SINT MAARTEN: Tier 2 Watch List§

The Government of Sint Maarten does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included converting existing trainings to virtual delivery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any traffickers. Further, the government did not report identification of trafficking victims, nor did it provide services to victims identified in previous reporting periods. The government did not update its national action plan (NAP), which expired in 2018, and interagency coordination was severely lacking. Therefore Sint Maarten was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, as distinct from smugglers. • Proactively identify trafficking victims, such as by screening migrant workers for trafficking indicators; provide adequate protection to those identified; and cease the deportation of victims. • Increase the availability of protection services, including shelters, in partnership with NGOs, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and international organizations. • Improve coordination and information-sharing with anti-trafficking counterparts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands. • Train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges on proactive victim identification and victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases. • Re-establish the central reporting bureau to improve coordination of victim protection and prevention efforts. • Adopt and implement formal standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide officials, including health workers, on victim identification and referral. • Inform victims and potential victims of their rights. • Increase outreach to all incoming migrants, including domestic workers and individuals with temporary entertainment visas, to ensure they are informed of their rights and ways to seek assistance. • Raise awareness among the general public and vulnerable groups about human trafficking in Sint Maarten.

The government decreased prosecution efforts. Article 2:239 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to nine years’ imprisonment or a fine for offenses involving a victim 16 years of age or older, and up to 12 years’ imprisonment or a fine for those involving a victim under the age of 16. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions related to trafficking in 2020. In 2019, authorities investigated one case, prosecuted one suspected sex trafficker, and convicted one labor trafficker, which was the country’s first conviction under the anti-trafficking statute since 2012. Sint Maarten had a police unit assigned to combat trafficking in persons and human smuggling (the anti-HTHS unit), consisting of seven officers. In 2020, the government utilized law enforcement, including the anti-HTHS unit, to enforce movement restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The anti-HTHS unit operated with limited resources and without a dedicated budget; observers reported the unit frequently prioritized human smuggling over trafficking investigations. The anti-HTHS unit collaborated with other agencies, including the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee and the joint Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard, but this coordination was not formalized, and observers reported interagency communication was inefficient.

The government addressed trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling via joint institutions, limiting the resources available for anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Officials conflated the two crimes, hindering the effectiveness of prosecution, prevention, and protection efforts. The government reportedly held virtual training seminars related to trafficking in persons but did not report details on the topics covered or officials reached. The pandemic caused delay and cancelation of routine anti-trafficking training for law enforcement. The government did not report any substantive collaboration with foreign governments on trafficking cases.

The government significantly decreased protection efforts. Authorities did not identify any victims in 2020, compared with 29 in 2019 and 42 in 2018, and, for the third consecutive year, the government did not report providing any protection services, including to victims identified in past years. Officials did not provide updates on the status of 20 potential foreign victims identified in 2019 and allowed to remain in the country while adjudicating their immigration status, nor did the government report whether these individuals remained in Sint Maarten. The government did not have SOPs for the identification or referral of victims and, instead, relied on informal agreements between government agencies. Immigration officials and other stakeholders had an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators to facilitate victim identification; observers reported officials did not proactively identify potential victims. The government distributed the checklist and brochures on victim identification for officials who might interview potential victims. Additionally, officials claimed to screen among adult entertainment workers for trafficking indicators during immigration procedures, labor inspections, and mandatory medical screenings; however, the government did not report identifying victims of trafficking through these screenings. Observers reported the government failed to adequately inform potential victims of their rights as trafficking victims.

The government did not have a lead agency responsible for victim protection; this role was previously held by the National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking, which ceased operations in 2018. There were no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims, but the government could, on a case-by-case basis, refer victims to an international organization or NGOs for shelter. An NGO-run shelter for victims of domestic violence could sometimes accommodate female trafficking victims; in past years, the government provided financial support to the shelter, but did not report doing so in 2020. The government did not report any victims receiving shelter in 2020. Foreign victims could apply for temporary residency status for the duration of criminal proceedings against their trafficker, which the government used to encourage victim cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; however, it last reported granting a residence permit through the program in December 2015. The anti-trafficking law allowed victims to request restitution as part of criminal cases or file a civil suit against traffickers; however, the government did not report any victims pursuing this action during the reporting period.

The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. The national anti-trafficking coordinator nominally led efforts to combat trafficking in persons but had no budget or staff in this capacity and had other full-time law enforcement duties. The government did not have an anti-trafficking coordinating body, and a regional law enforcement group concluded Sint Maarten lacked functional interagency coordination on trafficking. Officials reported no efforts to draft a NAP to combat trafficking; the previous NAP expired in 2018. An existing border security agreement between the Netherlands, Curacao, and Sint Maarten (the Onderlinge Regeling Vreemdelingenketen) purportedly included trafficking. The government delayed a planned public awareness campaign as a result of the pandemic but provided no further reports of new or ongoing efforts to raise awareness of trafficking. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not report whether it continued the practice of informing employers of migrant workers about applicable laws. The government did not report having a hotline for public reports of trafficking and other crimes; the border control agency maintained an immigration hotline.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Sint Maarten. Some brothel and dance club owners exploit women and girls from Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Russia in sex trafficking. Illicit recruiters reportedly target foreign women in Sint Maarten’s commercial sex industry through debt-based coercion; women from Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in Sint Maarten. Government officials reported a significant number of migrant workers are vulnerable to traffickers’ coercive schemes in domestic service, construction, Chinese-owned markets, retail shops, landscaping, and housekeeping. Authorities report traffickers may coerce Asian and Caribbean workers in exploitative conditions indicative of forced labor. Criminal actors, including smugglers, subject migrants—specifically Cuban and Brazilian nationals—transiting Sint Maarten en route to the United States and Canada to forced labor or sex trafficking. There are indications traffickers exploit Colombian and Venezuelan women traveling to the islands under false pretenses in forced labor or sex trafficking.

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§ Sint Maarten is a semi-autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For the purpose of this report, Sint Maarten is not a “country” to which the mini-mum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act apply. This narrative reflects how Sint Maarten would be assessed if it were a separate, independent country. However, the Kingdom is an important contributor to the Government of Sint Maarten’s anti-trafficking efforts.

U.S. Department of State

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