Venezuela crisis fuels exploitation in T&T

Trinidad Guardian:–  The social, economic and political upheavals, hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and other supplies and US sanctions have forced many Venezuelans to flee their country and look for work in neighbouring countries, including T&T, to earn money and supplies to send back home to their families.

According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) report dated August 2017, there are an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans in T&T.

Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and many highly qualified professionals who cannot find work in Venezuela are forced to take up menial jobs such as house cleaning, bar jobs and in the fast food industry.

In bars and nightclubs across the country young, pretty Latin women can be seen working as hostesses and bar tenders. In little Latin enclaves and Spanish Harlems throughout the country, many entertainment venues, clubs and bars now have a Latin Night.

Young, attractive Venezuelan women and girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking and being forced into prostitution.

The Sunday Guardian was told the harrowing plight of how four young Venezuelan girls were lured into a nightmare underbelly world of prostitution and exploitation by the owner of a local modelling agency.

Daniela, a Cuban national, said “When I finished work Carnival last year at a concert in the stadium, I went by a bar on the Avenue with a friend to wait until the traffic finished to drop me home.

“I saw four Venezuelan girls there, one was arguing with a Trinidadian man, the youngest girl, 19, was crying.

“I asked what happened, she explained that they came to Trinidad to do promotions for alcoholic drinks.

“The man her friend was arguing with was the owner of the modelling agency that hired them and he wanted the girls to go to bed with men for money and he kept all the money for himself.”

She said the girls first heard about the modelling agency via word of mouth—another Venezuelan girl previously worked for the agency owner and all she did was her legitimate promotion job.

Daniela said now because of the economic situation, poverty and turmoil in Venezuela, many unethical people wanted to prey and exploit the Venezuelan women and men also.

She said the modelling agency owner sent a letter to them and bought their airline tickets for them to come to Trinidad to work.

When they arrived at Piarco Airport, the man picked up the girls and carried them to his home in Belmont.

Daniela said at first the girls started their jobs as beverage promoters, but then the man was bringing clients for them to have sex with.

She said when the girls objected to being used as sex slaves, the man said they had to work off the money they owed him for airfare, room and board and expenses by sexually servicing his clients.

Daniela said the girls’ plane tickets cost $1,700 (TT) and he charged them US $1,500 each.

She said she exchanged phone numbers with the girls to assist them, and one night they escaped from the house. One of them injured her leg on one of the spikes on the wall climbing over.

Daniela said the man was well connected and he managed to intercept two of the girls who were making their way to the airport. With the help of a friend, she managed to meet the other two girls and brought them to her home in Arima.

They spent two days in the same clothes as they left everything they had behind in the man’s house and she provided them with clothes.

Daniela could not say if the man was a hardcore human trafficker or pimp, or just saw an opportunity to make money off the girls with sleazy clients.

She said the man kept calling them asking to negotiate for their clothes and he wanted to know their location.

Daniela said accompanied by a friend, she went with the girls to pick up their belongings at a neutral location in Westmoorings, but the man not only brought their suitcases, he also brought a client he wanted the youngest girl to go with but she refused. Daniela said the man was well connected, didn’t want trouble and thought the issue would die down, not suspecting that the girls would go to the police.

After one week, Daniela carried the girls to the police station in Port-of-Spain, where they made a report against the modelling agency owner.

The man was charged under the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 and was sent to jail in June last year. She said he managed to secure bail and was out.

Daniela said all four girls were safely back in Venezuela. The case, she said, will not collapse because the Government can bring them back to testify.

She said what was unsettling, however, was that she saw the man with three new Venezuelan girls in the lobby of a hotel in the city soliciting high roller clients in December.

The clients take the young girls to rooms in the hotel.

When the Sunday Guardian called one of the managers about the activities at the hotel and how they intended to treat with it, she said they were unaware of that.

Over the years, nationals of Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana and the Dominican Republic have been trafficked specifically for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and labour exploitation.

The women, a report in 2015 stated, were brought into the country by a recruiter who sold them to a local trafficker for $1,500.

Wheeler: Increase in minors being smuggled into Trinidad

Alana Wheeler, director of the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU) at the Ministry of National Security said there has been an increase in the identification of minors (Venezuelan nationals) being smuggled into Trinidad from Venezuela.

She said in 2017, the CTU identified an increasing number of Venezuelan nationals as victims of trafficking who had been smuggled into Trinidad via unofficial ports of entry and who did not have identity nor travel documents.

Wheeler said these victims were referred to the unit by the police and Immigration.

She said when foreign nationals were picked up on raids and police road blocks, it was important to screen them for human trafficking (HT) indicators and refer them to the CTU once the HT indicators were present.

She said for 2017, the CTU investigated 38 cases of human trafficking. Out of the 38 cases, the unit verified/confirmed 14 victims of trafficking, 12 of whom were Venezuelan nationals including two children.

Wheeler said these cases were for sexual exploitation and labour exploitation and out of the 14, four of them were smuggled into T&T.

She said the CTU also received more reports from the Immigration Department and the Police Divisions of male, female and child of Venezuelan nationality being smuggled into T&T.

Wheeler said these people were often held at police road blocks and on police and immigration raids.

She said she had no evidence to corroborate the 40,000 number of Venezulans quoted by the UN in Trinidad, neither was she aware of the source of the UN data.

Wheelar said the Sunday Guardian story was an excellent example of how vulnerable and desperate men, women and children were recruited, deceived, coerced and then forced or exploited.

She said the CTU had seen a few cases such as this with Venezuelan women, unfortunately because the women were often invited to T&T by their friends and acquaintances, they were afraid to seek help once they arrived and ended up in these situations.

Wheeler said the unit had assisted several women and girls in this situation and the ministry wished that many more would come forward and seek help to get out of these exploitative circumstances.

She said coercion took many forms and was not limited to physical force.

Wheeler said coercion also included psychological by way of threatening to report them to immigration or police, abuse of their immigration status, allowing them to overstay their time so they would be afraid to report to the authorities, traffickers made false promises to victims such as promising to regularise their illegal status in the country and promising to get a work permit for them.

She said the CTU continued to do what it can with its very limited resources to reach out to and help the vulnerable migrants and people who fall prey to human trafficking.

She said the media played a very important role in identifying and referring victims to the authorities and in getting the message out there to warn and help victims.

Court process slow

Wheeler said to date no one has been convicted for human trafficking in T&T, but four people were committed to stand trial, including a police officer.

She said legislation had only been around for five years and matters take a long time to go through the Magistrates’ Court and then the High Court.

The CTU was established in 2013 after proclamation of the Trafficking in Persons Act, 2011.

In a 2015 interview, Wheeler had said delays in the court process was frustrating some victims. Wheeler said lengthy adjournments frustrated the victims, who might not want to return to testify because of the ordeal they had faced.

In 2014, the CTU held discussions with the Judiciary to expedite court matters and “a proposal was made to possibly have a separate court that treats with human trafficking cases because of the nature of the cases and also it involves foreign witnesses who are required to travel from their home country to Trinidad to attend court”.

January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month. After a screening of the movie SOLD at Movietowne in Port-of-Spain, on January 29, a panel discussion on human trafficking was held after with panellists Terry Ann Roy, attorney Khadija Sinanan, Paul Nahous, Dr Angelique Nixon and attorney Jonathan Bhagan.

•To contact the Counter Trafficking Unit call: 800-4288 (800-4CTU)

NAKHID: INCREASING NUMBER OF VENEZUELANS SEEKING INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION

Rochelle Nakhid, programme coordinator of the Living Water Community’s Ministry For Refugees and Asylum Seekers said there was definitely both an increasing number of Venezuelans seeking international protection and those found to be in need of protection such as asylum seekers and refugees.

She said she could not give actual figures but we have had a nine fold increase from January to the end of December 2017.

“Yes we have found that they remain vulnerable to exploitation and even sexual and gender-based violence. We have had to bolster our capacity to treat with the situation and are working closely with the ministry on the issue,” she said.

MORE INFO

•Anyone found guilty of trafficking in adults is liable to a fine of $500,000 and 15 years imprisonment.
•Anyone trafficking in children under the age of 18 is liable to a fine of $1,000,000 and 20 years imprisonment

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