The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in identifying both sex and labor trafficking victims and referring them to services. However, concerns remained on the thoroughness of their application, especially with vulnerable populations such as undocumented migrants and stateless children. The TIP Committee funded and trained member agencies and ministries in their roles in identifying and protecting victims and making referrals. During the reporting period, the government reported screening 965 vulnerable individuals, including 151 Haitians in addition to individuals from Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Venezuela, and identified five victims of trafficking, an increase compared with two victims identified out of 28 individuals screened in 2018. All identified victims were adult females, two from Jamaica, two from The Bahamas, and one from Venezuela. The TIP committee referred a total of six victims, including a victim from a prior year, for government assistance for food, clothing, payment of utilities, stipend, living accommodations, appliances, furniture, employment, shelter, and medical care. The government initially implemented a universal policy of providing emergency humanitarian assistance and social services to all after Hurricane Dorian, regardless of immigration status, including access to schooling for displaced children. The government did not report the results of screening eight minors of Haitian descent for trafficking. The government reported that there were no referrals from non-governmental or faith-based organizations during the reporting period, a change from the past during a time when many individuals were referred by civil society. Although the government reported it has a formal process to guide officials in transferring victims to institutions that provide short- or long-term care, experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants, and continued reports of abuse of migrants by officials and widespread bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, are causes of concern. Foreign victims all chose to return home after short-term assistance by the government. Reports of inconsistent training of staff in screening for trafficking, and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages indicated that authorities did not screen all potential trafficking victims, consequently penalizing vulnerable individuals.
The government reported decreasing spending on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities to 95,000 Bahamian dollars ($95,000), compared to 125,710 Bahamian dollars ($125,710) in 2018. The government also provided 69,509 Bahamian dollars ($69,509) to four NGOs that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups, compared to 240,000 Bahamian dollars ($240,000) in 2018 and 2017; both decreases were due to emergency costs incurred by the destruction of Hurricane Dorian. Authorities continued to encourage identified trafficking victims to assist in prosecutions by providing them with lodging, food, a stipend, clothing, medical assistance and psychological counseling, immigration relief, legal and transportation assistance, support during court proceedings, and witness protection, including a constant presence of police or Royal Bahamas Defense Force as escort or protection outside shelters. The government did not provide a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims, and authorities continued to place victims in NGO-managed shelters shared with domestic violence victims. The government sent a victim care officer to work full-time with TIP Committee leadership during the reporting year, although it did not report whether this officer worked with shelter staff or whether shelter staff were trained in trauma-informed practices. Initially, the TIP Committee provided short-term lodging and, later, long-term lodging. Victims could choose to reside independently elsewhere, although the government did not report providing lodging assistance in such cases. Government assistance was not contingent upon cooperation by victims, and the Department of Immigration (DOI) could provide a certificate allowing the holder to remain in country and to work. While there were no certificates issued during the reporting year, the DOI did provide extensions to victims enabling them to remain in The Bahamas during investigative stages of trafficking cases. Three Jamaican victims identified during the reporting period voluntarily participated in investigations, and a foreign victim identified in 2018 provided evidence in an ongoing trial during the current reporting period. Bahamian law permitted victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements to be included as evidence. The anti-trafficking act authorized the court to order convicted defendants to pay restitution to victims; no court has requested this since 2015, at which time it was denied.