According to the BBC, nearly 350 men, women, and children have been rescued by police in 13 Caribbean and South American countries. The human trafficking victims were freed by an Interpol-orchestrated bust named Operation Libertad, which put an end to their forced labor in places like nightclubs, factories, mines, farms, and markets. Some of these workspaces were “no bigger than coffins,” said Interpol’s Cem Kolcu.
These raids have been in motion for over two years now, and have been financed by the Canadian government which trained the officers involved. 22 people were arrested, with cash, phones and computers being seized. While these raids were managed from Barbados, Interpol centers in Lyon, France, and Buenos Aires, Argentina supported the teams on the ground. Police in Aruba, Guyana, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Brazil, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela were involved.
Interpol’s executive director of police services, Tim Morris, said what they found in Guyana was “particularly horrific,” as young women had been forced into prostitution near gold mines.
“Isolated locations make it difficult for officers to avoid detection,” said Diana O’Brien, Guyana’s assistant director of public prosecutions. O’Brien added that investigators are often too late, with traffickers moving their victims before police can infiltrate a trafficking ring.
In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, traffickers confiscated passports and money from their victims, essentially making them dependent on the labor. “To all intents and purposes, you enslave the person,” said Morris. “Some people don’t acknowledge they are being exploited.”
Thankfully, NGOs and social services helped victims talk through their experiences after the raids. “We don’t just leave them be,” said Morris. “[Victims] get the proper social support they need.”
As for what will happen to them now that they’ve been liberated, local authorities have to decide on whether or not to send people home or merely release them from trafficking victim facilities. “It all depends on the particular person’s circumstances,” said Morris. “And often on the country’s resources.”
“It’s such a widespread crime,” said Morris, adding that his task force will work “indefinitely” to stop traffickers. “We want to make a meaningful impact, and raise the profile of this crime.”
Fortunately, people like Morris and O’Brien are dedicated to ending this despicable practice, with hundreds of men, women, and children who were enslaved just a few days ago now being free for the first time in years.