By Isanella Patoir
Data released by the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Unit (C-TIPU) has revealed that Venezuelan nationals are the most trafficked in Guyana.
Since 2018, a total of 337 Venezuelan migrants were recorded as Trafficking in Persons victims, the data revealed.
A virtual discussion on the data Wednesday included representatives from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Department of Citizenship and C-TIPU.
They focused on the impact of Trafficking in Persons and the migrant population in Guyana. The discussion is part of a week of activities to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons which will be observed on July 30 under the theme – “Embracing Diversity, Reducing Vulnerabilities, Promoting Safe Migration.”
Coordinator (ag) for the Ministerial Task Force for Trafficking in Person, Daniel Griffith said the issue remains one of the most hidden crimes in Guyana due to difficulties in recognizing it.
And while multiple stakeholders are making stringent efforts to combat this crime, it continues to increase.
From 2014 to 2017, trafficking in persons showed a fluctuating trend between citizens and foreign nationals. During this three year period, of the 70 reports made, there were 188 victims of human trafficking.
Guyanese nationals at the time accounted for approximately 50.2% and foreign nationals from countries like Brazil and the Dominican Republic accounted for 45%.
Then in 2018 this trend changed drastically. Of the 32 reports made on human trafficking, the number of victims increased to 245, of which 162 were Venezuelan nationals, 49 were Cubans; 10 from the Dominican Republic and 21 from Guyana.
This trend continues to date and as of January 2020 to June 2020, 22 reports were made of human trafficking of which all 43 victims were Venezuelan nationals.
“There is a trend moving now from predominately Guyanese victims to foreign nationals particularly Venezuelans and this could be the influx of non-nationals in our country and the growing economic crisis,” Griffith explained.
It was further highlighted that 90% of the cases were females with an average age of below 27-year-old. Globally, women and girls are most vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking and are trafficked largely for sexual exploitation.
Project Coordinator for the International Organisation for Migration (Guyana), Monserrat Hernandez in her presentation said that migrants experience difficulty acquiring jobs and accessing public services and this makes them more vulnerable to trafficking.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the migrants are faced with additional challenges and barriers, Hernandez said.
“All of this of course and the situation makes them more vulnerable and force them to accept jobs that sometimes can lead to a trafficking situation.
“It is a worrying situation seeing these numbers and we have seen this trend for the last couple of years,” Hernandez said.
Other groups of migrants in Guyana include Cubans, Haitians and persons from the Dominican Republic.
In its response to COVID-19, the IOM has been working with the Ministry of Public Health to translate COVID-19 precautionary measures into Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.
Other assistance for the migrants includes emergency shelters, rental subsidies and food assistance. An assessment is done to determine the needs of the migrants prior to them receiving support.
Between April and June this year, IOM has assisted 307 migrants with shelter and food subsidies, 1,031 migrants with basic food supplies and 929 with hygienic and sanitizing items.
Meanwhile, IOM’s National Coordinator in Guyana, Oliver Profitt said under the Victim Protection Project, victims of human trafficking are also assisted with psychosocial assistance, small business grants and some have returned to their countries.
A policy adjustment to allow Venezuelan migrants a minimum three months stay in Guyana legally started in 2018. Technical Officer at the Department of Citizenship, Jermaine Grant said Venezuelan migrants seeking to enter Guyana for humanitarian needs such as food, medical care and shelter are only required to present their identification card at any legal border entry points.
Grant said this relaxed entry requirement is also aimed at preventing illegal entries where persons can be trafficked and exploited easily.
“So addressing needs on arrival at the border is an indication of alleviating and addressing vulnerabilities that will not make the migrant porous to smuggling and trafficking,” Grant said.
Secondly, a Multi-Agency Coordinating Committee led by the Ministry of Citizenship was also established to address the need of Venezuelan migrants.
So if there is a case of migrants being exploited sexually or for labour purposes, representatives from the Committee will investigate and with the support of the Police the investigation can prosecute the traffickers.