Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has reiterated St. Vincent and the Grenadines fervent commitment towards combating human trafficking in all its forms.
The Prime Minister’s comment comes in wake of the release of a report by Interpol, which stated that nearly 350 victims of human trafficking have been rescued by police in 13 Caribbean and Latin American countries.
The Interpol-coordinated Operation Libertad saved men, women and children trafficked abroad and forced into work. The co-ordinated raids were the result of a two-and-a-half year project funded by the Canadian government, which also trained specialist officers for the team.
Police throughout the Caribbean were involved in the operations that were directed from Barbados and supported by Interpol command centres in Lyon, France and Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which published a report on the Interpol operation on April 30, Tim Morris, Interpol’s executive director of police services, said that “bosses at a factory in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines stripped Asian trafficking victims of their passports and forced them into total dependence, taking all their money and means of transport from them.”
“To all intents and purposes, you enslave the person,” Mr. Morris said.
Speaking in Parliament this morning, Prime Minister Gonsalves said “this statement was so highly overblown to the state of inaccuracy.”
Dr. Gonsalves explained that St. Vincent and the Grenadines participated in operation Libertad, during which a local business entity suspected of being involved in human trafficking, was targeted.
He said three persons were detained along with cash, cellphones, laptops and other items. They were interviewed by law enforcement officers and were later released pending further investigations.
However, Dr. Gonsalves explained that the Anti Trafficking in Persons Unit having interviewed the potential victims/workers and the owner of the business, made certain conclusions, that up to that point in their investigation, that the elements that are necessary to determine a case of human trafficking were not present though the investigation continues.
He said the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) which as part of the operation had seized the cash amounting to just over US$11,000, returned the cash to the business owner after conducting their due diligence check and being satisfied that the money was derived from legitimate sources and means.
The cellular phones and laptops were analyzed by professionals in Information Communication (IT) Department and thus far no materials of a criminal nature were discovered on those items.
According to the Prime Minister the participating countries agreed to update Interpol on the successes or failures of how the operation went. It was also decided that at the end of the operation, individual countries if they so wished could have published a general release and Interpol would have issued a general release about the operation.
He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines did not issue any press release in this regard and neither were authorities here informed that this country’s name would be mentioned in any release.
Prime Minister Gonsalves noted that “the Interpol Press release…is over extended by this particular individual (that is, Mr. Tim Morris) and overblown, and in some way…magnified and placed on St. Vincent and the Grenadines an unnecessary spotlight and created the impression that this country has a human trafficking problem which we are not addressing.”