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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 remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including passing a NAP to combat trafficking and upholding on appeal three trafficking convictions. However, the government did not report prosecuting or convicting any traffickers or identifying any trafficking victims for the third consecutive year. Further, the government could not provide services to trafficking victims; it did not have shelters, allocate funding for victim services, or have formal arrangements with service providers. The government did not implement its new NAP 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.
  • Proactively identify trafficking victims, such as by screening migrant workers for trafficking indicators; provide adequate protection to identified trafficking victims; and ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized, including through deportation, solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Vigorously implement the 2022-2023 NAP.
  • 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.
  • Train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges on proactive victim identification, victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases, and the distinction between human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
  • Re-establish the National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking (NRB) to improve coordination of victim protection and prevention efforts.
  • Adopt and implement formal SOPs to guide officials, including health workers, on victim identification and referral.
  • Inform victims and potential victims of their rights.
  • Increase awareness of human trafficking, available services, and how to seek assistance among the general public and vulnerable groups, including incoming migrants.

The government maintained 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, which concluded when officials determined the case did not constitute a trafficking crime, in 2022. The government did not report any new prosecutions or convictions related to trafficking in 2022; this compared with one investigation and no prosecutions or convictions in 2021 and no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in 2020. However, an appellate court upheld convictions against three traffickers found guilty of exploiting 42 women in sex trafficking in a 2019 ruling. The court’s decision to uphold the ruling revised the traffickers’ sentences (increasing them from 12, 24, and 36 months’ imprisonment to 17, 34, and 46 months’ imprisonment, respectively), increasing the total fines levied, and recommending partially suspended sentences in lieu of fully suspended sentences. The decision also cited concerns the traffickers remained involved in the exploitation of women in commercial sex, despite their prior convictions. Severe 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.

The Sint Maarten police force (KPSM) maintained a combined anti-human trafficking and anti-migrant smuggling unit (UMM), consisting of six officers, which worked closely with the public prosecutor’s office to investigate potential trafficking crimes. UMM operated without a dedicated budget and with limited staffing; the government reported Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMAR) embedded officers within UMM to mitigate staffing limitations. Observers reported the unit’s resources varied based on the relative prioritization of anti-trafficking or anti-smuggling operations within the government. UMM collaborated with KMAR, the joint Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard, and other agencies, but the government did not formalize this coordination 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 continued to fund a recurring anti-trafficking training opportunity 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 for the third consecutive year. For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not report providing any protection services to victims, including to victims identified in earlier years. The government did not have SOPs for the identification or referral of victims and, instead, relied on informal arrangements between government agencies. The government reported it distributed pamphlets featuring an NGO-developed checklist on trafficking indicators to immigration officials and other government stakeholders who might encounter potential victims. However, the government did not report efforts to use the checklist to proactively screen vulnerable populations, such as individuals in commercial sex and undocumented migrants, 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 NRB, which ceased operations in 2016. Officials reported the government had a victim support agency that aided victims of all crimes. However, the government did not allocate funding to provide services for trafficking victims and it did not have agreements with civil society organizations to provide care services, such as shelter, in the absence of government funding. Government officials could only arrange short-term shelter for victims in “dire” circumstances. The government did not report any victims receiving shelter in 2022. The government did not provide financial support to shelters equipped to support trafficking victims and reported few such organizations existed in Sint Maarten. There were no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims. An NGO-run shelter for victims of domestic violence could sometimes accommodate female trafficking victims. The government did not report any foreign victims applying for temporary residency status; this status was only valid for the duration of criminal proceedings against the trafficker and it would not grant victims the right to work. The government last reported granting a residence permit to a trafficking victim in December 2015. The government considered residency status to be a temporary measure to facilitate victim cooperation in the trial against the traffickers, rather than a means of ensuring victims have legal alternatives to removal to countries where they would face retribution or hardship. 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 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, no victims received restitution or filed civil suit in 2022.

The government increased its efforts to prevent trafficking, which remained inadequate. The national anti-trafficking coordinator and national prosecutor’s office jointly led efforts to combat human trafficking; the national coordinator operated without a budget or staff in this capacity and had other full-time duties. The government did not have an anti-trafficking coordinating body. In 2022, the government drafted a 2022-2023 NAP; the draft outlined objectives to improve the government’s anti-trafficking framework, including by creating new SOPs for victim identification and referral, cultivating civil society partnerships to facilitate service provision, and creating a national anti-trafficking hotline. However, the government did not adopt or implement the plan in 2022. The national coordinator reported collaborating with national anti-trafficking coordinators from Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands to revise the MOU outlining coordinated anti-trafficking efforts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the draft MOU remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government launched a poster campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking and migrant smuggling and hired a design firm to create new materials slated for release in 2023; officials distributed pamphlets outlining employment rights and common indicators of exploitation to migrant workers in vulnerable sectors. The government’s injurious misunderstanding of human trafficking led it to maintain a policy sharply limiting visas for individuals seeking work in certain “vulnerable sectors.” Rather than preventing trafficking, as the government intended, the policy likely increased 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 have a trafficking-specific hotline to receive public reports of trafficking; however, it reported police emergency hotline operators could provide callers with a contact number for UMM. The border control agency maintained an immigration hotline and UMM maintained an anonymous tip line, which it advertised in awareness materials. The government did not report receiving any trafficking-related information from any hotlines.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims and, to a lesser extent, domestic victims in Sint Maarten. Caribbean, Eastern European, Latin American, and Russian women working in bars, clubs, and brothels were vulnerable to sex trafficking; brothel owners exploit women and girls from Latin America and the Caribbean 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 forced labor in domestic service and housekeeping, construction, People’s Republic of China national-owned markets, retail shops, food service, and landscaping. Authorities report traffickers may coerce Asian and Caribbean workers in exploitative conditions indicative of forced labor. The government’s reduction of visas for foreign workers in certain sectors, including adult entertainment, increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Officials report migrants – including Brazilian and Cuban nationals – who transit Sint Maarten are vulnerable to human trafficking; criminal actors, including smugglers, may exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking en route to the United States and Canada.

* Sint Maarten is a semi-autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For the purpose of this report, Sint Maarten is not a “country” to which the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act apply. This narrative reflects how Sint Maarten would be assessed if it were a separate, independent country. However, the Kingdom is an important contributor to the Government of Sint Maarten’s anti-trafficking efforts.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future