The government maintained limited protection efforts. The government reported identifying six trafficking victims, compared with reporting 34 trafficking victims in 2019, 14 victims in 2018, and 14 in 2017. Of the six identified, three were female, and three were male; three were Venezuelans, of which two were children, and three were Indians; three were victims of sex trafficking, including both children, and three were victims of labor trafficking. The government reported the pandemic negatively affected the ability to identify victims, particularly due to the inability to meet with potential victims. NGOs did not refer any victims. Authorities reported providing some assistance to 70 potential victims during the reporting period, compared with reporting all identified victims received care in 2019, including 22 victims from prior years, 29 victims in 2018 and 14 in 2017. The government reported the exact number of victims was uncertain, as authorities gave some undocumented Venezuelans in dire need assistance without screening them first. The government reported it provided: accommodation for all potential victims; basic necessities for adults; English as a Second Language classes and life skills training; psychosocial support and art therapy interventions; medical, antenatal care, and parenting classes; counseling; Spanish language interpretation and translation services; and social assessments by qualified social workers. For potential child victims, the government reported it provided specialized care, including medical screenings and assessments at the Child Assessment Center and accompaniment to appointments, psychosocial support during police interviews, appointment of Child Advocates, provision of child reading material in English and Spanish, outings and excursions, and placement/accommodation in community residences and special homes for pregnant teens, weekly communication with family members and parents, child transition plans, legal representation for children as directed by the Family and Children’s Court; and social welfare visits and interventions. The government reported services were not time-limited or conditional on participation in the prosecution of the trafficker; however, victims who cooperated with an investigation or prosecution would receive legal aid, transportation, and lodging for themselves and their families.
The government reported the CTU had a dedicated budget of 120,000 TTD ($17,920) for victim assistance, compared with spending 120,000 TTD ($17,920) on victim protection and assistance in 2019; 203,100 TTD ($30,320) in 2018; and 198,900 TTD ($29,700) in 2017. The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services reported providing funding for 19 NGOs and three statutory boards for up to 60 percent of recurrent administrative and operational costs for victims of trafficking and other crimes, especially domestic violence, but did not disaggregate the amount for trafficking victims. Authorities reported the Ministry of National Security had an agreement with an international organization to provide support for adult victims. The government reported the Ministry of Health assisted foreign trafficking victims and funded the assistance from its annual budget. The government also reported the CATT funded the provision of child advocates for child victims from its general budget, and the government continued to provide legal services for children.
The government reported that during the reporting period the CTU produced a Pocket Guide for Frontline Officers, which included information on identifying victims of trafficking, and disseminated it to all agencies. The Ministry of Health also had policies for victim identification and the CATT—which is involved in all cases involving child victims—was in the process of finalizing a draft manual for victim care at the end of the reporting period. However, the government reported that a major challenge was the lack of implementation of a formalized protocol and a functioning and active coordinating committee for victim care. The government reported it needed to strengthen the quality of victim care, including specialized placement facilities for children equipped with adequate personnel and services and placement facilities for children transitioning out of the care system. Experts noted working-level staff at NGOs and shelters required more training on trafficking indicators to better identify potential trafficking victims. Authorities and an international organization also reported a lack of access to certified bilingual social workers, counselors, shelter staff, lawyers, and health care workers negatively impacted victim care. The government reported that while public health services continued during the pandemic for all patients, including trafficking victims, it transitioned in-person counseling and psycho-social interventions to virtual services. The pandemic negatively affected the capacity of authorities and NGOs to provide essential services to victims and to give basic protective gear to law enforcement officials and service providers when assisting potential victims. The government reported it restricted outings and visits by external parties at community residences due to the pandemic, and it also implemented safety protocols; new admissions at the community residences were contingent on the availability of space for quarantining. However, the government reported community homes did accept new arrivals, with quarantine spaces established based on health guidelines and protocols; health care officials provided necessary training for shelter staff and conducted social assessments for victims virtually.
Outside experts noted there was insufficient government funding and personnel for comprehensive victim care including appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel. The government did not provide funding for or manage any trafficking-specific shelters. Authorities placed adult female victims in domestic violence NGO-run shelters funded by an international organization, while they placed adult male victims in safe houses operated by the security services. Victims did not have a choice of which shelter to use. Outside experts noted the shelters had strict rules restricting unchaperoned freedom of movement or communication outside, and these restrictions caused some victims to run away from shelters or ask to be repatriated before authorities completed investigations. The Children’s Authority placed child victims in government-funded children’s homes in the community, which also could house children who were criminal offenders, and observers reported a lack of specialized care. The government reported it usually placed child victims in one community residence. The government reported children were not allowed to leave their residence without permission from the CATT. An international organization reported that in the few cases where victims requested assistance, they did so through local NGOs, private individuals, government agencies working with Venezuelan migrants, or through international organizations who then referred the cases to the CTU. The CTU screened migrants for trafficking indicators. However, some observers indicated that following police actions or immigration raids, authorities detained some foreign victims for violating immigration laws without screening for trafficking indicators or victim care – even though those unlawful acts occurred as part of the trafficking crime and traffickers may have compelled victims to commit them. The CTU reported intervening on behalf of some foreign victims to have them removed from detention centers to alternate sites. According to NGOs, the coast guard and local authorities did not screen detained refugees or asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators as required by international conventions. In addition, NGOs asserted the Venezuelan embassy’s involvement in the repatriation process put individuals at risk if they had a legitimate fear of persecution. In May 2020, a group of 12 Cuban medical professionals arrived to assist with pandemic efforts; the government did not report measures to monitor this group for trafficking indicators nor to put protection measures into its agreement with the Cuban government to prevent forced labor.
The government reported all foreign adult victims who agreed to cooperate with an investigation received a renewable Minister’s Permit enabling them to remain in the country for the duration of court proceedings, to move about unchaperoned, to work in the country legally, and to apply for permanent residency after the completion of court proceedings. The government reported victims could not leave the country and return on a regular basis, even apart from border closures due to the pandemic. The government reported providing deportation relief to 23 victims, including six from the current reporting period, due to the pandemic. Victims stated they feared retaliation from traffickers and re-trafficking if they remained in the country; this situation was exacerbated because cases could take up to a decade to come to trial.
The government offered some immigration relief—including for potential victims—at the end of the reporting period by extending the registration cards for Venezuelan refugees and migrants through July 2021; however, this was only available for 16,523 individuals previously registered in 2019, not for more numerous recent arrivals. Authorities said the registration card would not automatically allow migrants to obtain drivers’ permits and other official documents despite allowing them to work and live in the country. The government reported taking undocumented Venezuelan nationals under the care of the state who gave birth to babies to the Venezuelan Embassy to register the birth and obtain official identity documents; however, outside observers reported that many of the children were not provided with documentation. Although the government agreed that an international organization could conduct refugee status determinations, there was no impact on a trafficking victim’s legal status in country and refugee children could not access public education, heightening their risk for trafficking. During the reporting period, the government changed the evidence acts amendment to allow legal proceedings of cases without relying uniquely on the victim’s willingness to cooperate. The CTU provided 24/7 security for victims who participated in court proceedings, along with witness protection and support to victims during preliminary hearings based on a risk assessment conducted for each victim. As a pandemic measure, in October 2020 authorities established several virtual hearing centers for judges and judicial officers to take evidence by any specific means and from a specific location, including the Judiciary’s Virtual Access Customer Center or any court building; the law required all court matters to be held in camera, although the courts allowed for victim testimony via video or written statements. The anti-trafficking law imposed penalties for breach of the victims’ and their families’ identities. The CTU previously provided sensitivity training to judges and magistrates to avoid re-traumatization of trafficking victims but did not report doing so during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution by the court; however, no cases had reached the stage where a victim would be able to apply for restitution. Between May and December 2020, authorities reported the CTU funded 18 virtual trainings for 1,040 members of the public and private sector on how to identify potential victims of human trafficking.