By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOR the sixth year in a row, The Bahamas has maintained its Tier 1 ranking from the US State Department for its compliance in helping to eliminate human trafficking.
Announcing the news during a press conference yesterday, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames commended the government and its partners for anti-trafficking strategies to protect trafficking victims and convict human traffickers.
He added: "As you know, as each year passes, it certainly gets more and more challenging because it means then the expectations are greater, and people expect more but this committee continues to rise to the challenge.
"The Bahamas' success is due to the readiness and cooperation of all partners gathered here today, our government and non-government partners alike and I want to thank all of you for your commitment and hard work."
Tier 1 is the highest ranking possible according to the US State Department.
The prestigious title is given to countries "whose governments strengthen anti-trafficking measures by enabling members of the TIP committee to lead within their respective agencies and organisations."
Mr Dames said despite the challenges experienced by Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic, "the work of TIP did not stop."
He added: "In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian's landfall in The Bahamas during September last year, while a number of inter-island awareness raising activities were postponed, the work of TIP did not stop.
"Specifically, the investigative teams from TIP task force seized the opportunity to screen 151 migrant nationals from Abaco to eliminate the existence of the possibility of trafficking in persons."
He continued: … (And) given the current climate of COVID-19, the TIP committee has had four meetings virtually and their work continues."
Also speaking during yesterday's press conference was Eucal Bonamy, a representative from the Public Prosecutions Department, who identified Jamaicans, Venezuelans and Colombians as common trafficking victims found in the country.
"Most of our traffickers have been foreigners as well," he said. "From Jamaica, (we have had cases of) traffickers and the victims. We had a case from Venezuela, where the victim is a Venezuelan and the trafficker is from Dominican Republic. So, most of the victims and traffickers are non-Bahamians."
Mr Bonamy said victims were being lured into the country with false promises about new working opportunities.
He told reporters yesterday: "They are being told that you're coming either as a caretaker or taking care of a baby or some elderly person or work in a restaurant as a barmaid. And when they come here, (they're told) 'well you're not going to be doing any of those work and here's what you're going to do, you're going to be prostituting.'"
Asked yesterday if officials are seeing an increase or decrease of reported cases, Mr Bonamy replied: "We haven't had a large amount with any reporting period. Sometimes, we may have one or two (cases) and I think that has a lot to do with our effort."
He also said officials are currently dealing two active matters. He said: "Currently, we have two matters in the middle of prosecution. I'm talking about recent matters within the reporting period. One of those matters came to our attention during the last reporting period but the individual was actually arrested during this reporting period.
"That matter is presently at a stage where the prosecution has closed its case and because of the current COVID situation, we were not able to complete that matter. We're looking to complete that matter very soon."
He continued: "There's another matter pending involving three victims and that matter is currently before the Magistrate's Court. That matter hasn't started as yet…. So as soon as were able to get those matters started, we should be able to bring it to some conclusion."
Reaffirming the government's commitment to its mandate to convict and appropriately punish human traffickers, Mr Dames noted an increase in overall prevention efforts.
He said: "I am pleased to report that there were increased efforts to prosecute and convict and increase awareness raising through the distribution of translated brochures into four languages: Spanish, Mandarin, Creole and French.
"TIP has also embraced new initiatives for this new reporting period, mainly focus on greater inter island educational campaigns and the training judiciary that is well underway through webinars ... We remain committed through our collaborative efforts of the government and non-government entities of eliminating vulnerable situation that cause trafficking in persons to continue. This is our mandate."