NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government has maintained its ‘Tier 1’ ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report for the sixth consecutive year.
The ranking signals the country has satisfied the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, the State department raised concerns about the lack of trafficking convictions; court delays; and the deportation of hundreds of Haitian nationals in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
The report also noted that funding for victim services had decreased.
“The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore The Bahamas remained on Tier 1,” read the TIP report.
“These efforts included significantly increased investigations of traffickers, increased identification of victims, implementing the national action plan, and continuing anti-trafficking training for 239 officials despite widespread destruction from a Category 5 hurricane hitting the islands in September 2019.
The report stated: “Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not convict any traffickers; court proceedings continued to face delays; authorities inconsistently applied screening procedures to vulnerable populations, in particular to hundreds of Haitians deported after the hurricane; and funding for victim services decreased.”
According to the report, authorities investigated 16 potential traffickers, 11 for sex trafficking investigations and five for labor trafficking, compared to two new investigations in 2018 and 11 to 15 investigations annually in the preceding six years.
Authorities reported initiating two prosecutions for sex trafficking during the reporting period, compared to one initiated in 2018.
During the reporting period, the government reported screening 965 vulnerable individuals, including 151 Haitians in addition to individuals from Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Venezuela.
Five victims of trafficking were identified, according to the report, which noted an increase compared with two victims identified out of 28 individuals screened in 2018.
All identified victims were adult females, two from Jamaica, two from The Bahamas, and one from Venezuela.
“The TIP committee referred a total of six victims, including a victim from a prior year, for government assistance for food, clothing, payment of utilities, stipend, living accommodations, appliances, furniture, employment, shelter, and medical care,” the report read.
It continued: “Although the government reported it has a formal process to guide officials in transferring victims to institutions that provide short- or long-term care, experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants, and continued reports of abuse of migrants by officials and widespread bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, are causes of concern.
“Foreign victims all chose to return home after short-term assistance by the government. Reports of inconsistent training of staff in screening for trafficking, and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages indicated that authorities did not screen all potential trafficking victims, consequently penalizing vulnerable individuals.”
According to the report, the government reported decreasing spending on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities to $95,000, compared to $125,710 in 2018. The government also provided $69,509 to four NGOs that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups, compared to $240,000 in 2018 and 2017.
The reported noted both decreases were due to emergency costs incurred by the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.
“Authorities continued to encourage identified trafficking victims to assist in prosecutions by providing them with lodging, food, a stipend, clothing, medical assistance and psychological counseling, immigration relief, legal and transportation assistance, support during court proceedings, and witness protection, including a constant presence of police or Royal Bahamas Defense Force as escort or protection outside shelters,” the report stated.
“The government did not provide a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims, and authorities continued to place victims in NGO-managed shelters shared with domestic violence victims.”
As for the country’s trafficking profile, the State department noted individuals born to a non-Bahamian father in The Bahamas, to a female citizen, or to foreign-born parents, do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship or documentation and are at heightened risk of trafficking.
The State department called on the government to increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and sentence convicted traffickers, including officials complicit in sex or labor trafficking; and comprehensively train officials to implement the victim identification and referral protocol to identify victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, especially among vulnerable groups including residents and migrants from Haiti, Venezuela, and other countries.
The department also recommended officials provide a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims and continue funding comprehensive victim services; train judges at all levels of the judiciary in trafficking and the trafficking law and sensitize judges and prosecutors on trauma; and reduce delays in court proceedings.
Further recommendations include: provide vulnerable individuals with trauma informed assistance and interpretation in their language prior to, during, and after screening for trafficking; take steps to eliminate recruitment fees charged to workers in The Bahamas by labor recruiters and ban employee paid recruitment fees; strengthen the capacity of labor inspectors to identify and refer victims of labor trafficking; increase grassroots outreach to potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups in partnership with NGOs; develop, execute, and publish a robust monitoring and evaluation framework for anti-trafficking policies and efforts; and engage further with officials involved in anti-trafficking activities in other countries in the region to exchange best practices in trafficking investigation and screening.