ST. LUCIA has been identified as a transit and destination country for trafficking in human beings as well as a transit country for human smuggling.
This unenvious description was made by Inspector Troy Lamontagne, head of the National Central Bureau at an INTERPOLE sponsored project to combat human trafficking at the Bay Gardens Beach Resort this week.
Giving rise to this unattractive picture of the country are reports of sex workers being deported to their countries of origin, migrants from other countries entering St. Lucia to be smuggled to the USA, people debarking from cruise ships here to be smuggled to the USA, and other reports.
“These are not glamorous classifications to be associated with, especially if the country is not doing all that is legally feasible to fight the problem,” Lamontagne said.
The reports underline the seriousness of the problem in St. Lucia.
For instance, although enacting legislation criminalizing human trafficking and human smuggling, and instituting measures to implement the legislation, several investigations were initiated based on either intelligence obtained or complaints made by victims.
In 2014 a police operation led to the rescue of six Ukrainian and Russian Federation nationals who were employed as sex workers. The victims were uncooperative with law enforcement and were repatriated to their home countries.
Lamontagne said several other investigations and operations took place over the past two years, the most notably being the Lambirds Academy investigation, which recently was partially resolved in the High Court, with the victims, several Nepalese nationals, being reimbursed with monies taken from them by the perpetrators.
“Human smuggling poses another problem as there is a serious risk of death on the open seas. Joint intelligence operations and investigations have been conducted and continue with the US, French, British and Dutch authorities as Cuban migrants travel to St. Lucia to be smuggled on go-fast boats, yachts and catamarans to the USA via St. Maaten and the BVI (British Virgin Islands),” Lamontagne said, adding that Dominicans disembark cruises for smuggling to the United States.
The Bureau, which manages INTERPOL affairs in St. Lucia and is seen as the face of INTERPOL here has been at the center of the intelligence operations Lamontagne spoke of, and works with partner nations and agencies to disrupt, and where possible, prosecute facilitators of human smuggling activities.
Some of the methods used by the perpetrators of this US$2 billion industry which affects 21 million people in some form, according to the International Labour Organization, involves but are not limited to exploitation, the buying and selling of women, girls, boys, men and the buying and selling of women and children into the sex slave trade.
Assistant Police Commissioner Masharma Sealy underscored and lamented that not enough cases of human trafficking and human smuggling are successfully prosecuted in a court of law.
“Although laws have been passed in the United Nations on drugs and crime, 2011 found there is no consistency to implement measures with proper budgets, and despite statistics very few cases make it to the court and when cases do make it to the courts very few are successfully prosecuted,” she said.
Sealy claims that a study by the International Organization for Migration showed that St. Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Guyana and Suriname have links to trafficking in children, which is fueled by poverty, gender based violence and aspirations and hope for a better life.
“There is still the need to enact or amend legislation, expand victim assistance and prevention programmes in order to minimize underlying factors that put persons at risk for trafficking,” Sealy said.