The government slightly increased limited protection efforts but identified significantly fewer victims. The CTU was the primary entity responsible for identifying victims. The government identified 38 trafficking victims, 36 exploited in sex trafficking with 31 of these identified during screenings of individuals in commercial sex, and two exploited in labor trafficking. Of the 36 sex trafficking victims, 20 were women and 16 were girls, including 14 Venezuelans and two Trinbagonians. The labor trafficking victims were a Venezuelan man and a Kenyan woman. This compares with identifying 80 trafficking victims in 2021 and six victims in 2020. During the reporting period, NGOs identified an additional five victims, including three foreign women and one foreign girl exploited in sex trafficking and one foreign man exploited in labor trafficking. In addition, the media reported authorities identified six Latin American women and two Latin American girls during a law enforcement action in September 2022, and authorities identified 37 adult victims and three child victims in February 2022 during a law enforcement action. Observers noted the government’s victim statistics were not reliable, and NGOs estimated there were, in fact, 500 victims, including those the government identified in the past two years. Experts noted staff at NGOs and shelters lacked training to identify victims. The government referred 11 sexual assault victims who demonstrated trafficking indicators to the CTU. The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services drafted the Manual on Victims of Trafficking for Social Service Providers, which contains guidelines for agencies involved in the protection of victims; the manual remained awaiting cabinet approval.
Authorities provided some assistance to the 36 victims they identified, compared with 54 victims assisted in 2021 and 70 potential victims assisted in 2020. The CTU had a dedicated budget for victim assistance, and the government reported spending a total of 105,000 TTD ($15,521) on victim assistance. The government reported spending 120,000 TTD ($17,738) on victim assistance in 2020. 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. In July 2022, the government developed, in coordination with an IO, and approved SOPs and a standardized form for victim referral to care and began their implementation. The SOPs contained a trauma-informed and victim-centered process for assessing and providing services to adult victims. The referral and assistance procedure for child trafficking victims followed similar steps as the adult process. The CTU also disseminated an updated bilingual pocket guide for front-line officers, which included the definition of trafficking and victim identification procedures, including contact information. The government reported adhering to pandemic health protocols, including providing victims with face masks for medical and dental visits and establishing quarantine areas for victims with COVID-19. Observers noted the CTU did not proactively act upon all referrals and did not conduct adequate screening of persons referred to them. An IO reported some victims requested assistance through local NGOs, private individuals, government agencies working with Venezuelan migrants, or IOs, which then referred the cases to the CTU. However, observers noted the CTU did not respond in a timely manner to victims referred by NGOs and IOs and provided services to victims in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner.
In March 2023, the government opened three new housing units to shelter up to 20 victims each; these were the government’s first trafficking-specific shelters for adults. Observers noted the government also relied on NGOs and IOs to provide shelter and psycho-social care for adult victims, and the media reported concerns about the quality of victim care and the length of time victims required care because of the lengthy judicial process. The government allowed victims to choose whether to stay in the state-provided accommodation or their own living arrangements. Authorities placed adult female victims in NGO-run shelters for GBV victims, funded by an IO; they placed adult male victims in safe houses operated by the security services. Victims did not have a choice of which shelter to use if they requested those accommodations. However, once in shelters, experts noted victims had strict rules restricting movement and communication, which caused some victims to run away from shelters or ask to be repatriated before authorities completed investigations. NGOs, in previous reporting periods, noted authorities did not provide adult victims the same level of care, access, and protection as child victims. Child victims did not have freedom of movement, and authorities placed them in children’s homes with CATT supervision; observers noted these homes could also house children who were criminal offenders. Foreign child victims without parents were placed in children’s homes without access to education. In December 2022, the government opened its first children’s home specifically for female child trafficking victims. The CTU and Children’s Authority signed an MOU to coordinate victim care procedures, including those of the new shelter. The Children’s Court directed the Children’s Authority to provide protection, placement, services, and repatriation for child victims. Authorities did not investigate or prosecute any individuals after multiple reports of abuse of children in children’s homes, including sex trafficking, sexual abuse, rape, and severe physical and psychological abuse resulting in children’s deaths, nor did Parliament approve recommendations for greater oversight of these institutions. The government, in collaboration with an IO and an NGO, continued to recruit and train foster caregivers specifically for foreign children, including child trafficking victims. Observers reported the government may have lacked adequate care for child victims.
The government allowed adult victims to pursue other employment, move about the country freely if staying outside a shelter, and, in some instances, to return to their home country. Authorities allowed nine trafficking victims to work after being registered in the new Migration Registration Framework. The government reported it improved the process to screen migrants for trafficking indicators; however, coordination between the Immigration Division and the CTU remained weak. According to NGOs in a prior reporting period, the Coast Guard and local authorities did not implement international best practices to screen detained refugees or asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators. Some observers indicated that after police or immigration actions, authorities detained some foreign potential victims for violating immigration laws without screening for trafficking indicators. Some potential trafficking victims who lodged complaints against immigration authorities subsequently faced immigration charges, resulting in deportation proceedings. The government reported it signed a technical cooperation agreement with the Government of Cuba in 2018 to guide the recruitment and employment of Cuban medical workers in the country. The government reported that under the agreement, it directly interviewed and chose the workers, provided employment on a contractual basis under terms and conditions of the chief personnel officer, and paid salaries commensurate with those of Trinbagonian counterparts directly into the medical professionals’ own local bank accounts, along with granting the employees vacation time, sick leave, paid local and Cuban holidays, overtime, housing, transportation, and meals.
The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution in trafficking cases that resulted in convictions, but there were none during the reporting period. However, the government prepared a program under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which did not go into effect by the end of the reporting period, to provide victims additional compensation from the government prior to conviction of a trafficker; victims’ identities would be kept anonymous. The government reported it did not limit or condition services on victim participation in the prosecution of the trafficker but reported victims who cooperated with an investigation or prosecution received transportation to appointments and meals; observers noted these services were not consistent. Courts allowed remote testimony; one victim testified overseas during the reporting period. Foreign adult victims 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, but the government did not report any did so. The government operated a formal witness protection program for all crimes but did not report any trafficking victims participating in it; observers reported no trafficking victims had ever participated in it and that the government did not adequately protect victim-witnesses. The government did not maintain victim confidentiality during trials. NGOs alleged authorities deported victims who declined to cooperate in prosecutions. NGOs also reported they were reluctant to provide shelter or services to undocumented foreign victims who were not officially referred by the government because of possible government retaliation against the NGO under the Immigration Act. Courts could rely on remote testimony, but many foreign victims refused to cooperate with prosecutions after repatriation. Several victims, particularly adult victims, requested repatriation to their country of origin because of inadequate victim services and official complicity in trafficking. The CTU repatriated 22 sex trafficking victims and one labor trafficking victim, compared with nine victims to Venezuela in 2021. NGOs asserted the government may have violated individuals’ due process during repatriation, and the Venezuelan embassy’s increased involvement in the repatriation process put individuals at risk if they had a legitimate fear of persecution.
Foreign victims often could not return to their countries of origin because they did not possess valid identification or travel documents; in many cases traffickers held their original documents. The government offered some immigration relief for potential victims. In one case, a minister’s permit was granted to a child victim and her mother, and the government reported granting minister’s permits to other close relatives of victims to provide additional support. The government reported it would allow trafficking victims with minister’s permits to participate in educational and vocational opportunities.