The government maintained inadequate efforts to protect victims. The government identified one female foreign victim of forced labor, compared with identifying one victim of labor trafficking the previous reporting period. The AHTU, with assistance from an international organization, continued to develop SOPs for victim identification and referral but reported pandemic-related travel restrictions delayed progress; consequently, the government remained without SOPs for victim identification and referral to services. Authorities reported using an interview guide designed to assist in interviewing and avoid re-traumatizing trafficking victims. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely detained or deported some unidentified trafficking victims. Observers reported only the most egregious cases of trafficking were likely to come to the attention of authorities because of the lack of proactive identification procedures and foreign migrant workers’ reluctance to complain to authorities out of fear that such complaints would result in job termination and deportation. The government reported, due to the pandemic and lack of employment in Palau, an increase in foreign migrant workers who returned to their countries of origin; some of these migrants may have been unidentified trafficking victims. While the 2005 Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act granted victims immunity from prosecution for the “act of people trafficking,” the vague language permitted prosecution for unlawful acts traffickers compelled victims to commit, such as commercial sex or petty crime. In the previous reporting period, the government prosecuted and convicted potential victims for commercial sex acts, violation of work permits, and immigration violations.
The government could provide medical treatment, counseling, temporary job placement, transportation, and temporary shelter accommodation to trafficking victims; the government reported providing a temporary job placement permit for one victim, compared with providing temporary employment and shelter services to one victim in the previous reporting period. AHTU investigators could employ local interpreters as needed in Bengali, Mandarin, and Tagalog. As in prior reporting periods, the lack of support services reportedly led some victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse. The government funded an NGO to assist trafficking victims with legal counseling and representation before labor and immigration hearings, compared with no funding provided the previous reporting period; the government last provided approximately $15,000 to an NGO for these purposes in 2018. The government did not report allocating any additional funding for victim assistance, compared with spending $500 on victim assistance to remove an identified victim from an outer island in the previous reporting period.
The Office of Labor Compliance (Labor Compliance) could provide victims with temporary employment placements; the government reported assisting one victim with obtaining new employment, compared with assisting one identified victim the previous reporting period. Labor Compliance conducted labor inspections to ensure compliance of labor laws and anti-trafficking provisions; the government did not report opening any investigations as a result of the labor inspections. In December 2021, the government established a memorandum of understanding between Labor Compliance and AHTU to ensure the agencies shared trafficking information; in addition, Labor Compliance reported all trafficking-related information to an interagency Anti-Human Trafficking Working Group (Working Group). The VOCA, who reported directly to the Minister of Justice, could provide support to victims of serious crime, including human trafficking, and liaise with investigators on behalf of the victim to negotiate the victim’s participation in the investigation. In addition to the VOCA, the AHTU employed a dedicated victim advocate who worked to assist trafficking victims. The VOCA and victim advocate cooperated and coordinated to provide assistance to trafficking victims. The government did not require participation of victims in trafficking investigations; however, authorities reported one victim participated in an investigation during the reporting period. The judicial system did not keep victim identities confidential due to the requirement to testify in court rather than utilizing written or video- recorded testimonies. In prior reporting periods, alleged traffickers threatened witnesses.
The AHTU continued to staff a trafficking hotline with the VOCA and with on-call AHTU lead investigators who spoke Palauan and English; the government did not report how many calls the hotline received or if any calls led to investigations. In addition, Labor Compliance operated a dedicated 24-hour hotline that workers could call with concerns about their employment situation. Courts ordered one convicted trafficker to pay restitution to one victim, compared with none the previous reporting period. The government could offer ad hoc short-term legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; the attorney general or the special prosecutor prosecuting the case could designate victims as “vulnerable,” making them eligible for alternate employment and accommodation assistance.