Liberians stand a high risk of being trafficked, due primarily to the country’s porous borders with its neighbors, the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) has said.
With just about 25 percent of the borders being “adequately manned,” many fear that the citizenry, especially those in the hinterlands, are being lured through trafficking at those porous borders.
On Wednesday, November 13, the LIS disclosed that out of 177 entry points into the country, its officers are only deployed at 46 entries, while 131 entry points are still “left vulnerable and routinely patrolled” by LIS Border Patrol Unit. Such situation might likely be contributing to the level of human trafficking in the country, LIS Head of Anti – Human Trafficking, Bolley B. Morlu, feared.
Morlu spoke at a high level inception meeting and training of trainers for Liberia Media Development (LMD) partners on traffic-In-Persons (TIPs) in Sinkor, a suburb of Monrovia. He said that there is a need to remedy the situation.
“The state of national security is at its lowest ebb—a situation that was exacerbated by the departure of personnel of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL),” he said.
Organized by Internews with financial support from USAID (United Sates Agency for International Development), the training brought together relevant government and private institutions, including the Liberia National Police, LIS, the Labor and Gender ministries and the media, to brainstorm on how TIPs can be halted or minimized.
The three–day exercise is aimed at helping to provide new skills that would educate the public on TIPs and law enforcement aspect of trafficking.
This comes after the United States’ State Department through its annual TIPs report last June placed Liberia on Tier 2 Watch List. This exposes how vulnerable the country is to traffickers; this slump in rank marks the third consecutive year for the country.
Regarding the report, Morlu expressed disappointment that the country was not doing well and has therefore been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the third time.
“And because of this, we want to pledge our best endeavors and efforts in helping the national task force not to completely eliminate – because it is difficult – but to reduce the number of trafficking-related cases in the country,” Morlu said.
In June 2019 and for the third consecutive year, the U.S. State Department placed Liberia on the Tier 2 Watch List in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. This means the country is already on Tier Three watch list of the US, and risks slipping further down to Tier Three if stakeholders do not make critical efforts to reverse the trend.
TIPs, according to experts, occur in several forms, including taking family or other people’s children under your care through deception that they will be given better opportunities like schooling, when the actual intent is to later abuse their rights, use them for labor or as breadwinners, etc.
In the words of USAID Acting Mission Director, Rebekah Eubanks, the ranking reflects the U.S. Government’s assessment that the Government of Liberia is not fully in compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking that regulate U.S. foreign assistance.
“This is troubling in its own right for trafficking survivors, and this has important implications for the future of U.S. assistance to Liberia,” Eubanks said.
She called on the government to put into place and enforce policies that demonstrate increased efforts to combat human trafficking, investigate and prosecute traffickers, and protect survivors by early next year or Liberia will be downgraded to Tier 3 and lose access to all U.S. government non – humanitarian development funds.
Eubanks stressed that the government “must put into place and enforce policies that demonstrate increased efforts to combat human trafficking; investigate and prosecute traffickers, and protect survivors by early next year.”
She also warned that if something positive is not done, Liberia will be downgraded to Tier 3 and lose access to all U.S. government non-humanitarian development funds.
She assured that her organization is committed to working with our partners to help Liberia avert the risks of losing US funds.
The latest TIPs report, many believe, should now be a rallying point for local stakeholders to direct human efforts and resources toward the fight against TIPs, if the country should have access to funds from the U.S. to fight against trafficking.
In remarks, Labor Minister Moses Kollie said improving legal and policy frameworks, instituting administrative action by ensuring budget for the purpose of enhancing the work of task-force, improving prevention and awareness, protecting and caring for victims by training social workers are important steps that must be taken to salvage the country’s status in the next report – due to be released in March 2020.
“There are several required actions needed to be undertaken by the government and we must begin to act now,” Kollie said.
Also identifying partnerships for complementary budget to support the task-force as well as adopting zero tolerance against human trafficking, are important to averting the risks of falling to a lower tier.
“If we should perform, and look at these actions as a country, I am very certain that by March 2020 when the [US] State Department will be coming out with another quarter report, Liberia will be pretty seated,” he said.
With the most gruesome of all crimes, murder aside, there is no other violation of the human being that are dehumanizing than rape to TIPs, and as such, there is a need for people who commit both crimes to bear similar consequences or punishment, a stakeholder have said.
Currently, there is a harsher punishment for rape, which is a non-bailable offense, as compared to the crime of TIPs.
It is against this backdrop that Acting Gender Minister Madam Alice Howard said law on TIPs should be rated high, and that it should have tougher punishment enshrined on the country’s statute for traffickers just as it is with rapists in an effort to get rid of TIPs.
She called for collective effort to combat trafficking in persons in the same way as they did in the fight against Ebola so as to be able to get rid of trafficking in the country.