Close to 350 potential victims of sexual exploitation and forced labour have been rescued in an Interpol-coordinated operation targeting human trafficking in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
According to an international news report, more than 500 police officers in 13 countries also arrested 22 individuals during Operation Libertad (April 3 to 9), held under the Interpol Project to Combat Human Trafficking in the Caribbean.
Participating countries included: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Curacao, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, T&T, Turks and Caicos Islands and Venezuela. A local Interpol police officer in T&T told Guardian Media on Monday that whenever they are called upon to assist they do so.
“It’s what we do and projects like this are nothing new to us. We have human trafficking issues here which have grown bigger in recent times. It’s a problem even the Minister of National Security has admitted too.”
The Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC) in Barbados hosted the operational co-ordination centre, with specialist officers from Interpol’s Trafficking in Human Beings unit deployed to the region.
Support was provided by the centres in Lyon, France and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Interpol executive director of police services Tim Morris said: “Operations like this show the power of Interpol providing a platform for the 13 participating countries, but what sits behind these numbers is the human story.
“Whether it is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter, there is an intensely personal story that is usually—unfortunately—accompanied by a lot of suffering,” he added.
According to a release from Interpol, both men and women, including minors, were discovered working in nightclubs, farms, mines, factories and open-air markets.
In Guyana, young women were found working as prostitutes next to extremely remote gold mines, from which they could not escape.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, Asian ‘employees’ at a factory had been stripped of their passports and made to be completely dependent. Having never received wages, they relied on their handlers for housing, transport, food and the most basic necessities.
The operation was the culmination of a two-and-a-half year project funded by the Government of Canada.