U.S. State Department: Officials Aid Human Trafficking!
By Toni Nicholas
As far back as 2013 the United States had placed Saint Lucia (among six other Caribbean islands) on a watchlist for human trafficking. In its 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the US Department of State placed six CARICOM countries – Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago–on its Tier 2 Watch List.
Another four—Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines—have been listed on the Tier 2 List.
In distinguishing the two lists Washington defines countries on the Tier 2 Watch List as having governments that “do not fully comply” with the minimum standards in its Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is, among other things, “very significant or is significantly increasing.”
Countries on the Tier 2 List, on the other hand, are those whose governments do not comply fully with the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
The State Department considered Trinidad and Tobago a destination and transit country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking, and adults subjected to forced labour.
“As a hub for regional travel,” the reported noted, “Trinidad and Tobago is a potential transit point for trafficking victims travelling to Caribbean and South American destinations.” As an islandnation outside the hurricane belt, the report noted, “Trinidad and Tobago experiences a steady flow of vessels transiting its territorial waters, some of which may be engaged in illicit activities, including forced labor in the global fishing industry. “Furthermore, experts reported that traffickingrelated complicity of public officials significantly hampered the government’s ability to effectively address the trafficking problem in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The State Department describes Guyana as “a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.” Moreover, that in Guyana women and girls both foreign and local are forced into prostitution.
In the last two months alone Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Lucia have featured prominently in the news in relation to human trafficking. In February four East Indian men were arrested and charged here with human trafficking. The four allegedly lured several students here from Nepal and India and the Philipines with offers of employment while they studied at Lambirds Academy, a school that had been endorsed by several government agencies. Some 70 students who say they were conned have been stranded here, sustained by the generosity of the Pastoral Center and DBS-TV.
Last Saturday seven of the students who had been staying at a Gros Islet etablishment were reported missing. Three days later they were taken into custody by authorities in Grenada. Reports say they went to the Spice Island by boat even though their passports were in the hands of the Saint Lucian police.
It has also been reported that an African who had entered Grenada via Trinidad was also detained with the students. Unconfirmed stories suggest the students may have been en route to Venezuela,via Trinidad or Guyana.
Just last month law enforcement authorities in Guyana stumbled upon a human trafficking ring involving Nepal nationals. This discovery proved a major concern for the Ministry of Home Affairs. In a statement the ministry said its policy is to take strong and decisive action against human traffickers.
In Saint Lucia, meanwhile, the operators of the now shutdown Lambirds Academy remain behind bars while police continue their investigations. Last week, McHale Andrew of Invest Saint Lucia publicly declared that no one at his office had anything to hide when it came to the establishment of the academy at the heart of the human rights trafficking scandal. The minister for education and labour has told reporters similarly.
Still, it remains unclear how the Bangladeshi operator of the school acquired his visas to enter and work in Saint Lucia. Even more intriguing, how he obtained papers to facilitate the arrival in this country of students from India, Nepal and the Philipines.
According to a report in a Nepalese newspaper, the students are victims who came to Saint Lucia through home-based firms including Perception Education Consultancy, Significant Education Consultancy, Excellent Education Consultancy Services and Euro Immigration, the last mentioned based in Kathmandu. The paper quoted one returned disillusioned student as saying: “We paid thousands of dollars after we were convinced the processing was real. Everything looked so real.”
Until they arrived in Saint Lucia, that is. Three days after the arrival of the last batch of students in January this year, some of the students called in the police—at which point the cookie began to crumble. Meanwhile it is unclear what the government plans to do about the remaining students, now human trafficking victims and potential witnesses in a court case that could involve accused government officials!
National Security Minister Philip La Corbinere: Is he doing enough to ensure that Saint Lucia’s borders become less porous to