Captive ‘congregation’

 

“This is like a hor­ror movie,” said a fam­i­ly mem­ber whose rel­a­tive was among 69 peo­ple dis­cov­ered locked in cages at the Trans­formed Life Min­istry Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre in on the East­ern Main Road, Arou­ca, yes­ter­day morn­ing dur­ing a raid by po­lice.

“I nev­er knew all this was hap­pen­ing here. I am lost for words. This is worse than bad treat­ment of an­i­mals. Had I known I would have done things dif­fer­ent­ly but I could not deal with my rel­a­tive who is men­tal­ly ill.”

Of the 69 peo­ple res­cued, 65 were men and four were women. Some were hand­cuffed. They were all be­tween the ages of 19 and 70 years old.

Six peo­ple were de­tained at the church, in­clud­ing the pas­tor.

They were be­lieved to be vic­tims of “mod­ern-day slav­ery” and “hu­man traf­fick­ing” ac­cord­ing to Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith who spoke to the Guardian Me­dia’s lead in­ves­tiga­tive ed­i­tor Mark Bas­sant on Wednes­day just out­side the cen­tre.

How­ev­er, Guardian Me­dia was told by of­fi­cials from the Min­istry of Health and Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices that the case is more of “false im­pris­on­ment” and “mal­treat­ment” giv­en the con­di­tions that they were housed in, such as locked cages re­sem­bling prison cells.

We were told that fam­i­ly mem­bers paid from $2,000 to $5,000 and more for their loved ones to be housed at the cen­tre.

An­oth­er per­son, whose friend was at the fa­cil­i­ty be­cause of drug ad­dic­tion, de­scribed a vis­it as “sus­pi­cious” and “un­com­fort­able. We weren’t al­lowed to car­ry in cell­phones and any oth­er elec­tron­ic items. It was one way in and then in­to a room where we were made to wait at a long ta­ble.

“When my friend came we did not have the pri­va­cy to talk freely. We could not go out­side on a bench. We were made to sit there and every time a ques­tion was asked, my friend just said that he was okay and every­thing is okay.

“All the time the work­ers would be at earshot and would come and keep ask­ing if every­thing is okay. It felt as though we would go to a prison to vis­it. There were cam­eras mon­i­tor­ing us too. So now I know they were hid­ing things from us,” he said.

A rel­a­tive, who could not hold back the tears, said she now un­der­stands why she was turned away many times.

“Every time I go they would tell me my rel­a­tive is un­avail­able or sleep­ing or be­ing giv­en his med­ica­tion or some sort of ex­cuse.”

A work­er at the fa­cil­i­ty said she was very fright­ened and claimed staffed was con­tin­u­ous­ly warned and threat­ened not to talk about the op­er­a­tions.

“Maybe we thought or we were made to think that it was the right thing that was be­ing done that it was for our safe­ty. Maybe we were brain­washed. We were warned and threat­ened over and over and re­mind­ed of the con­fi­den­tial­i­ty. I’m scared for my life now. I can’t say any more.”

The sting op­er­a­tion com­menced around 12.15 am on Wednes­day.

Ac­cord­ing to the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice (TTPS), search war­rants were is­sued un­der Sec­tion 13 Chap. 12:10 of the Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Act, af­ter a pe­ri­od of mon­i­tor­ing and in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Some have been de­fend­ing the op­er­a­tions at the church, with one woman in­sist­ing it was a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion home for peo­ple who want to come out of drug ad­dic­tion.

Grif­fith said he was told by se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers that re­ports were made about the or­gan­i­sa­tion a few months ago. It was al­leged that they were aware of false im­pris­on­ment.

“We have cracked what we be­lieve is the biggest hu­man traf­fick­ing ring in the coun­try. Some of them said they have been here for years. This is a much big­ger pic­ture and we have to in­ves­ti­gate each case. This re­lates to vir­tu­al slav­ery with what we have seen here. Some of them say they have been tor­tured. It is such a big­ger pic­ture with prof­it be­ing made out of this.” Grif­fith said.

He de­scribed the scene as bar­bar­ic.

“We saw tasers and ba­tons… and again this is a sit­u­a­tion of vir­tu­al mod­ern-day slav­ery,” he said.

Psy­chi­a­trist Dr Var­ma Deyals­ingh de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as a very dis­turb­ing state of af­fairs.

“This has a lot of us in the psy­chi­atric com­mu­ni­ty very up­set be­cause to­day is ac­tu­al­ly World Men­tal Health Day. For this news to come out that the mal­treat­ment of the men­tal­ly-ill per­sons in any sort of con­di­tions that are in­hu­mane and vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights leaves a lot to be said to our treat­ment of the men­tal­ly ill in our so­ci­ety,” he said.

Deyals­ingh didn’t think it was a case of hu­man traf­fick­ing.

He ex­plained: “Most of those per­sons are drug ad­dicts who are men­tal­ly ill and their fam­i­ly is un­able to cope.”

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Story by: RHONDOR DOWLAT-ROSTANT

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