A terrified woman yesterday managed to escape from a shop owner who was holding her against her will in Region Seven, where she will have to remain at least until tomorrow because police are unable to make attempts to extract her before them.
This situation, according to Head of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) Simona Broomes, is a clear indication that the system in place to deal with Trafficking in Persons (TIP) cases is failing victims.
“I am embarrassed to know that there is no system to respond immediately. We didn’t have to get a helicopter or plane to touch down there. We can drive in and drive out back,” Broomes told Stabroek News, while noting that if the woman had been in an isolated area, then access might have been difficult.
Broomes was contacted by the crying woman, who is 28, after her escape from the shop owner to a nearby camp. She did not disclose the location because the woman has not yet been rescued but she pointed out that while it is in Region Seven, it can be accessed from Region Ten.
Stabroek News managed to make contact with the woman, who said she was at a camp waiting for the police because she does not have the money needed to travel to Linden from the area.
She explained that she had agreed to go into the interior location after the woman approached her and explained that she had a shop there and needed two girls to do washing and cooking. Needing the money, she decided to take the job and although the woman did not tell her what her salary would have been, she was promised that she would be paid.
The woman said that when she arrived at the location, she was shocked to find that it was way different to what was described to her. Yesterday was the fourth day she was at the location and she explained that for two days she was given no food. On the third day, she said, the woman finished lunch at 1 pm and when she raised that the woman started to verbally abuse her.
She said that she was not provided with water to bathe and the sleeping conditions were very poor. She said that the woman had money for her and also held all her valuables so that she could not leave. She still decided to leave.
The shop owner subsequently sent a man looking for her and he found her at the camp she was staying at yesterday. However, she sent him back with a message for the shop owner, indicating that she needed her belongings.
The woman was to remain at the camp at least for the night after Broomes spoke with the owner and she said her mind was a little at ease as she was around people. She added that the other girl who was hired also left the shop owner, managing to hitch a ride with a man whom she told she would pay when she arrived in Georgetown.
According to the woman, the decision she took is one that she regretted and she vowed that she would not be lured into the interior again.
Willing to help
Broomes told Stabroek News that she and the GWMO have been repeatedly accused of not allowing the system to work. As a result, even though the organisation was willing to collaborate and give assistance in this case, particularly since members know the area, Broomes made contact with the Ministry of Human Services’ TIP hotline number and reported over the relevant information, including the name of the area and the woman. She said that while she was on the TIP hotline, she called the telephone number for the shop owner so that the TIP official could hear the conversation. She said that she indicated to the shop owner that the woman called her and that she will give assistance and the shop owner grew very angry and insisted that she had to get back the money advanced to take the woman into the area.
Broomes said that the TIP official subsequently promised to make contact with her and when he didn’t, she called him. She said the official told her that he got onto the police at Linden and a female rank explained that she had to speak to her supervisor and would also try the TIP Task Force (Ministry of Home Affairs) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission for transportation assistance and get back to him. The rank did so and indicated that she spoke with her commander and was told that all of the ranks were in Georgetown and as a result nothing could be done until Monday.
Broomes lamented the situation, noting that a woman called to be rescued but there is was nothing in place to help her. She said that this is a clear example of the fact that “nobody cares”.
“I am being accused of running into the backdam trying to do police work and trying to embarrass people, who I don’t know,” she said, while noting that she doesn’t know if someone has to die before officials get their acts together and take urgent action when receiving TIP reports.
She said that had action been taken from the moment she called the TIP hotline, the woman would have been in Georgetown by 7 pm yesterday. She added that if it was a case that there were obstacles, they could have been in Linden by nightfall and could have stayed there overnight.
Broomes, who has been hailed for her work in rescuing TIP victims, told this newspaper that “this is just one case that I am allowing the system to deal with and then John Public can assess it for themselves.” She said that it pains her to not act in this case. “I can’t relax because I know that she is there,” she said, while adding that she and the GWMO have a responsibility and are committed to helping victims.
She stressed that the police are supposed to have a team mobilised and ready to deal with cases as the reports come in. Broomes told this newspaper of cases where the GWMO has rescued girls but nothing came out of them. “We are between a rock and a hard place,” she said.
According to Broomes, TIP is a very big deal and she recalled that they had to cut an outreach short in March after four young woman came out. She said that subsequently in the 14 Miles area, they had to again stop short and rescue five girls from a shop.
Asked why so many girls and young women are ending up in such situations, Broomes opined that many of them are facing economic constrains and want to make money.
She told Stabroek News of instances where well-educated and highly-qualified persons end up as TIP victims all because they felt that the jobs they had were not paying enough and they wanted more money.
“The system has been failing them and the economic situation is not easy. They after a dream,” she observed, while adding that many young people are experiencing economic pressures that are making them vulnerable to human traffickers.
She also noted that while there are laws in place to deal with traffickers, no one wants to go after the transporters and all players as this might have implications.