Malta has still not secured any human trafficking convictions since 2012 and is, yet again, being urged to “vigorously investigate and prosecute” offences.

The yearly Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department found, for the seventh consecutive year, that Malta failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

However, Malta was commended for its significant efforts. The government demonstrated increased efforts compared to the previous reporting period, according to the report.

Among others, the government provided more training to law enforcement personnel, increased shelter capacity, and allocated more funding to counter trafficking.

Still, Malta had not secured any trafficking convictions since 2012, lacked coordination among ministries, which might have delayed the issuance of residency and work permits, and did not conduct any awareness campaigns during the reporting period.

Read: The human trafficking jigsaw puzzle

The US State Department called on Malta to expeditiously investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, and pursue adequate sentencing for convicted trafficking offenders.

Malta was also urged to improve coordination efforts among ministries to provide the timely receipt of residency and work permits for victims, reduce turnover in police anti-trafficking roles and increase collaboration between police and other stakeholders during investigations.

It was encouraged to increase efforts and training of staff and officials to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable immigrant populations - particularly migrant workers and women in prostitution.

Its list of recommendations includes the provision of an adequate availability of interpreters for victims.

Who are the victims?

As reported over the past five years, Malta remains a source and destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and a destination for women and men subjected to labour trafficking, according to the TIP report, which adds that women and children from Malta have also been subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

Forced labour victims originate from China, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Women from Southeast Asia working as domestic workers, Chinese nationals working in massage parlours, foreign male soccer players, and women from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine working in nightclubs represent populations vulnerable to exploitation.

The approximately 5,000 migrants from African countries residing in Malta are vulnerable to trafficking in the country’s informal labour market, including within the construction, hospitality, and domestic sectors.

The government reacts

Acknowledging that more needed to be done, the government welcomed the observation that Malta had continued to increase its efforts.

In a statement, the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms said that last year the government increased its investment in fighting human trafficking, especially with the setting up of the Victims Support Unit to provide various professional services to victims, and an increased number of temporary shelters.

The secretariat was committed to strengthening the fight by establishing the first national strategy against human trafficking.

The strategy will aim to consolidate the work of different public entities against human trafficking as well as increase awareness at national level on this criminal act.

Talks are also underway with the UK to reinforce the collaboration between the two countries, particularly through the provision of intensive training to public officials on the identification of victims of human trafficking.