Sint Maarten (Tier 3)

The Government of Sint Maarten does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Sint Maarten was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including investigating a potential trafficking case. However, the government did not report prosecuting or convicting any traffickers or identifying any trafficking victims for the second consecutive year. Further, the government was not equipped to provide services to trafficking victims; it did not have shelters, did not allocate funding, and did not have formal arrangements with service providers. The government did not update its national action plan (NAP), which expired in 2018, and interagency coordination was severely lacking. Officials consistently conflated human trafficking and migrant smuggling, hindering the effectiveness of the government’s meager anti-trafficking efforts.

  • Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and, as appropriate, convict human traffickers as distinct from migrant smugglers.
  • Proactively identify trafficking victims, such as by screening migrant workers for trafficking indicators; provide adequate protection to identified trafficking victims; and cease the deportation of victims.
  • Train law enforcement and other officials to recognize human trafficking as a crime distinct from migrant smuggling and correct institutional conflation of the crimes.
  • Improve coordination and information-sharing with anti-trafficking counterparts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • Increase the availability of protection services, including shelters, in partnership with NGOs, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and international organizations.
  • Re-establish the central reporting bureau to improve coordination of victim protection and prevention efforts.
  • Train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges on proactive victim identification and victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases.
  • Adopt and implement formal standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide officials, including health workers, on victim identification and referral.
  • Inform victims and potential victims of their rights.
  • Increase outreach to all incoming migrants, including domestic workers and individuals with temporary entertainment visas, to ensure they are informed of their rights and ways to seek assistance.
  • Raise awareness among the general public and vulnerable groups about human trafficking in Sint Maarten.

The government further decreased its minimal prosecution efforts. Article 2:239 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to nine 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 penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government reported initiating one trafficking-related investigation in 2021, which concluded when officials determined the case was not a trafficking crime. Otherwise, the government did not report additional investigations, prosecutions, or convictions related to trafficking in 2021; this was compared with no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in 2020 and one investigation, one prosecution, and one conviction in 2019. Severe, prolific conflation of human trafficking and migrant smuggling obstructed attempts to investigate, prosecute, or convict traffickers; promoted harmful misconceptions about trafficking; and limited law enforcement officials’ capacity to recognize trafficking indicators and identify trafficking victims.

Sint Maarten assigned a police unit to combat both trafficking in persons and human smuggling (the anti-HTHS unit), consisting of seven officers. The anti-HTHS unit operated with limited resources and without a dedicated budget; observers reported the unit frequently prioritized operations to counter migrant smuggling over trafficking investigations. The anti-HTHS unit collaborated with other agencies, including the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee and the joint Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard, but this coordination was not formalized, and observers reported interagency communication was inefficient. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. The Kingdom of the Netherlands funded a training on the anti-trafficking legal framework for border protection officials. The government did not report any substantive collaboration with foreign governments on trafficking cases.

The government maintained inadequate protection efforts. Authorities did not identify any trafficking victims in 2021, compared with identifying no victims in 2020, and 29 in 2019. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not report providing any protection services to victims, including to victims identified in past years. The government did not have SOPs for the identification or referral of victims and, instead, relied on informal arrangements between government agencies. Government officials could use an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators to facilitate victim identification; the government reported it distributed pamphlets featuring the checklist to immigration officials and other government stakeholders who might encounter potential victims. However, the government did not report efforts to proactively screen vulnerable populations, such as individuals in commercial sex and undocumented migrants, using the checklist, as it had in past years.

The government did not have a lead agency responsible for victim protection; this role was previously held by the National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking, which ceased operations in 2016. Officials reported the government’s victim support agency served victims of all crimes; however, the government did not allocate funding to provide services for trafficking victims, instead relying on civil society organizations to provide care services such as shelter, counseling, and medical attention. The government did not report providing financial support to shelters or other organizations equipped to support trafficking victims. There were no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims, but the government reported it could, on a case-by-case basis, refer victims to an international organization or NGOs for shelter. An NGO-run shelter for victims of domestic violence could sometimes accommodate female trafficking victims. The government did not report any victims receiving shelter in 2021. Observers reported the government failed to adequately inform potential victims of their rights as trafficking victims. Foreign victims could apply for temporary residency status, but this status was only valid for the duration of criminal proceedings against their trafficker. The government considered residency status to be a temporary measure to facilitate victim cooperation in the trial against their traffickers, rather than a means of ensuring victims have legal alternatives to removal to countries where they would face retribution or hardship; the government last reported granting a residence permit to a trafficking victim in December 2015. When trafficking victims or potential victims did not have residence permits, the government returned them to their home countries. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures and widespread conflation of human trafficking and migrant smuggling, authorities likely deported and otherwise penalized unidentified trafficking victims for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. The anti-trafficking law allowed victims to request restitution as part of criminal cases or file a civil suit against traffickers to obtain compensation; however, the government did not report whether any victims pursued this action.

The government maintained inadequate efforts to prevent trafficking. The national anti-trafficking coordinator nominally led efforts to combat human trafficking but had no budget or staff in this capacity and had other full-time law enforcement duties. The government did not have an anti-trafficking coordinating body. Officials reported no efforts to draft a NAP to combat trafficking; the previous NAP expired in 2018. An existing border security agreement between the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten (the Onderlinge Regeling Vreemdelingenketen) purportedly included trafficking. The government did not report any new or ongoing efforts to raise awareness of trafficking in the general public. The government demonstrated an injurious misunderstanding of human trafficking; in an effort to prevent trafficking, its officials advocated for the government to reduce or eliminate visas for individuals seeking work in certain “vulnerable sectors”—an action that could increase these individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking by preventing them from legally migrating and working in these sectors. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not report whether it continued the practice of informing employers of migrant workers about applicable laws. The government did not have a trafficking-specific hotline to receive public reports of trafficking; however, it reported that police emergency hotline operators could provide callers with a contact number for the anti-HTHS unit. The border control agency maintained an immigration hotline. The government did not report receiving any trafficking-related information from any hotlines.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Sint Maarten. Some brothel and dance club owners exploit women and girls from Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Russia in sex trafficking. Illicit recruiters reportedly target foreign women in Sint Maarten’s commercial sex industry through debt-based coercion; women from Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in Sint Maarten. Government officials report a significant number of migrant workers are vulnerable to traffickers’ coercive schemes in domestic service, construction, People’s Republic of China national-owned markets, retail shops, food service, landscaping, and housekeeping. The government’s reduction of visas for foreign workers in certain sectors, including adult entertainment, increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Authorities report traffickers may coerce Asian and Caribbean workers in exploitative conditions indicative of forced labor. Criminal actors, including smugglers, subject migrants—specifically Cuban and Brazilian nationals—who transit Sint Maarten en route to the United States and Canada to forced labor or sex trafficking. There are indications traffickers exploit, under false pretenses, Colombian and Venezuelan women traveling to the islands in forced labor or sex trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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