In the early hours of the morning, a human trafficking rescue operation brought hope to 24 victims from Haiti.
Living in horrific conditions, these men, women, and children were awaiting transportation to their next destination. They would likely face exploitation after being smuggled across the border into the Dominican Republic.
With intense enmity between the two countries, Haitians are often seen among human trafficking victims throughout the Caribbean.
Haiti, still significantly impacted by natural disasters and gang violence, can be an incredibly destitute and challenging place to find work or raise a family. With hopes of a better future, many are strung along to believe there is an opportunity for them once they arrive on the other side of the island.
One of the most used tactics, proposed job opportunities, turns into a life of debt bondage and mistreatment for those who fall into this trap. Unable to ever pay off the accumulated debt to their traffickers, victims will work for little to no pay in the worst conditions imaginable until they are either resold or abandoned without documentation or a way to survive.
This is the most probable future that awaited the victims of this operation.
Each paid roughly $200 USD to smugglers to get into the Dominican Republic without realizing they would be trafficked once they arrived.
Locked in desolate, wooden houses, the men were kept separate from the women and children, each packed into small areas without bathrooms, kitchens, or necessary supplies.
The men were kept together to be sold into forced labor, while the women, some pregnant, and children would most likely be purchased for sex trafficking and street begging.
During the operation, team members found handguns and shotguns, among other weapons, and $2,577 in cash, which is believed to be gathered from victims and used in the trafficking scheme.
Months of investigations and intelligence gathering led to this unique operation that required precise timing and the coordination of raiding 16 different locations. It is because of the intense work of 103 team members that the operation was successfully carried out, resulting in the rescue of all 24 victims and the arrest of 17 suspects, including five military personnel.
This group, an organized crime network dedicated to the trafficking of Haitian immigrants, was found to finance, facilitate, and transport migrants on motorcycles and buses, smuggling them across the border. In complicity with the trafficking ring, military members assigned to surveillance and control functions in specific border areas allowed them to go through without question.
After leaving victims in the covert collection centers, other members would monitor them until they were transported across the country by different routes to be sold and exploited.
With violent and abusive tendencies, victims were met with various forms of abuse and even death, also witnessed through a voice recording discovered during the raid. Two Haitians could be heard in the recording as they were drowned in the river at the hands of one of the traffickers.
While it’s difficult to imagine the trauma these victims have endured, this rescue operation provides hope that there are people committed to stopping human trafficking and rescuing those in need. Occurring before the trafficking ring could fully carry out its plans, the arrests made during the operation will bring those responsible to justice and prevent them from exploiting future vulnerable victims.
“It’s important to note that while the criminal organization in the Dominican Republic is accused of human smuggling, it’s still a serious crime that can lead to human trafficking. Although the two crimes are distinct, human smuggling can easily turn into human trafficking when migrants are exploited, abused, or forced into labor or sexual exploitation after they arrive in the destination country. This is why it’s crucial for authorities to investigate and dismantle criminal networks engaged in human smuggling, to prevent the risk of human trafficking and protect the rights of migrants, especially vulnerable groups such as women, children, and refugees.” – Agent F; Lantern Operations Team.