The Government of Palau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Palau was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included investigating more trafficking crimes, convicting a labor trafficker, starting construction of a national shelter, leading anti-trafficking awareness discussions with foreign migrant communities, and conducting public awareness campaigns. The government finalized and began implementing SOPs for victim identification and referral. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not provide any protection services to victims and did not allocate any funding to victim assistance.
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, under trafficking laws and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
Increase efforts to identify victims through proactive screening of vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and individuals in commercial sex.
Disseminate and train officials on the victim identification and referral SOPs to promote proactive victim identification.
Increase resources for and develop victim protection services, including long-term shelter options, interpretation services, and medical and psychological care.
Amend anti-trafficking laws to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes and ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
Enforce the anti-trafficking laws punishing recruiters, employment agents, and labor officials for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking.
Create and implement a system to proactively offer foreign trafficking victims job placements and work visa extensions.
Implement a systemic victim-witness assistance program to increase protective services for victims participating in the criminal justice process.
Increase anti-trafficking awareness among vulnerable populations, including foreign migrant worker communities.
Establish a mechanism for the systematic monitoring of government anti-trafficking efforts.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. Sections 2106-2108 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, or both if the victim was an adult; and up to 50 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $500,000, or both if the victim was younger than age 18. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes, these penalties were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government investigated seven trafficking cases – two for sex trafficking, four for labor trafficking, and one for unspecified forms of trafficking – compared with three labor trafficking investigations in the previous reporting period. Authorities determined five cases did not meet trafficking standards and proceeded with either closing the case or investigating non-trafficking related charges; two cases – one for sex trafficking and one for labor trafficking – remained ongoing. The government continued four case investigations initiated in prior years. Authorities closed three of the cases because of insufficient evidence or expired statute of limitations; the fourth case, involving unspecified forms of trafficking, remained ongoing. The government prosecuted one alleged labor trafficker, compared with two alleged labor traffickers in the previous reporting period. Courts convicted one labor trafficker, the same as in the previous reporting period. Courts sentenced the trafficker to 10 months’ incarceration with credit for time served and ordered the trafficker to pay $420 in restitution.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Justice’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) was the lead agency for trafficking investigations and received a dedicated budget from the national congress; however, the limited budget reportedly resulted in inadequate resources and may have hindered authorities’ ability to investigate trafficking cases. The government reported the small number of prosecutors in the country, coupled with a redirection of judicial resources to combat an increasing drug epidemic, contributed to a significant backlog in all cases. The government, in partnership with an international organization, trained law enforcement officials, service providers, and judicial officials on various anti-trafficking topics, including victim identification and referral SOPs, trafficking indicators, and proactive investigative techniques. The government provided trauma-informed training to service providers who actively supported victims. Authorities received assistance from and cooperated with a foreign government on ongoing trafficking cases.
The government maintained efforts to protect victims. The government identified one adult male foreign labor trafficking victim, compared with identifying one adult female foreign labor trafficking victim in the previous reporting period. In April 2022, the government finalized victim identification and referral SOPs; implementation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government, in partnership with an international organization, trained law enforcement officials and service providers on these SOPs. Authorities continued to use an interview guide designed to assist in interviewing and avoid re-traumatizing trafficking victims.
The government could provide medical treatment, counseling, temporary job placement, transportation, and temporary accommodation to trafficking victims; however, the government did not provide protection services to any victims, compared with providing a temporary job placement permit to one victim in the previous reporting period. The government continued to fund an NGO to assist trafficking victims with legal counseling and representation before labor and immigration hearings; the government referred one labor trafficking victim to the NGO for services. For the second consecutive year, the government did not allocate any funding for victim assistance; the government last provided $500 for victim assistance in 2020. The government, in partnership with a foreign government, started work to construct a national shelter for victims of crime, including trafficking victims. In prior years, the lack of support services reportedly led some victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse.
The Office of Victims of Crime Advocacy (VOCA), within the Ministry of Health and Human Services, could provide support and liaise with investigators, on behalf of victims of serious crime, including human trafficking, to negotiate a victim’s participation in an investigation. In addition to the VOCA, the AHTU continued to employ a dedicated victim advocate who worked to assist trafficking victims. The VOCA and victim advocate coordinated to provide assistance to trafficking victims. In August 2022, the government established an MOU between the AHTU and the VOCA on victim support. The Office of Labor Compliance (Labor Compliance) could provide victims with temporary employment placements; the government did not assist any victims with obtaining new employment, compared with assisting one victim in the previous reporting period.
The government did not require victim participation in trafficking investigations or prosecutions to receive referral to services, and authorities reported one victim participated voluntarily. Unlike prior reporting periods, the government reported victims could provide written or video-recorded testimonies. The government could offer ad hoc, short-term legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. The attorney general or the special prosecutor on the case could designate victims as “vulnerable,” making them eligible for alternate employment and accommodation assistance; the government did not report using these options during the reporting period. Courts ordered one convicted trafficker to pay restitution to one victim, the same as the previous reporting period. The 2005 Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act provided immunity for trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked. In recent years, however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities prosecuted trafficking victims for immigration and commercial sex crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The AHTU continued to staff a 24-hour trafficking hotline with the VOCA and on-call AHTU lead investigators who spoke Palauan and English; the government reported two calls led to investigations, compared with no calls leading to investigations last year. In addition, Labor Compliance operated a dedicated 24-hour hotline for workers with concerns about their employment situation; the government did not report any calls to the labor hotline resulted in trafficking investigations.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The AHTU coordinated all national efforts to combat human trafficking. The AHTU led implementation of the 2022-2025 NAP, identified and supported victims, investigated trafficking crimes, liaised with prosecution authorities, and collected data. The government reported providing in-kind resources, including logistical support and facilities, to the implementation of the NAP. An interagency Anti-Human Trafficking Working Group (Working Group), which included representatives from government and nongovernment agencies, coordinated efforts to share information on human trafficking cases, identify systemic issues, harmonize government policies, and collect human trafficking data. The Working Group met quarterly and was more active than in the previous reporting period.
The government, in partnership with an international organization, conducted awareness campaigns targeting school-aged children, civil society organizations, local service providers, and the public. The government reported translating awareness materials into Mandarin, Bengali, Tagalog, and Palauan. The government did not report conducting educational or public awareness campaigns for employers or labor recruiters. The government held group discussions focused on anti-trafficking awareness with members of Filipino and Bangladeshi community associations. The government reported completion of its national security strategy, which included trafficking-related issues such as transnational crime; implementation was ongoing. The government, in partnership with an international organization, conducted its second research survey on trafficking knowledge, attitudes, and practices.
The government authorized workers to move to different employers and granted temporary placement permits for workers experiencing hardship, problems with legal due process, abuse, or other extenuating circumstances. The government continued an employment assistance program, created in response to the pandemic, that allowed foreign workers who had lost employment to find new employment and obtain a work permit and legal residency status. 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 Palau, and traffickers exploit victims from Palau abroad. Palau’s foreign population, about one-third of the country’s population of 18,000, is especially at risk for trafficking. According to an NGO, only one-third of male respondents to a survey believed trafficking took place in Palau. In addition, according to the government, approximately one-third of respondents to another survey were unaware of the existence of a national law to protect trafficking victims, and approximately 20 percent of respondents did not believe trafficking took place in Palau. Undocumented immigrants and migrant workers with low levels of education and English language proficiency have an increased vulnerability to trafficking. Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and People’s Republic of China (PRC) national adults pay thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and willingly migrate to Palau for jobs in domestic service, agriculture, the hospitality industry, or construction. Upon arrival, traffickers exploit some in conditions substantially different from what had been presented in contracts or recruitment offers, and some become trafficking victims. Women from the Philippines and the PRC are recruited to work in Palau as waitresses or clerks, but traffickers exploit some in sex trafficking in karaoke bars or massage parlors. Foreign workers on fishing boats in Palauan waters also experience conditions indicative of human trafficking. Natural disasters and climate-induced displacement significantly increases Palauans’ vulnerability to trafficking because of loss of livelihood, shelter, or family stability. Official complicity plays a role in facilitating trafficking. Authorities have investigated government officials – including labor, immigration, law enforcement, and elected officials – for complicity in trafficking crimes. Limited reports indicated some Palauans searching for work in the United States experience indicators of trafficking, such as excessive work hours and withholding of wages. LGBTQI+ individuals are vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation, and discrimination because of social stigmatization.