The government maintained limited protection efforts. The government identified 80 trafficking victims; 46 were exploited in sex trafficking, two were exploited in labor trafficking, and 32 were for unspecified exploitation. This compares with six identified trafficking victims in 2020 and 34 in 2019. All 46 sex trafficking victims were Venezuelan, including 21 women and 25 girls. The labor trafficking victims were both Indian men. Reports suggested some unidentified victims feared retaliation from authorities, including during police raids, trials, and interdiction operations involving Venezuelan migrants. The CTU was the primary entity responsible for identifying victims, and it used existing screening protocols. NGOs identified one of the adult female Venezuelan victims and referred her to the CTU. However, NGOs also referred another adult Venezuelan victim to the CTU, which denied the identification due to a lack of shelter space; an NGO subsequently provided groceries and shelter. Observers noted the government’s victim statistics were not reliable. Experts noted working- level staff at NGOs and shelters required more training on trafficking indicators to better identify potential trafficking victims.
Authorities provided some assistance to 54 victims, compared with 70 potential victims in 2020. The government could provide medical care; accommodation; basic necessities for adults; language classes and life skills training; psychosocial support; pre-natal care and parenting classes; support for family members; access to social workers; interpretation and translation services; drug rehabilitation; pandemic response support; and passport support. Observers noted that in some cases victims received few of these available services and government care was haphazard and inferior to care provided by an international organization. An NGO provided shelter services to one victim. NGOs reported reluctance to provide shelter or services to foreign victims in irregular status who were not officially referred by the government, due to possible retaliation against the NGO under the Immigration Act. An international organization reported caring for 60 trafficking and gender-based violence victims identified in the current and former reporting periods. The Children Court instructed the Children’s Authority on the placement (usually in a Children’s Home), services, and repatriation involving child trafficking victims. Child advocates assigned by the state could apply for wardship and care court orders on behalf of unaccompanied or separated child victims. NGOs reported authorities did not provide adult victims the same level of care, access, and protection as child victims.
The government reported services were not time-limited or conditional on participation in the prosecution of the trafficker; however, victims who cooperated with an investigation or prosecution would receive legal aid, transportation, and lodging for themselves and their families. Although the government reported victims used all available services, observers noted that without a standardized program for victim care, the government did not adequately address many of the short- and long- term needs of adult victims. Observers noted that although the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services working group finalized a victim care manual, senior government officials had not approved the manual by the end of the reporting period.
The government reported the CTU had a dedicated budget for victim assistance but did not report the amount, compared with spending 120,000 TTD ($17,750) in 2020, 120,000 TTD ($17,750) on victim protection and assistance in 2019, and 203,100 TTD ($30,050) in 2018. The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services reported providing funding for NGOs and three statutory boards for victims of trafficking and other crimes. The Ministry of National Security had an agreement with an international organization to provide adult victims food and shelter; psycho-social services were provided by third parties. The Ministry of Health assisted foreign trafficking victims and funded the assistance from its annual budget. The CATT funded advocates for child victims from its general budget. Outside experts noted there was insufficient government funding and personnel for comprehensive victim care, including appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel, especially due to the pandemic.
The CTU screened migrants for trafficking indicators using a standard form. The government began screening migrants for trafficking indicators at an immigration facility in February 2022. The CTU disseminated a Pocket Guide for Frontline Officers, which included information on identifying victims of trafficking; while the guide was widely available, high-level officials lacked an understanding of trafficking. The CATT, in consultation with the CTU, immigration services, and CPU, drafted but did not finalize or implement a new process for identifying child trafficking victims, regardless of nationality or immigration status. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, reviewed and updated the national referral mechanism. The government did not implement a formalized protocol for victim care; the CTU instead relied on verbal agreements with different ministries, which observers noted were inconsistently implemented. The government lacked quality victim care, including specialized placement facilities for children equipped with adequate personnel and services and placement facilities for children transitioning out of the care system. Authorities and an international organization also reported victims lacked access to certified bilingual service providers. Shelters required victims quarantine and be tested for COVID-19 prior to entry, which could take up to two weeks. However, the government did not have quarantine facilities specifically for child trafficking victims. The government continued to provide emergency response to trafficking cases and reported it typically responded within 24 hours following receipt of a report. However, observers noted the CTU did not respond in a timely manner to cases referred by NGOs, international organizations, or others.
The government did not provide funding for or manage any trafficking specific shelters. Authorities placed adult female victims in NGO-run shelters for victims of gender-based violence, funded by an international organization; they placed adult male victims in safe houses operated by the security services. Victims did not have a choice of which shelter to use. Outside experts noted the shelters had strict rules restricting movement and communication; these restrictions caused some victims to run away from shelters or ask to be repatriated before authorities completed investigations. The Children’s Authority placed child victims in government-funded children’s homes in the community, which also could house children who were criminal offenders. The government consulted with trafficking survivors to develop a shelter program. The government initiated an Alternative Care Program (ACP) and trained its psychologists in cooperation with an NGO and an international organization to recruit potential foster caregivers, specifically for foreign children including potential child trafficking victims. An international organization reported that some victims requested assistance through local NGOs, private individuals, government agencies working with Venezuelan migrants, or through international organizations, which then referred the cases to the CTU.
The CTU reported victims participated in investigations and prosecutions against traffickers, and authorities did not detain, fine, or jail potential trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government reported 48 foreign victims entered the country illegally due to border closures; observers reported officials did not penalize them. However, some observers indicated that following police actions or immigration raids, authorities detained some foreign victims for violating immigration laws without screening for trafficking indicators.
Most victims lacked legal immigration status and feared being referred to immigration authorities for detention, fines, or reprisal from well- connected traffickers, including allegedly corrupt police and immigration officials. A victim’s refugee status did not impact the victim’s legal status in the country, and refugee children could not access public education, heightening their risk for trafficking. Observers noted the lack of legal standing for those who illicitly entered the country seeking refuge or asylum heightened their vulnerability to trafficking. The victims from a May 2021 raid reportedly declined to participate in police operations, and authorities arrested one victim during the operation. The government reported detained migrants, or any individual or organization on their behalf, could post a security bond equal to the cost of deportation, but observers reported abuse, extortion, and exploitation in the application of this process and noted it increased victims’ dependency on traffickers. Some trafficking victims who lodged complaints against immigration authorities subsequently faced immigration charges that resulted in deportation proceedings, and media reported authorities charged two immigration officers with procuring and selling forged immigration documents. The CTU relocated some foreign victims from detention facilities to shelters; it repatriated nine victims to Venezuela. According to NGOs, the Coast Guard and local authorities did not implement international best practices and screen detained refugees or asylum- seekers for trafficking indicators. In addition, NGOs asserted the Venezuelan embassy did not render assistance and its involvement in the repatriation process put individuals at risk if they had a legitimate fear of persecution. The government did not report measures to monitor Cuban medical professionals for trafficking indicators nor did it put protection measures into its agreement with the Cuban government to prevent forced labor.
Foreign adult victims who agreed to cooperate with an investigation could remain in the country for the duration of court proceedings and work legally; they could apply for permanent residency after the completion of court proceedings. Foreign victims frequently could not return to their countries of origin because they did not possess valid identification or travel documents; in many cases, the traffickers held their original documents. The government offered some immigration relief for potential victims at the end of the previous reporting period by initially extending the registration cards for Venezuelan refugees and migrants through July 2021; however, this was only available for 16,523 individuals previously registered in 2019, not for more numerous recent arrivals. Although the government periodically extended the permits through the end of 2021, it closed the process to new applicants following the original registration period and did not renew the permits, which lapsed in 2022. Authorities said the registration card allowed them to work in the country but not obtain other official documents. The Children Court provided protections for children involved in trafficking cases. Despite progress in court procedures allowing victims to testify remotely without being in the same courtroom as traffickers, many victims eventually preferred to be voluntarily deported rather than wait for a case to be brought to trial, which could take several years. Observers noted victims were often re-traumatized when courts granted bail to alleged traffickers. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution in trafficking crimes, but courts did not order any restitution during the reporting period. The government established standard operating procedures between the CTU and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which managed the victim compensation program; the procedures were not used due to a lack of convictions. The government trained social workers, NGOs, hotline operators, police, and a private taxi firm on trafficking indicators and screening. In February 2022, the government published guidelines to reduce second-hand trauma among front-line workers interacting with victims.