The government is in the process of publishing a comprehensive action plan with a view to ensure that the fight against human trafficking as well as victim identification and support can be conducted in a more efficient and effective manner.

A US report issued last week said Malta did not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

For the second consecutive year, Malta was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List. Countries in this category either have a large number of victims or else there was no evidence of the anti-trafficking work such countries carried out.

The report said: “Malta is a source and destination country for European women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Malta is likely a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour, including in restaurants, private households and in unskilled or semi-skilled labour.”

It insisted irregular African migrants might be prone to human trafficking in the country’s informal labour market and that the government of Malta did not fully comply with the minimum standards set to eliminate trafficking. However, it added, it was making significant efforts to do so.

Jesuit Refugee Service Malta assistant director Katrine Camilleri said while JRS agreed with the report’s conclusion that more had to be done to ensure that victims received the support and protection they required, it also acknowledged that progress has been made.

“The Office of the Refugee Commissioner, in particular, has shown great sensitivity to the protection needs of victims of trafficking,” she said, adding that training organised for governmental and non-governmental actors in recent weeks should help to build networks and strengthen capacity to identify victims of trafficking and provide services.

However, she said that “although it is positive that action is being taken at ministerial level through the establishment of a trafficking coordinator and a monitoring board, we believe that in this area, perhaps more than any other, there is a great need for a coordinated strategy and clear operating procedures that include both governmental and non-governmental actors.

“These should be drawn up in close collaboration with organisations and individual who are working on the ground because it is the only way to ensure that key issues and obstacles are effectively addressed.”

Reacting to the US report, the Ministry for Justice said that although the government did not believe there was widespread human trafficking activity on the island, “its approach to this problem has by no means been complacent.”

The government said the action plan would provide for work in all spheres of the fight against human trafficking, including the prevention of human trafficking, the prosecution of offenders and the protection of victims.

The report said the Maltese government demonstrated minimal progress in its efforts to prosecute and punish trafficking in people offenders during the reporting period.

“Article 248A-E of Malta’s Criminal Code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes punishments of two to nine years’ imprisonment.” Describing these penalties as “sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape”, it added, however, that the government did not begin any trafficking investigations this year.

The report said that the government convicted one sex trafficking offender during the reporting period but the convicted offender was not jailed. Instead, the court handed down a two-year suspended sentence and a fine.

“The government did not have a formal referral mechanism with which to identify victims of trafficking and ensure their care,” it noted.

The report also referred to anecdotal reports that a Nigerian migrant was deported in 2010 after informing the police she was a victim of trafficking.

Also, in July 2010, a Somali woman “who was a possible victim of trafficking”, received a six-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of making a false declaration to immigration officials and being in possession of false documentation.

The report said there were anecdotal reports that Malta could be a transit country for African women subjected to sex trafficking in continental Europe.

The political officer at the US Embassy, Thomas Yeager said most of the material used to draft the report came from a combination of a review of media reports, conversations with NGOs, the embassy’s own investigation and conversations with victims who approach the embassy themselves.

The NGOs are not identifiable for protection purposes.

Dr Camilleri said JRS Malta had long expressed concern that there could be victims of trafficking among African migrants arriving in Malta by boat. “We expressed this concern as over the years we have been working with this population we came across a small number of cases where migrant women claimed to have been trafficked.

“In addition, there are reports that indicate that the Libya-Italy smuggling route was also used by traffickers to transport people, primarily women, into Europe,” she added.

The report noted that the government made some progress in advancing anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period by enhancing governmental anti-trafficking coordination.

Mr Yeager said the reporting period covered the span between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011.

The ministry confirmed that, earlier this year, the Prime Minister appointed Malta’s first anti-human trafficking coordinator and also a high-level monitoring committee, which included the major stakeholders in the sector.

A training programme for stakeholders in the sectors, including two NGOs, was also held last month. This was co-financed by the United States G-TIP Office and delivered by two experts from the International Office of Migration (Washington).

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