Malta is urged to “vigorously investigate and prosecute” human trafficking offences and pursue “adequate” sentencing for the culprits as a US report again finds the island failing to take the necessary action to fight the crime.

According to the report by the US State Department, Malta failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking for the sixth consecutive year.

It acknowledges, however, that the Maltese government had increased its efforts and managed to identify more victims and provide them with shelter and services while funding training for police recruits and officers, border agents and diplomats.

Yet, as was the case since 2012, the government failed to secure any trafficking convictions, the yearly Trafficking in Persons Report points out.

It notes that the island remained a source and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and a destination for forced labour victims.

The report ranks governments on the basis of their perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking, categorising countries between a first and third tier.

With the exception of Malta and some Eastern European states, the other EU countries have been ranked in the top tier as governments comply with the US’s Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.

Malta features in the second tier, with countries whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but are making significant efforts to do so.

The findings are based on information from US embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organisations, reports, news articles, academic studies and research trips. It covers the period between April 2016 and this March.

Recommendations in the report include increasing efforts and training personnel to pro-actively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable migrant populations, particularly workers, child trafficking victims and women in prostitution.

Increased funding for short- and long-term shelter and assistance is also being suggested.

According to the report, the police in Malta identified 35 foreign trafficking victims, including 32 Filipino labour trafficking victims in a single case involving a cleaning company (18 males and 14 females), two female domestic servitude victims and one female sex trafficking victim.

Only two victims had been identified in the previous reporting period.

There were no reports that victims had been punished by the government for committing un-lawful acts as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking.

In recent years, however, some minors who could have been unidentified sex trafficking victims were convicted by the courts in connection with prostitution charges.

Also, migrants who entered the country illegally, including some who could have been trafficking victims, were routinely held in detention centres, the report notes, adding that, in December of 2015, the government issued new guidelines limiting the circumstances under which irregular migrants could be detained.

It notes that the implementation of the new procedures remained pending at the close of the reporting period.

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