Heightened surveillance on suspicious businesses, surprise raids on flagged locations and more robust intelligence gathering are just a few of the activities geared towards achieving the target of increasing the prosecuting rate of human traffickers by 300 per cent, in comparison to the year 2015 where only two perpetrators were convicted.
This was announced by the Coordinator of the Counter Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Unit in the Social Protection Ministry, Tanisha Williams, during the launch of the National Plan of Action for the Prevention and Response to Trafficking in Persons 2017-2018.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of reports of suspected TIP cases reaching the relevant authorities but Williams pointed out that this does not necessarily translate to an upsurge in the number of human trafficking incidents.
The National Action Plan provides four bases upon which the TIP Task Force will execute its duties – prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership.
Williams explained that efforts will be made to distribute awareness booklets across the regions, conduct awareness sessions in high schools and with faith based organisations, and launch a school competition all aimed at sensitising the public of this inhumane scourge.
Additionally, the Task Force will seek to train more than 50 persons in identifying TIP victims. It will also lobby manufacturing business entities to print education messages on the labels of various consumer items.
On the matter of protection, TIP victims will continue to receive comprehensive psychosocial counselling and access to healthcare, legal guidance, shelter, job placement, among other services crucial for their reintegration into society.
Regarding prosecution, Williams said efforts will be made to train law enforcement officials, immigration officers, mines officers, Magistrates and attorneys on issues related to TIP.
This training will be done with the aim of increasing the number of arrests, charges and convictions of human traffickers by 300 per cent.
Williams said officers will continue to conduct research to determine areas that warrant special investigation and to increase surveillance on suspicious businesses and individuals.
Further, she noted that any approach that is not integrated is doomed to fail and therefore underscored the importance of the involvement of all stakeholders in the combat against this illicit trade.
Statistics show that in 2015, there was a 47 per cent increase and in 2016 there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of suspected cases in comparison to 2014.
According to the coordinator, the majority of the persons suspected to be TIP victims are from Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) and Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).
Meanwhile, Coordinator of the TIP Task Force Oliver Profitt outlined that the body will be divided into several sub-committees which will streamline the work for the national action plan.
There will be the training sub-committee to focus on training all individuals necessary, awareness subcommittee to focus generally on sensitising the public, protection and reintegration subcommittee focused on victims, the research subcommittee to focus on intelligence gathering and the action subcommittee to conduct investigation, surveillance, raids, and surprise inspections.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, in his remarks, lamented how trafficking in persons, and generally all illicit activities, are allowed to thrive and develop because of corrupt law enforcement officers and State officials.
“Crime and corruption is not a culture, it is a choice and a choice we must halt. People must not be stuck in a cycle of negativity and lose hope. We have to dream that this job must be done, halting trafficking, halting violence … and crime in all its ugly forms,” the Minister stated.
Further, he urged persons to speak out against this modern day slavery and encourage those with critical information to approach the authorities. He emphasised that silence in this regard cannot be condoned.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador Perry Holloway, whose host country has played an integral role in helping Guyana combat this crime, congratulated the country for its improved ranking in the US 2016 TIP Report which says the nation moving up from the Watchlist to Tier 2.
The 2016 Report noted that Guyana does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The report attributed this improvement in status to the country being able to convict a trafficker, on whom a three-year prison sentence was imposed. The convicted trafficker was also required to pay the victim restitution – the first time restitution has been ordered for a trafficking offender in Guyana.
Meanwhile, President David Granger in his presentation, expressed satisfaction with the strides made by his Administration thus far in intensifying the efforts against TIP.
Persons with information related to trafficking in persons’ cases can contact the Task Force hotline on 227-4083. The Task Force assured that all information provided is guaranteed to be treated with the highest level of confidentiality. (Devina Samaroo)