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Southern Division Task Force officers PC Baker, left, and PC Lancaster pick up three undocumented Venezuelans who were walking along Cuchawan Trace, Debe yesterday.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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A report conducted by human trafficking researcher Dr Justine Pierre suggests as many as 17,136 women from five regions in Venezuela went missing and were possibly trafficked in 2019 and may have been victims of an elaborate ring. Hundreds of them ended up in Trinidad and Tobago.

Some of the victims are teenagers who were kidnapped from areas including Tucupita, Delta Amacuro, Pedernales, Casacoima and Antonia Diaz, the study by Pierre has revealed.

In an interview with Guardian Media, Pierre said boat operators who bring the women to T&T keep excellent records and the statistics were also compiled based on interviews with relatives of missing persons, victims, traffickers and data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadística in Venezuela.

Calling for the exposure of traffickers and public awareness to end the scourge, Pierre said his research showed that the epicentres of human trafficking in the region were Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and T&T.

Because of its socio-economic crisis, Venezuela has emerged as the greatest supplier of trafficking victims to T&T, Canada and the United States, Pierre added.

“Interviews conducted with traffickers revealed that the local population in Trinidad seemed to prefer women from Venezuela who were younger and were of a lighter complexion. These women attracted a higher premium and financial return. Our research showed that many women are sold as sex slaves, first, to criminal elements in T&T, due to the high demand, and then to criminal elements in other countries,” Pierre said.

Over the past eight years, trafficking has increased tremendously from Delta Amacuro and Tucupita.

In his 2019 study on human trafficking, Pierre revealed that between 80,000 and 120,000 persons are trafficked or smuggled through the Caribbean annually. He explained in Tucupita, a total of 932 were missing or were trafficked in 2011 but by 2019, this rose to 7,250. In the Delta Amacuro area, 1,042 people were missing in 2011 but by 2019 it was 8,568.

Pierre said more needed to be done to crackdown on human trafficking. This included profiling human traffickers and educating the population about the human trafficking ring. Those who buy into prostitution or any part of the sex trade should be aware of the impact of exploitation, he said.

His recommendations come even as the T&T Police Service yesterday said 33 more Venezuelans were detained in the South-Western and Tobago Divisions during anti-crime exercises.

In Erin, South-Western Task Force officers went to Ayres Road, Los Iros beach, where they saw people disembarking a vessel. Some 15 Venezuelans were detained and taken to the Siparia Health Facility where they were medically examined and later taken to the Chaguaramas Heliport for a 14-day quarantine.

In Tobago, officers from the Crown Point Police Station, Criminal Investigation Department and Immigration Department went to guest houses at Gaskin Bay Road and Alfred Crescent in Bon Accord, where 18 illegal Venezuelans were detained. They were taken to the Crown Point Police Station to be processed by the Immigration department. The Tobago exercise was coordinated by Snr Supt Sterling Roberts, spearheaded by Insp Campbell and supervised by W/SGT Sterling.

Last month, National Security Minister Stuart Young said the criminal offence of human trafficking is to be widened to include local citizens transporting and harbouring illegal aliens.

In February, a police officer was also among three held for trafficking and a police source said more than two dozen officers are now being investigated for links with the trafficking trade. Next month, drones and a new Police Coastal Unit will be launched to assist in cracking down on the trade.