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Aruba (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Aruba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included identifying more potential victims, investigating more trafficking cases, and producing a new film-based awareness campaign illustrating undocumented migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. 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 prosecute or convict any traffickers for the third consecutive year, and officials sometimes relied on victims to self- identify as such, limiting their ability to hold traffickers accountable through criminal prosecution. Anti-trafficking efforts depended on ad hoc funding allotments, rather than a dedicated budget, limiting the long-term viability of key initiatives. In addition, working-level officials conflated trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, hindering the effectiveness of prosecution, prevention, and protection efforts. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Aruba was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore Aruba remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute alleged traffickers.
  • Proactively identify victims among all vulnerable groups, including women in commercial sex, detained migrants, domestic workers, and migrants working in construction, supermarkets, and retail.
  • Train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, coast guard officers, and labor inspectors on victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches to trafficking cases.
  • Establish dedicated funding for anti-trafficking efforts, including for full-time staff members.
  • Decouple victim identification and assistance procedures from the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes and empower non-law enforcement officials to designate trafficking victims as such.
  • Convict traffickers, as appropriate, and sentence them to significant prison terms.
  • Complete the construction of the multipurpose shelter for victims of crimes, including human trafficking.
  • Improve coordination and information-sharing with anti-trafficking counterparts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • Increase referral of possible trafficking victims among Venezuelan migrants and refugees through consistent use of guidelines for proactive identification.
  • Formalize agreements with local NGOs and private sector accommodations to shelter adult and child victims.
  • Promote awareness of human trafficking, as distinct from migrant smuggling, through trafficking- specific materials and campaigns.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained prosecution efforts. Article 2:239 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight 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 younger than the age of 16. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government continued to revise a draft amendment to the anti-trafficking law, initiated during the previous reporting period, to increase penalties for trafficking offenses; the amendment remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

Authorities reported conducting 17 preliminary trafficking investigations, compared with 13 preliminary investigations in 2020 and one investigation in 2019. Authorities ultimately halted or investigated, under related criminal statutes, nine preliminary trafficking investigations in 2021, compared with the same number of cases in 2020. The government sometimes halted investigations of potential trafficking crimes when victims did not self-identify as such and declined to participate. Officials did not report prosecuting or convicting any traffickers for the third consecutive year. In 2021, authorities continued to prosecute one case of labor trafficking involving two suspects, initiated in 2018. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

The Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit (UMM), a joint unit comprised of law enforcement officials from the Aruban Police Force and the Royal Dutch Military Police, led trafficking investigations. Another interdisciplinary unit (JIUMM) conducted preliminary reviews of possible trafficking crimes, such as tips from the hotline or civil society; it determined whether to refer cases to UMM for full investigation, refer them to other units for investigation under a different criminal statute, or close a case. JIUMM referred seven preliminary investigations to UMM for full investigation; by contrast, UMM conducted two full trafficking investigations in 2020. The government reported it provided basic trafficking-awareness training to law enforcement officials. While senior government officials distinguished between trafficking and migrant smuggling, observers expressed concern that non-specialized officials, such as law enforcement officers and prosecutors, did not have an adequate understanding of trafficking; across the government, Aruba addressed human trafficking and migrant smuggling via the same institutions, possibly contributing to conflation of the crimes. Many officials used “Quick Reference Cards” (QRCs), supplied by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and distributed at the conclusion of trafficking awareness trainings, that included relevant criminal articles; a list of trafficking indicators; standard operating procedures to use following identification of a potential trafficking case; and contact information to use when referring victims. Aruban authorities cooperated with international law enforcement agencies on two cases, including an international investigation initiated after Aruban officials fielded a trafficking report via a reporting hotline.

PROTECTION

The government slightly increased protection efforts. The government reported identifying seven potential trafficking victims—four potential sex trafficking victims and three potential labor trafficking victims—in 2021, compared with four victims in 2020, zero in 2019, two in 2018, and 71 in 2017. Of the seven potential victims identified, three were girls, two were women, and two were men; the government identified potential victims from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Finland, and Venezuela. Authorities screened seven additional individuals for trafficking indicators, compared with 10 additional individuals in 2020, but determined them to be victims of other crimes. The government indicated an international organization identified four more trafficking victims, in addition to the seven government-identified potential victims. The government classified victims as “potential,” “presumed,” or “confirmed” victims. The government did not provide services to potential victims, who were typically associated with early- stage investigations; the government only provided care services to presumed or confirmed victims. However, the government tied victims’ status and access to services to the associated criminal case against a trafficker. If a prosecutor determined not to pursue trafficking charges, the government discontinued services for associated victims. Observers expressed concern that the link between victim assistance and the success of the criminal proceedings against traffickers limited victims’ access to critical services. JIUMM assigned one potential victim status as a “presumed victim” of labor trafficking, which made her eligible to receive services. The government reported referring one presumed victim to services in 2021, compared with referring no victims in 2020. The victim declined shelter but received basic care services and an informal stay of deportation; when prosecutors determined to pursue migrant smuggling charges, rather than human trafficking charges, the government phased out assistance. Multidisciplinary teams consisting of police, labor officers, immigration officials, and civil society representatives deployed when investigations called for raids or site visits. The government had an agreement with civil society organizations to facilitate the identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable migrant groups by allowing potential victims to remain anonymous and receive services from civil society organizations during the initial investigation; no victims used the anonymous self-reporting mechanism in 2021. The anti-trafficking task force (TMMA) continued to provide law enforcement and social services officials with a checklist of the most common signs of trafficking, which they used in concert with the government’s QRCs. The government reported officials screened undocumented migrants for trafficking indicators during detainment interviews. Observers, however, expressed concern detention center staff and other officials were insufficiently equipped to identify trafficking. The government reported it trained 320 detention center, Department of Integration and Management of Foreigners (DIMAS), immigration, and other officials to recognize trafficking indicators and refer victims. The government had a basic victim referral mechanism and worked with an international organization to draft an updated protocol, which remained unfinished at the end of the reporting period.

CMMA established a working group with civil society actors to coordinate on victim identification and referral; the group met monthly during the reporting period. The government maintained informal agreements with local NGOs and private sector accommodations to shelter adult and child victims of trafficking. Through these arrangements, the government could secure emergency short-term shelter for victims and longer-term shelter for adult female victims, despite a lack of trafficking- specific shelters. Authorities could place unaccompanied child victims in foster care centers or foster homes, and civil society organizations or local churches could accommodate adult male victims. Officials conducted risk assessments before deciding whether victims could leave shelters unchaperoned; they restricted victims’ movement if their lives were threatened. The government reported it continued to work on a longstanding plan to expand shelter capacity for male victims and families via new facilities; in 2021, the government experienced delays in obtaining required permits for new structures but began renovating the site’s existing buildings. Authorities did not report any victims assisted the government in the prosecution of traffickers.

Foreign victims were entitled to the same rights and protection as Arubans. The law authorized the extension of temporary immigration relief for foreign victims for three to six months on a case-by-case basis and allowed foreign victims to change employers if they were suspected of exploiting workers. Authorities did not report any victims received these benefits but indicated most foreign victims not participating in the trials against traffickers returned to their home countries, except when a safe return was not possible. The criminal code enabled victims to receive restitution during criminal proceedings or to file civil suits, to seek compensation not to exceed 50,000 florin ($28,090) for financial and emotional damages, although none did so in 2021. The Bureau of Victim Assistance operated a hotline for potential victims of all crimes, including trafficking; the government reported three trafficking- related calls to the hotline, compared with eight in 2020, leading to the identification of one potential victim; by contrast, the government identified two victims via the hotline in 2020.

PREVENTION

The government slightly increased prevention efforts, which remained modest. The National Coordinator on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling continued to lead the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, with support from the TMMA and CMMA. All three entities had dual responsibility for both anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling efforts. Authorities continued to implement the 2018-2022 national action plan, which lacked dedicated resources for its implementation. Instead, authorities financed anti-trafficking activities via ad hoc allotments, including periodic infusions from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which limited the capacity and stability of these efforts across prosecution, protection, and prevention. The government reported it funded the CMMA’s project manager, the entity’s only dedicated staff member, via a one-time funding extension granted by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The CMMA submitted a proposal to the MOJ to formalize its institutional status and obtain long-term funding for the project manager position; the proposal remained pending at the conclusion of the reporting period. The four Kingdom countries agreed to update an existing memorandum of understanding on human trafficking and migrant smuggling in 2022.

Officials raised awareness of human trafficking and the hotline in multiple languages via social media, posters, and flyers. Authorities continued to utilize awareness materials produced in a 2011 campaign intended to inform migrants of numerous risks, including trafficking. The government applied for and received funding from the Netherlands for this campaign. In 2021, CMMA created and distributed a new short film about undocumented migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking via social media and its trafficking-awareness website. The government continued to administer the airport-based campaign supported by an international organization, although it noted border closures limited the campaign’s visibility. The government provided trafficking-awareness training to government officials from parliament, the ministry of finance, the judiciary, and the ministry of education, as well as civil society; the CMMA also trained officials on the responsibilities of the CMMA, TMMA, and UMM. In 2021, the government primarily conducted virtual awareness- raising activities, including social media campaigns and webinars. It opened some of these events to officials from neighboring countries.

Officials had procedures to screen adult entertainers and performed inspections during the year once the government relaxed its pandemic mitigation measures, allowing adult entertainment venues to reopen; the government did not issue adult entertainment visas to foreigners in 2021. Normally, a Kingdom of the Netherlands policy required individuals on adult entertainment visas, primarily Colombian women, to meet with consular officers to ensure the applicants knew their rights and had a copy of their work agreement before picking up their in-flight letter at a Kingdom of the Netherlands embassy. Upon arrival, such visa recipients normally received information about their rights, risks, and resources. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Aruba. Traffickers exploit Venezuelan women in sex trafficking and foreign adults of all genders in forced labor in Aruba’s service and construction industries. Arriving Venezuelans commonly overstay their visas, leaving many with expired documentation and a corresponding increased risk for trafficking. Families, business owners, and criminals exploit some of these Venezuelans in forced labor in domestic service, construction, and commercial sex, respectively. Supermarket managers subject People’s Republic of China-national men and women to forced labor in grocery stores; business owners and families subject Indian men to forced labor in the retail sector and domestic service, respectively; and Arubans force Caribbean and South American women into domestic servitude. Officials reported increases in forced criminality, where traffickers compel victims to commit unlawful acts, such as robberies and drug-related offenses. Women in regulated and unregulated commercial sex, domestic workers, and employees of small retail shops are most at risk of trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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