The government increased efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified three confirmed victims in 2021, compared to 20 potential victims in 2020, 24 potential victims in 2019, and 17 potential victims in 2018. The government modified and improved its victim identification and confirmation procedures during the reporting period, resulting in more accurate victim data. The victims included one Guatemalan and one Belizean girl exploited in sex trafficking and one Salvadoran man exploited in labor trafficking. NGOs identified a further six trafficking victims, including one Honduran woman exploited in labor trafficking and one Mexican man and four Colombian men exploited in unspecified trafficking. The government referred all nine victims to government services, the same as in the prior reporting period. The government did not provide repatriation support for the Honduran, Mexican, and Colombian victims because the victims’ own countries repatriated them. In August 2021, during a screening of 11 women for potential immigration violations, authorities identified a foreign woman who was a trafficking victim in her country of origin. Authorities supported the female victim in testifying against her traffickers in another country while continuing to provide her victim services through the end of the reporting period. The Police A-TIP Unit screened prison inmates, to identify potential trafficking victims who may have been mistakenly penalized due to insufficient screening, and identified one victim.
The government reported, as part of the existing protocols, the A-TIP Police Unit coordinated with the Immigration Department, Public Health Department, and the Department of Human Development when planning operations to ensure services were available to potential victims. The A-TIP Police Unit trained, both jointly with an NGO and on its own, officers from each of these Departments on topics of victim identification and referral to services. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) required that social workers from the Department of Human Services (DHS) be available to support victims during interviews and other official interactions. The government reported the A-TIP Council regularly reviewed and updated the SOPs with assistance from an NGO. Social workers and investigators also collected victim input and provided this to DHS; the government reported DHS used this feedback to improve and adjust programs and care. Law enforcement officers, immigration, and social services agents used the SOPs when conducting interviews and screening potential victims, including migrants and individuals in commercial sex. The SOPs also outlined procedures for the identification and removal of potential victims from trafficking situations. The A-TIP Council, in coordination with an NGO and funded by a foreign donor, did not yet begin implementation of identification and referral guidelines for frontline officers, including police officers, immigration personnel, customs officers, medical officers, social workers, and private companies offering essential services such as electricity, water, telecommunications, and social security. In August 2021, the A-TIP Police Unit, with support from an NGO, hired a Victims’ Services Coordinator to help police officers with victim services during investigations. The A-TIP Police Unit, under the guidance and direction of the A-TIP Council, also trained prison guards and other prison officials on victim identification. The A-TIP Police Unit provided refresher training for prison guards. The government reported the A-TIP Police Unit had trained female officers to conduct screenings for female victims. The government reported screening could occur in English or Spanish.
The government screened for trafficking victims as part of an international operation against criminal migrant smuggling networks. In July 2021, the Cabinet approved the Protocols for Accompanied and Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Belize, and the government trained frontline officers from the relevant departments as instructors. The protocols outlined how to refer migrant children, some of whom may be trafficking victims, to the appropriate authorities for care. The government did not report whether officials consistently used the new protocols, NGOs reported authorities denied entry to several migrants and the government did not report screening these migrants. The government reported the screening process emphasized that victims could not be penalized for unlawful acts they were compelled to commit, including immigration violations. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures for the entirety of the reporting period, authorities may have detained and arrested some unidentified trafficking victims. Victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers. The government reported that for foreign victims, authorities contacted the relevant embassies for potential consular services. Victims identified during the screening process could also apply for refugee status. The government reported adapting several victim protection procedures due to the pandemic, including virtual communications, keeping departments on-call instead of on-site, social distancing, quarantining victims, and providing health screenings. Observers reported more consistency in victim identification than in previous years but stated gaps still existed, such as authorities failing to respond to credible reports from NGOs of potential trafficking victims, possibly leading to fewer identified victims and weak victim protection. The government did not report screening Cuban medical professionals in the country for trafficking indicators.
Pandemic-related restrictions and personnel shortages affected the delivery of social services related to trafficking. DHS was the lead agency for victim care. The law required DHS to provide victims with essential services. During the reporting period, victims and potential victims used government-funded services or NGO services the government reimbursed including housing, stipends, medical, counseling, education, food, clothing, help with legal documents, and repatriation (with the assistance of foreign diplomatic missions and an international organization). The government reported other generally available services included dental care, psychiatric services, prenatal care, placements, contact with family members (depending on risk assessment), contact with respective embassies, hygiene kits, infant care, recreational outings (depending on risk assessment), assistance with adjusting immigration status, and educational and life skills training. Children were allowed access to the educational system until 14 years old, the age limit for compulsory education. The government covered the costs for all these services, which were provided through the duration of criminal proceedings and as part of the re-integration process. The government reported that due to the scarcity of mental health services in the public system, private providers delivered medical and counseling services. Per the SOP, DHS had the ability to procure subsidized services for disabled persons, if needed, including sign language interpretation; the government did not report using this service. The government assigned two social workers, with English, Spanish, and basic sign language skills, to all trafficking cases to support victims. A DHS social worker always accompanied the A-TIP Police Unit investigators when they interviewed victims. Authorities allowed victims to speak only with a social worker until they were comfortable speaking to the A-TIP Police Unit. The A-TIP Council reported the number of certified social workers was low. Social workers chaperoned victims to medical and legal appointments. NGOs that work closely with the government noted that while gaps remained, government services have recently improved.
The government placed identified adult victims and their families in DHS’s Alternative Care Unit; authorities referred unaccompanied children to the Child Protection System. The government reported a trained social worker conducted a risk assessment to determine placement and other services for potential victims; DHS placed victims into the least restrictive among the range of options. Experts expressed concerns about the lack of education on trafficking for some foster parents, uneven coordination and communication between government agencies and foster parents, and limited availability of psycho-social care in general, including for trafficking victims. The government placed adults at shelters operated by DHS and several NGOs; it placed children in the foster care system—funded by the government—or a group home, and the government reported DHS always notified shelters and homes of arriving victims. The government lacked sufficient public shelter space for all victims and partnered with two domestic violence NGOs, one of which received government funding, to provide shelter and services to adult female trafficking victims. In the previous reporting period, the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Affairs made arrangements with an NGO to shelter male victims for the first time; the government did not report any male victims using the shelter during the reporting period. The Ministry of Human Development, in partnership with an international organization, also established a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children, many of whom were at risk for trafficking.
The government reported it did not limit protection services by time or make them conditional upon victim cooperation with law enforcement; services extended beyond the disposition of legal cases. If there were considerable safety concerns, the government would place victims in safe houses only known to social workers and police officers working on the case. The government did not provide any victims with witness protection; police could provide 24-hour security for some victims. The government reported victims could stay in separate chambers from their accused traffickers during court proceedings. The government allowed victims to provide testimony through video but lacked the equipment necessary to do so. As an interim measure, victims had the option of testifying from behind a screen in the court, protecting the victim’s identity. The government reported pandemic-related social distancing impacted in-person interviews of victims, with some victims not comfortable providing detailed information under the new regulations that required victims to remain physically distanced from social workers and investigators while making their report. The law also allowed for written statements to be provided as evidence in cases where repatriated foreign victims did not wish to return. The government reported counseling was available during testimony. The government reported it encouraged victims to participate in the legal process but did not compel them; in past years, court delays and fear of retaliation by traffickers may have led foreign national victims to decline or withdraw cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries. Even those who wished to assist in prosecution were sometimes unavailable to do so, having chosen repatriation or onward migration in the years between. The government provided foreign victims of human trafficking with the same victim services as domestic victims. Authorities did not deport foreign victims identified in potential trafficking cases; these victims could receive temporary residency status and work permits regardless of their cooperation with investigations or prosecutions. The government would facilitate work permits free of cost and, unless there were safety concerns, it allowed adult victims to move freely and obtain employment. The government could offer repatriation assistance to victims if they chose to return to their countries of origin pending trial proceedings, although it did not do so during the reporting period; an international organization coordinated repatriation. A court could order restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction through a formal request during the criminal case, but the A-TIP Council reported that the court did not award an application for restitution in the case of familial trafficking due to the indigent status of the traffickers.
The government did not allocate a specific amount within the anti- trafficking budget for victim services for the second year in a row. The government reported the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs purchased a van for the transportation of victims. The government waived the significant import tax for a van an NGO purchased to transport trafficking and CSEC victims.