Barbados: migrant exploitation and human trafficking

Regina Selman
  There is definite labour exploitation of migrants in Barbados, especially in the following sector: construction and garment industries, prostitution and domestic servitude.
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Research from an Exploratory Assessment of Trafficking in Persons in the Caribbean Region, conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), suggests that there is definite labour exploitation of migrants in Barbados, especially in the construction and garment industries where persons are subjected to low wages and false contracts. The research also suggests that there is exploitation of commercial sex workers involved in prostitution, exotic dancing, massages, and other related activities and there is domestic servitude here as well.

IOM is the principal international, intergovernmental and humanitarian body charged with migration management and the body is seeking to create an awareness about human trafficking. The above key findings have come from key information interviews and the Report has been provided by the local Coalition to Raise Awareness on Trafficking in Persons in the Caribbean. The main findings from literature and statistical reviews and a National Survey suggests that Barbados is attractive as a destination country because of the high life quality compared to other Caribbean countries, and for that reason there is a possibility for human trafficking.

According to the Assessment, the desire for cheap labour by the private sector has been put forward as one of the factors fuelling the exploitation of migrant workers and human trafficking, and key informants suggest that this is the case in the construction, garment, agricultural, hospitality and household sectors. According to the document, the tourism industry has also fuelled the demand for the commercial sex industry, as has local demand and Internet advertisements for sex tourism.

The indications are that entry of irregular migrants and possibly trafficked persons is primarily through normal legal channels, particular by air travel. It is believed that most of the persons entering Barbados using forged passports are Guyanese, according to the Exploratory Assessment.

The Report points out that irregular migrants are often vulnerable to human trafficking, and persons of varying ages (18-50) fall into this category. Generally, they have basic schooling at primary and secondary levels, with some technical training, and those who have no formal training might have developed skills in their areas of work. Most victims are women, but with a construction boom taking place in Barbados in recent years, there had been an increase in the possibility of males being victims as well, the document points out.

The recruitment process, the Report suggests, usually takes the form of newspaper advertisements for promises of work in Barbados, for example in bakeries or as commercial sex workers. In other reported cases, recruitment is word of mouth through family members, neighbours, or friends. One person may be given a good experience, which is then used to lure others. The recruitment process for the male worker is reportedly similar to that of the female.

Threats to the individual, the withholding of travel documents (under the pretext that they are needed to apply for a work permit), debt bondage to repay the cost of travel and housing, violence, false contracts, lower wages, restricted movement and threats about possible deportation are methods used to control these individuals. The holding back of passports to make individuals work faster or complete a certain task within a specific time, and the returning of passports, only when it is time to leave the country are other methods. There are reports of physical, verbal and psychological abuse as means of control, especially in the case of commercial sex workers. The language differences are said to be used to control workers, as it is difficult to communicate with officials, if one does not understand the language.Regina Selman, The Barbados Advocate, 17.10.2005

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