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MARSHALL ISLANDS (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Marshall Islands does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  These efforts included identifying a labor trafficking victim with assistance from an NGO, conducting awareness raising activities, and continuing an investigation of a government official allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes.  However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.  For the third consecutive year, the government did not prosecute any traffickers and has not convicted any traffickers since 2011.  The government did not utilize SOPs to identify trafficking victims and inappropriately penalized victims solely for immigration offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  The government did not administer anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials, despite a limited understanding of trafficking among such officials.  The government did not provide adequate financial and technical resources for anti-trafficking efforts.  Therefore Marshall Islands was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

  • Investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including those involving victims’ family members and complicit officials, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms. 
  • Finalize, adopt, and implement victim identification and referral SOPs and widely train police, immigration, port authority, and customs enforcement officers on the SOPs. 
  • Increase identification of trafficking victims and screen for trafficking indicators among all vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex, undocumented migrant workers, foreign fishermen, and victims of GBV. 
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. 
  • Train law enforcement and prosecution officials to implement the anti-trafficking law with a focus on a trauma-informed approach to law enforcement efforts and trial, as well as the use of psychological coercion as a means of trafficking. 
  • Administer and fund protection services for victims in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations and ensure potential victims are proactively offered services while their case is investigated. 
  • Dedicate funding and resources to implement the NAP. 
  • Eliminate recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by labor recruiters and ensure any recruitment fees are paid by employers. 
  • Develop and conduct public anti-trafficking education and awareness raising campaigns, including in outer island communities. 
  • Increase access to and knowledge of protection services for outer island community residents and dedicate funding towards assisting with travel costs to receive assistance. 
  • Undertake research to study human trafficking in the country and make the findings publicly available. 
  • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts.  The Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2017 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both if the victim was an adult and up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both if the victim was younger than age 18.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape.

The government initiated one labor trafficking investigation, compared with one sex trafficking investigation in the previous reporting period.  The government continued two investigations initiated in prior years.  For the third consecutive year, the government did not prosecute any traffickers.  The government has not convicted any traffickers since 2011.  Authorities continued the investigation, begun in 2020, of the former Director of Immigration for alleged complicity in trafficking crimes; the investigation remained ongoing, and the official remained employed by the government as a contractor.  The government did not report any other investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.  The government charged two immigration officers who allegedly engaged in misconduct regarding visa applications with visa fraud.  Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.

The government’s Human Trafficking Coordinator, located within the Attorney General’s Office, coordinated the government’s investigative efforts; however, the position was vacated in November 2022 and remained vacant at the end of the reporting period, which hindered the government’s ability to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts.  The government lacked sufficient institutionalized law enforcement training, recruitment of officers, and law enforcement facilities to combat trafficking.  Unlike the previous reporting period, the government did not provide any anti-trafficking training activities for its officials.  Government officials’ limited understanding of trafficking indicators and the perceived requirement of movement for trafficking crimes hindered progress.  An NGO stated officials lacked anti-trafficking training, particularly the police, and required more secure communications to prevent alerting criminals prior to prosecution.  The lack of dedicated funding and technical capacity constrained authorities’ ability to investigate trafficking cases.  The government did not report cooperating with foreign counterparts on any law enforcement activities.  The government reported it redirected or limited resources and institutional capacity among law enforcement and other government agencies as a result of the pandemic and other illnesses; this may have adversely affected the government’s ability to detect and address trafficking.

The government decreased efforts to protect victims.  The government, with assistance from an NGO tip submitted in a prior reporting period, identified one labor trafficking victim, compared with none during the previous reporting period.  The government, in partnership with an international organization, developed new victim identification and referral SOPs; however, the government did not finalize, adopt, or implement the SOPs by the end of the reporting period.  Multiple government officials recognized six women as likely trafficking victims but did not formally identify or assist them.  The six trafficking victims remained with the suspected traffickers. In connection with the case, officials were also aware of other potential victims but did not report conducting victim assessments.  Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely deported unidentified trafficking victims.  Authorities penalized some of the six trafficking victims for immigration offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked and attempted to compel these victims to participate in criminal proceedings, using threats of deportation and penalization, potentially re-traumatizing them.  The government reported it could provide legal assistance if it charged a victim for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, the government did not report providing legal assistance to any victims.

The government required victims to participate in investigations to be officially classified as trafficking victims and access protection services.  In addition, the government also required victims receiving services to testify if the case went to trial.  The government reported one victim participated in an investigation.  The government reported victims could testify via written or video-recorded statements, and victims could obtain employment during the investigation or trial.  The government, in partnership with NGOs, could provide protection services to victims who participated in investigations and trials, including protective services, food, transportation, counseling, and temporary accommodation.  The government did not provide funding to NGOs for such services.  The government provided transportation and protective services to one victim and provided an interpreter in interviews with other potential victims, compared with not providing any services to any victims in the previous reporting period.  The government referred one victim to an NGO for counseling and temporary shelter services.

Government officials and civil society representatives reported the government’s interpreter received threats for their assistance in an ongoing investigation and departed the country in November 2022; the government had not hired a new interpreter by the end of the reporting period, inhibiting the government’s ability to provide interpretation services.  The government did not have a dedicated trafficking shelter for victims and relied on NGOs to provide temporary accommodation or could temporarily accommodate victims in a hotel.  Victims could leave these accommodations unchaperoned unless authorities determined that doing so might put them in danger.  The government did not report providing funding to an NGO to provide free legal assistance to victims of crime, including trafficking victims, compared with $125,000 provided in the previous reporting period.  Authorities could only provide protection services in urban centers, which hindered the ability for residents of outer island communities to receive assistance.  The government reported it could allow foreign victims to remain in the country temporarily but did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.

The government maintained inadequate efforts to prevent trafficking.  The National Task Force on Human Trafficking (NTHT), which included government agencies and members of civil society, led the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and met twice.  The NTHT working group, which was responsible for implementing the NAP and providing quarterly implementation updates to the NTHT, met three times.  The government continued implementation of its NAP.  The government, in partnership with an international organization, conducted awareness raising activities for the public.  The government did not report conducting any awareness raising activities targeting outer island communities.

The government provided a research assistant to an NGO conducting research to assess the scope of trafficking in Marshall Islands.  The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.  The government did not regulate recruitment fees, which continued to contribute to debt-based coercion among foreign workers.  The government did not allow migrant workers to change employers in a timely manner without obtaining special permission.  The government made efforts to establish an anti-trafficking hotline; however, the hotline was not operational by the end of the reporting period.  The government did not take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  Marshall Islands was not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Marshall Islands, and traffickers exploit Marshallese victims abroad.  Traffickers, including hotel and bar staff and family members, recruit and transport Marshallese and East Asian women and girls and exploit them in sex trafficking in Marshall Islands with foreign construction workers and crewmembers of foreign fishing and transshipping vessels that dock in Majuro; some of these women and girls have also been confined and subjected to forced childbearing as part of international fraudulent adoption schemes.  Observers report commercial sexual activity involving foreign fishermen has increasingly moved from fishing vessels to local bars, hotels, and suspected commercial sex establishments.  Traffickers also exploit some of these foreign fishermen in conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters.  Traffickers compel foreign women, most of whom are long-term residents of Marshall Islands, into commercial sex in establishments frequented by crewmembers of People’s Republic of China (PRC)-affiliated and other foreign fishing vessels; some traffickers recruit PRC national women with the promise of other work and, after paying large recruitment fees, force them into commercial sex.  Traffickers exploit PRC nationals in PRC-owned businesses, including small businesses, restaurants, and apartment buildings.  Marshallese residents of outer island communities may experience increased vulnerability to trafficking due to limited economic opportunities, geographic location, and the cost to travel to urban centers to seek assistance.  Some wealthier or more powerful family members use traditional cultural practices to exploit impoverished Marshallese from outer islands to serve as indentured labor on their property.  Limited reports indicate some Marshallese searching for work in the United States experience indicators of trafficking, such as passport confiscation, excessive work hours, and fraudulent recruitment.  Some Marshallese children are transported to the United States, where they are exploited in situations of sexual abuse with indicators of sex trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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