Recurring issues with rule of law, corruption and slow court proceedings are hindering Malta’s fight against human trafficking, according to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report published on Friday.
This detailed report looks into human trafficking across the globe and provides a detailed insight into the issues that lead to failures in curbing the abuse.
Malta remains listed as Tier 2, meaning that Malta is failing to meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards.
It states the authorities in Malta have managed to increase victim care funding, public awareness campaigns and convictions, which included significant prison sentences.
Yet, the report also stresses that the government “decreased both investigations and prosecutions, identified and referred fewer victims, continued to lack coordination among ministries and did not effectively enforce labour recruitment regulations or control massage parlours where vulnerability to trafficking was high”.
Prolonged court proceedings and lack of court judgements are contributing to impunity and inhibited justice for victims, the report states.
The police vice squad also continued the investigation of five cases involving eight suspects ongoing from prior years. This compared with 10 investigations in 2018.
The government did not prosecute any suspected traffickers in 2019, compared with 10 prosecutions in 2018. Twenty suspects mentioned in previous reports who were released on bail had cases that were still ongoing.
The majority of trafficking victims were from the Philippines, but there were also victims from Bangladesh, Colombia, The Gambia and India. Migrants remain most vulnerable to trafficking but the report does mention that the government, thanks to cooperation with NGOs, continued to provide trafficking education sessions and screen for victims of trafficking.
The approximately 5,000 irregular 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.
Fraudulent labour remains a huge problem in Malta. The report mentions several occasions where traffickers would replace the original contract with a less favourable one upon arrival, or force victims to perform a different job than what was agreed.
NGOs also reported a lack of oversight and regulation on the licensing for massage parlours – places of high concern for sex trafficking.
An investigation by The Shift had found out that Malta’s weak monitoring and enforcement of human trafficking created an illegal, and yet completely public, sex industry. Over the past decade, Malta has seen a drastic increase in massage parlours with a high concentration of them in St Julians, Sliema, Naxxar and Paola.
Labour trafficking victims mostly originate from China, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, with increasing numbers from the Philippines.
Women from Southeast Asia working as domestic workers, Chinese nationals working in massage parlours, and women from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine working in nightclubs represent populations vulnerable to trafficking.
The report states that Maltese nationals work with foreigners in exploiting trafficking victims in various industries. On most occasions, the traffickers would confiscate passports of their victims upon arrival.
The government did not have a national action plan on human trafficking but it did draft one for 2020-2023. It had also established an anti-trafficking stakeholder task force but it did not report any efforts undertaken.
Authorities and NGOs have once again reported the lack of effective interagency coordination on trafficking issues. The government also reduced its anti-trafficking training budget from €20,000 in 2018 to €16,000 in 2019.
The report is calling on the government of Malta to increase its efforts to convict traffickers and improve the coordination efforts among ministries to effectively implement a finalised and funded national action plan.
It also suggests the increase in protection for migrant workers and the need to implement strong regulations of recruitment companies with particular reference to massage parlours and the need to implement better licence control.