The ugly underbelly of T&T life has again exposed itself with arrests in cases allegedly involving the trafficking of Venezuelan women seeking refuge in this country.
If anyone was ever in doubt, it should now be crystal clear that Trinidad and Tobago has joined the human global business of human trafficking run by organised crime with sellers and buyers at the centre of a complex network supported by a range of professionals including lawyers, accountants, bankers, immigration personnel and police officers, among others. As the police put it, human trafficking is a lucrative, well-organised industry in T&T.
It runs counter to the general outpouring of public sympathy for Venezuelan refugees in this country that so many nationals are eagerly willing to exploit Venezuelan women, both as pimps and as clients. However, the reality is where there is a market, criminal networks thrive because the risks are not daunting enough to hold them back. Perpetrators see the opportunity for easy money with minimal risk and seize it with both hands. Easy, not only because there is a good chance of never getting caught but of being rewarded with public admiration for one’s financial success.
This week’s arrests, assuming they actually result in charges and successful convictions, is a spoke in the human trafficking free-for-all that has developed particularly around the easy prey of desperate Venezuelan women and children. Refugees who are illegal immigrants are among the most easily exploitable because their survival depends on staying silent to avoid deportation back to whatever terror from which they fled their homeland. They know that they do not have the protection of the State and therefore see no choice but to become complicit in their own exploitation. Theirs is the stark choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. This is why churches, rights organisations and other civil society groups rally to the protection of illegal immigrants when the State and its agencies have no useful response to the very real crisis of human trafficking on their soil.
However, the State must not assume that all the women being trafficked here are illegal immigrants. Many could be living at the mercy of traffickers who have seized their passports and other identity and work documents with the demand that they work out “debts” in the form of sex services.
If we accept this to be plausible then the onus is on the State to create avenues for women to safely reach out for help. A well-publicised dedicated hotline for victims of this scourge might attract not only those seeking rescue but members of the public who have evidence or reason to suspect that someone is being trafficked. Needless to say, it imbues no confidence in the Police Service when police officers are arrested in relation to human trafficking crimes.
The other issue raised by these arrests is the effectiveness of the registration exercise conducted by the Ministry of National Security. If the victims landed here after the registration period then we have to assume that the border protection measures are not working and that the calculations based on that exercise no longer hold.