities penalized victims for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit. While the 2005 Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act granted victims immunity from prosecution for the “act of people trafficking,” the vague language permitted prosecution for crimes traffickers compelled victims to commit, such as commercial sex or petty crime. In 2020, despite the case being investigated for sex trafficking, the government charged and prosecuted two potential victims for prostitution and violation of their work permit; one was convicted and sentenced, and one chose deferred prosecution. In addition, the government prosecuted 59 potential victims for immigration violations; one of the 59 charged was a child who did not have their passport in their possession and said they had been told to enter the country on a tourist visa. Ultimately, 57 of the 59 pled guilty, the child was charged in juvenile court, and one case was dismissed as circumstantial.
The government reported providing assistance to the one victim involved in either an investigation or prosecution, compared to six victims in 2019. Similar to prior reporting periods, the AHTO offered temporary shelter for trafficking victims; however, the identified victim stayed at a non-governmental facility. Investigators continued to employ local interpreters as needed in Bengali, Mandarin, and Tagalog. The government reported spending $500 on victim assistance to remove the identified victim from an outer island; it did not report funding or providing any other emergency protective services to adult trafficking victims, such as medical or psychological care. As in prior reporting periods, the lack of support services reportedly led some victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse.
For the second consecutive year, the government did not report funding an NGO to assist trafficking victims with legal counseling and representation before labor and immigration hearings, compared with contributing approximately $15,000 to an NGO for these purposes in both 2017 and 2018. Similar to previous years, the AGO did not request restitution for trafficking victims, reportedly due to an inability to submit admissible evidence. The government offered ad hoc short-term legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; the attorney general could designate victims as “vulnerable,” making them eligible for alternate employment and accommodation assistance. The Division of Labor reported providing victims with temporary employment placements. The government assisted the identified victim with obtaining new employment. The judicial system did not keep victim identities confidential and in prior reporting periods, defendants in trafficking cases threatened witnesses.