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Djibouti (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Djibouti does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included partnering with international experts to expand training to stakeholders on the distinction between human trafficking and migrant smuggling; formalizing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification by Coast Guard officials; enhancing partnership with an international organization to develop victim referral procedures for transiting migrants and to identify a space for the country’s first trafficking specific shelter; appointing a new government focal point and an inter-ministerial task force to combat human trafficking; and conducting awareness campaigns on trafficking vulnerabilities. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government did not convict any traffickers for the fifth consecutive year, and some judges continued to use outdated versions of the penal code that did not include the 2016 anti-trafficking law. The government did not formally identify any trafficking victims for the third consecutive year and remained without formal specialized services for victims. Despite training on trafficking crimes, limited understanding of trafficking indicators among some front-line officials continued to inhibit law enforcement and victim identification efforts. For the seventh consecutive year, the government only partially implemented its 2015-2022 national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking. Therefore, Djibouti remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and sentence convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, under the 2016 anti-trafficking law.
  • Using the established SOPs, systematically and proactively identify trafficking victims and refer all identified victims to appropriate care using the established national referral mechanism.
  • Strengthen protection services for trafficking victims, including by providing specialized services to trafficking victims and providing funding or in-kind assistance to NGOs and international organizations providing protection services.
  • Adopt an updated NAP for 2023 and beyond and allocate resources devoted to its implementation.
  • Provide specific anti-trafficking training, including on established SOPs, to law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, social workers, prosecutors, and magistrates to improve case investigation, victim identification, and referral to appropriate care.
  • Increase judicial officials’ awareness of the 2016 anti-trafficking law, including by providing regular training for judges on trafficking crimes.
  • Increase efforts to screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, including refugees, asylum-seekers, individuals involved in commercial sex, and foreign nationals, such as transiting migrants and Cuban medical professionals.
  • Ensure the penal code on the judges’ bench includes the 2016 anti-trafficking law.
  • Increase awareness of trafficking among the public, especially transiting migrants, through government-run campaigns or financial or in-kind support for NGO-run campaigns.
  • Improve nationwide data collection and coordination on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification efforts.

The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2016 Law No. 133, On the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Illicit Smuggling of Migrants, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking; it prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law considered the involvement of a child or forcing a victim into “prostitution” as aggravating circumstances for which the penalties increased to 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Law No. 111, Regarding the Fight Against Terrorism and Other Serious Crimes of 2011, also prohibited sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment. Definitions and penalties in these two laws diverged, but the extent to which this hampered law enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial officials’ ability to prosecute suspected traffickers effectively was indeterminable.

The government investigated 16 potential trafficking crimes, compared with 13 investigations in 2020. The government initiated prosecutions against eight alleged traffickers in three cases under the 2016 anti-trafficking law, compared with 21 suspected traffickers in 13 cases in the prior year. For the fifth consecutive year, officials did not convict any traffickers. Officials reported that the requirement for law enforcement to present an investigative report and evidence to the court within three days of a suspect’s arrest (two days for crimes committed in Djibouti City) inhibited law enforcement’s ability to fully investigate all crimes, including trafficking, and judges often dismissed cases on procedural grounds. As in prior years, criminal courts authorized to hear trafficking cases only convened twice during the year. The government and NGOs also reported the hard copy of the penal code used by some judges was out of date and did not include the 2016 anti-trafficking law; therefore, in practice, some judges did not use the 2016 anti-trafficking law to convict alleged traffickers and instead relied on older provisions of the law, such as kidnapping or abuse of power. Additionally, front-line officials’ propensity to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling made it likely that some reported cases involved individuals seeking to illegally cross international borders via irregular migration (migrant smuggling) and other crimes not involving exploitation through forced labor or sex trafficking; analogous to previous years, most potential trafficking crimes moved forward as smuggling charges. Severe resource and capacity limitations also impeded officials’ ability to develop comprehensive investigations of trafficking crimes. Observers reported families or village elders often settled allegations of forced labor informally through traditional arrangements between religious and community leaders, without recourse to the formal court system. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, potentially inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Observers reported that security forces, especially at lower levels, were susceptible to bribes and may have ignored trafficking crimes.

The National Police maintained a unit focused on vulnerable children that had a mandate to investigate and arrest traffickers. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) had two dedicated prosecutors for cases involving trafficking or vulnerable children. The MOJ, in partnership with international organizations, continued to provide anti-trafficking training seminars to judges, prosecutors, clerks, and advisors, including integrating anti-trafficking training into the curriculum at the newly-established National School for Judicial Studies (ENEJ). In 2021, the Coast Guard established a training program on the identification of potential trafficking victims among migrants at sea. The National Police, the Gendarmerie, and the Coast Guard continued to implement training on detection and identification of trafficking crimes for all new recruits in police academies in Djibouti City and in rural areas of the country. The government reported nascent cooperation with the Government of Ethiopia on trafficking cases.

The government maintained inadequate victim protection efforts. For the third consecutive year, the government did not report formally identifying any trafficking victims. Similar to previous years, the government quickly repatriated potential victims—most of whom were Ethiopian—to their home countries without screening for trafficking indicators in some instances. Although the government had formal SOPs to guide officials in the proactive identification of trafficking victims and their subsequent referral to care, relevant officials did not consistently use these procedures. In practice, officials routinely called upon prominent points of contact for assistance in determining care options for potential victims rather than consulting the written procedures. In 2021, the Coast Guard formalized SOPs to screen migrants and refugees found at sea for trafficking indicators; however, a lack of resources hampered full implementation of the new SOPs.

The government had a national referral mechanism that outlined guidelines for victim referral to services. In 2021, the government, in partnership with an international organization, developed a trafficking victim referral procedure targeting migrants transiting Djibouti. Additionally, the police updated its procedures to require officers to take identified trafficking victims to the nearest medical center, if needed, where they could receive free medical services. The government, in partnership with an international organization, identified a site for the country’s first trafficking-specific shelter. While the government did not formally identify any trafficking victims, the government, in partnership with international organizations and NGOs, continued to provide services to thousands of individuals among vulnerable populations, which may have included trafficking victims. The government continued to assist potential trafficking victims through programming targeting refugees or migrants more broadly, rather than providing specialized services. The government continued to grant authority to an international organization to conduct trafficking screenings of all transiting migrants—including an unknown number of potential trafficking victims—and provide water, food, medial support, temporary shelter, and repatriation assistance. The government and international organizations reported the provision of services to vulnerable populations—including potential victims—during the ongoing pandemic was difficult, especially in crowded migrant response centers (MRCs) and refugee camps, some of which regularly accommodated double the intended capacity during the year. Observers also reported since November 2020, the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia further exacerbated the strain on the MRCs’ limited resources as many voluntary returnees were unable to return to Ethiopia. With governmental authorization, a locally-operated NGO continued to host unaccompanied migrant children and vulnerable children living on the streets in Djibouti’s first shelter that could appropriately house trafficking victims; police and judges reported referring children to the shelter but did not report how many children were referred or if any were victims of trafficking. In prior years, the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs provided social workers to offer psychosocial support at the shelter; however, the government did not provide this service in 2021. Separately, the Coast Guard provided clothing and food to vulnerable migrants stranded at sea and transported them to care provided by an international organization, typically in Khôr ‘Angar or Obock. The government continued its administration of one MRC in Obock, which was operated by an international organization, and other transit or processing centers along routes heavily traversed by migrants; however, unlike previous years, the government did not report providing funding to the MRC. An international organization closed one MRC in Aour Aoussa, which the government previously supported, during the reporting period due to lack of funding from pandemic-related budget re-allocations. The National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD) and the Ministry of Health established new procedures to provide free medical services to victims of gender-based violence (GBV), including potential trafficking victims, identified at the UNFD’s counseling center. The MOJ continued to provide a Pro bono prosecutor liaison to the UNFD counseling center to provide legal assistance to potential victims. Health officials, in partnership with an international organization, continued to operate five mobile clinics along dangerous migration routes that could provide vulnerable migrants with medical assistance.

Key ministries that supported groups vulnerable to trafficking reportedly continued to provide resources to support various protection services for potential victims. However, the government did not report the funding amount allocated in 2021, compared with more than 109 million Djiboutian francs ($615,820) allocated in 2020 to relevant ministries, MRCs, transit centers, and local NGOs, which operated counseling centers and other programs—including a hotline—that assisted potential trafficking victims. The 2016 anti-trafficking law included provisions allowing trafficking victims temporary residency during judicial proceedings and permanent residency, as necessary, as a legal alternative to removal to countries where victims might face hardship or retribution. Additionally, the 2016 law directed the government to provide victims legal assistance and an interpreter, in addition to psychological, medical, and social assistance; the government did not report whether it applied these provisions. Due to inconsistent implementation of formal identification procedures, trafficking victims, particularly vulnerable migrants and individuals involved in commercial sex, may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. In July 2021, the MOJ convened a high-level focus group on human trafficking and migrant smuggling and appointed the Director of the ENEJ as the government focal point for anti-trafficking efforts. The new focal point identified government stakeholders to become potential members of an ongoing task force; however, the final approval of the task force and its members was awaiting a presidential decree at the end of the reporting period. In previous years, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) was responsible for coordinating government efforts to monitor mixed migration and combat human trafficking. The National Directorate of the Police, which sits within the MOI, maintained a specialized office to coordinate migration issues, including those involving human trafficking. The government continued to partially implement its 2015-2022 NAP; however, the government did not report providing a specific anti-trafficking budget allocation for the NAP’s activities. In 2021, the government, in partnership with an international organization, launched the country’s first national strategy for migration, which included procedures to screen migrants for trafficking indicators. In partnership with civil society, the government held awareness campaigns targeting local government officials and vulnerable migrants on trafficking indicators and potential vulnerabilities; the government did not conduct awareness campaigns in the previous year. The UNFD operated two 24-hour hotlines to report cases of GBV and refer victims to services, which could be utilized by trafficking victims; the government continued to publicize hotline information on its website and local radio and television stations. The UNFD reported the hotline received more than 1,200 calls in 2021; however, the hotline did not report identifying any trafficking victims. Labor recruitment and placement companies were subject to random inspections by the inspector general; however, the government did not report how many inspections of these companies it conducted or if any inspections led to potential trafficking investigations. The government continued to conduct labor inspections, particularly in the construction sector, to enforce laws against forced labor; however, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims during these inspections or investigating any potential violations. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Djibouti, and to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Djibouti abroad. Adults and children, primarily economic and often undocumented migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia, transit Djibouti voluntarily en route to Yemen and other locations in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. Traffickers, often outside of Djibouti, exploit an unknown number of these migrants in forced labor and sex trafficking in their intended destinations; this population is also vulnerable to trafficking in various transit points, particularly Yemen. Economic migrants who transit Djibouti to return to their respective countries of origin are vulnerable to trafficking. An international organization observed an increase in returning migrants due to travel restrictions or economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic in the Middle East. According to government estimates and an international organization, approximately 90,000 migrants—predominantly Ethiopian—transited Djibouti (population of less than one million) in 2021, including both land and sea crossings, putting a significant strain on the government’s already limited resources. The civil war in Yemen continued to generate a reverse flow of persons from Yemen to Djibouti; migrants voluntarily fled or were illegally or forcibly deported from Aden, and many of them reported suffering physical abuse and may have been trafficking victims. As of April 2022, Djibouti hosts more than 35,000 refugees and asylum-seekers; some individuals in this population may have endured exploitation before their arrival in Djibouti and remained vulnerable to trafficking. Given the protracted political instability in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, many Ethiopian nationals, including unaccompanied children, continued to journey on foot from Ethiopia to Djibouti either to claim asylum with their families or to continue onward to destination countries in Gulf states; this population remains vulnerable to trafficking. Since November 2020, ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia has left Ethiopians of Tigrayan ethnicity in Djibouti unable or unwilling to return to Ethiopia; many of these migrants reported abuses and may have been trafficking victims at various points on their journey, particularly in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Migrant and local children in Djibouti City, particularly along the Siesta Beach road, may be vulnerable to sex trafficking. Traffickers may exploit Djiboutian and migrant women and children living on the street in sex trafficking or forced labor in Djibouti City, the Ethiopia-Djibouti trucking corridor, and Obock, the main departure and arrival point for Yemen. Traffickers may exploit migrant women in sex trafficking at truck stops and in restaurants and guest houses in Balbala, one of Djibouti’s poorest neighborhoods. Traffickers, including family members, may exploit local and migrant children in forced begging. Traffickers may exploit foreign workers—including Ethiopians, Yemenis, Indians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos—in forced labor in domestic servitude, construction, and food service sectors. Cuban medical professionals working in Djibouti may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. In 2021, Tunisian officials reported identifying one Djiboutian victim of forced labor in Tunisia.

U.S. Department of State

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