Aeropuerto Internacional de Las Américas, an Aerodom-managed airport in the Dominican Republic. © Aerodom
Santo Domingo, (Dominican Republic) 18 September 2023 - Every year more than eight million tourists flock to the resorts and beaches of the Dominican Republic, making it the most popular holiday destination in the Caribbean.
The tourism industry is one of the country’s main sources of income and a major employer for migrant workers. But the dream of an exciting job in a tropical location is also abused by human traffickers.
“Criminals entice and deceive their victims, primarily young women, with exciting but fake job offers in luxury resorts, hotels, restaurants, or bars,” said Lissette Reyes.
She added: “Trafficking victims are often told they’ll be dancers, models or waitresses, instead upon arriving in the country, they’re exploited and mistreated in the commercial sex industry.”
A common mode of transportation used by traffickers to bring their victims to the Dominican Republic is air travel.
The victims are often recruited online and provided with airline tickets and the documents they need for immigration and passport control, which are sometimes fraudulent.
UNODC is now providing airport staff with specialised training on how to detect and respond to potential cases of human trafficking in airport terminals.
“Without proper coaching, airport security, immigration and passport control officials, and the tourist police would not be able to immediately notice indicators of trafficking and take the necessary steps,” said Reyes.
“Under this project, we’ve partnered with AERODOM, a private company that manages the largest network of airports in the country and with the International Justice Mission, a non-governmental organization.”
So far over 120 airport officials at two of the country’s largest and busiest airports have been trained under the project and further sessions are planned for later this year.
"Aviation connects the world, carrying billions of passengers every year. Unfortunately, traffickers also use this global network to transport people against their will, ” said Mónika Infante, AERODOM General Director.
"Therefore, we’re paying special attention to this situation and doing everything in our power to eliminate it,” she added.
Posters and videos warning of the indicators and dangers of human trafficking with details of an emergency hotline are located throughout the airports and displayed prominently in female restrooms.
Further UNODC support was provided this July with the launch of a reference guide containing information on the indicators of human trafficking in airport settings.
The guide provides details on the relevant authorities airport staff need to contact when they encounter potential victims of human trafficking. It also contains ‘red flags’ that are based on real life scenarios.
“For instance, airport staff we trained told us about numerous incidents involving female victims from Venezuela who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation,” said Lissette Reyes.
“The traffickers had told them that they were going to ‘make a music video’ in the tourist hotspot of Punta Cana. Examples of this nature were included as ‘indicators of trafficking’ in the guide.”
UNODC’s Lissette Reyes at the launch of the new reference guide to indentify victims of trafficking in airport settings. © UNODC
“Based on reports from the National Police, eight investigations into potential cases of human trafficking have been initiated as a result of our project,” explained Reyes.
One case involved a Dominican woman who was detained as she tried to take two children out of the country.
“The airport officials suspected that the children were due to be exploited in another country. The case is now being investigated.”
The UNODC training has already led to the rescue of 24 victims of human trafficking, including migrants from Venezuela, Colombia and Haiti, as well as Dominican nationals.
Last month an investigation was triggered after two trafficking victims from Colombia saw the posters warning about human trafficking at the Las Americas International Airport in the capital Santo Domingo.
The women approached security officers and informed them they had been brought to the Dominican Republic to work as ‘models’ in a restaurant.
According to police reports, when they arrived in the country, their passports were taken away, and they were taken to a venue for sexual exploitation.
"The officers had been trained under our project and using the reference guide on human trafficking at airport terminals, they immediately notified the police and the specialized police department for trafficking case,” said UNODC’s Lissette Reyes.
An investigation started which led to a raid at the venue where the victims were being abused. They were rescued, and the perpetrators arrested.
TRACK4TIP is implemented in eight countries in South America and the Caribbean by UNODC with support from the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The project is managed by UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.
The reference guide was developed in cooperation with the Airport Security and Civil Aviation Agency, the National and the Tourist Police, the General Directorate of Migration, and the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation.