The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 24 potential victims in 2019—all foreign nationals—compared to 17 potential victims in 2018 and 17 potential victims in 2017. Seventeen of the 24 victims, including one child, were exploited in labor trafficking, while the remaining seven, four of whom were children, were identified as victims of sex trafficking. While a majority of victims were Central American, there were also five victims of Indian nationality and one Mexican victim. The government employed a procedure to screen for potential victims among vulnerable groups, such as individuals in commercial sex and migrants, but also worked to draft an updated procedure. Observers reported more consistency in victim identification but stated gaps still existed, such as authorities who rarely took action in response to credible reports of potential trafficking victims by NGOs, possibly leading to fewer victim identifications and weak victim protection. Although Belize’s anti-trafficking law exempted victims from punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, gaps in identification procedures may have left mis- or unidentified victims vulnerable to punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Observers reported otherwise-improved adherence to this policy, with anecdotally fewer instances of authorities arresting or jailing victims due to immigration violations during raids. During the reporting period, the anti-trafficking council collaborated with an international organization to draft a victim identification and assistance protocol specific to migrant children. The national anti-trafficking council ensured social workers accompanied the anti-trafficking police unit on operations and raids conducted by the council’s operations subcommittee to screen, identify, and assist victims. However, social workers were not routinely present when other law enforcement units conducted operations and raids on commercial sex establishments. Victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers.
The government reported providing services to all 24 potential victims, including food, clothing, medical care, and housing. The Department of Human Services referred two of the 24 victims to an NGO-run shelter at the government’s expense. The government coordinated and funded shelter, medical care, and psychological services to adult victims through the Alternative Care Unit and to child victims through the Child Protection System and foster care. The government trained and partnered with domestic violence NGOs to provide shelter and services to adult female trafficking victims. There were no shelters accessible to male victims; instead, the government arranged to rent lodging for any male victims identified. Service providers developed victim care plans with victim participation with the goal of encouraging independence, and these plans included presenting adult victims with the option of staying in shelters, safe houses, or independent living and placing minors in the child protection system or in kinship care and independent living upon reaching adulthood.
Government social workers monitored foster care placements for child victims and developed individual case plans for each child, which included a home study to determine if placement was in the best interest of the child. The government noted the support offered by foster families empowered victims and led to the country’s first trafficking conviction under the new law, in 2016. Experts expressed concerns about the lack of education about trafficking for some foster parents, uneven coordination and communication between government agencies and foster parents, and limited availability of psycho-social care in general, including for trafficking victims. As in the previous year, the government allocated 200,000 Belizean dollars ($100,000) to anti-trafficking efforts, some of which it dedicated to victim services. In total, the government dedicated 109,000 Belizean dollars ($54,500) to victim services in 2019, which included food, clothing, medical expenses, counseling, stipends, and repatriation expenses.
Victims had the right to testify remotely by video feed; because the courts lacked video testimony capabilities, victim-witnesses were instead given the option to testify in court behind an opaque screen. The government allowed foreign national victims to submit written testimony after returning to their home countries. In past years, the government conducted risk assessments to determine the safety of victims participating in trials against their traffickers, but did not report doing so in 2019. Court delays affecting the justice system as a whole and fear of retaliation by traffickers may have led foreign national victims to decline or withdraw cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries. Per government policy, foreign victims identified in potential trafficking cases could be granted temporary residency status regardless of their cooperation with investigations or prosecutions; the government assigned a social worker to assist all 19 foreign national victims in obtaining immigration relief, housing, and medical services. The government reported repatriating seven victims in 2019; at least one of these repatriations was facilitated by an international organization. The government issued no-cost residency permits to three victims. Victims could apply for work permits free of cost, and the government received one such application in 2019. Courts could order victim restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction but did not do so in 2019.