Watch: ‘They threatened her family back in Colombia’

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

A Colombian woman who was a victim of human trafficking decided to stop cooperating with the police after her family was threatened back home. This is one of the many stories that Assistant Police Commissioner Dr Dennis Theuma came across during his police investigations. 

Newsbook.com.mt sat down with Dr Theuma to speak about human trafficking. The Trafficking Protocol which was signed by 173 states is defined “…as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal, manipulation or implantation of organs.”

Assistant Police Commissioner Dennis Theuma said that the police came across cases of forced labour. He explained that foreign workers were brought to Malta promised that they would be doing a certain job and given a certain wage. However, this was not the case as they found out on their arrival. 

Theuma explained that many time workers hailing from countries outside the European Union would pay thousands of Euros to come and work in Malta. Workers hailing from countries like Pakistan, India and Nepal, would consider investing money to work abroad. The idea would be that once they are in Malta, they would be able to send money to their families. 

Asked how much they would pay to a temping agency, Theuma said that these would vary between €3,000 – €5,000. He observed that this amount would be a “substantial” amount for the victims since they come from poorer situations. Adding, that sometimes one would borrow money from relatives or even from loansharks.

Once in Malta, the individuals would find out that they do not have the job that they were promised. Describing it as ‘vicious circle’, Theuma said that the victims end up alone in a foreign country, with no one to turn to, and feeling helpless in general. In such a situation, a victim could either stay quiet and accept the conditions or in some cases, they would choose to approach non-governmental organisations. 

‘A strong economy attracts more workers, some may have been deceived’ 

“It is a known fact, that Malta has a strong economy at the moment,” Theuma said. He explained that this attracts workers from abroad to come here and work. The assistant commissioner added that Identity Malta carries out a due diligence exercise when processing applications of third-country nationals. 

Temping agencies would recruit the workers a local company needs from abroad. 

‘One would go to a temping agency and ask for 50 labourers, which it will then recruit,’ Theuma explained. He said that while some are genuine others have deceived workers. 

Massage parlours and human trafficking 

The assistant commissioner voiced his concerns about massage parlours, saying that while there are legitimate massage parlours, others have been a front for prostitution.

‘Despite the limited resources, the police carry out inspections on massage parlours,’ Theuma said. He added that if one notices suspicious behaviour, they could get in touch with the police even anonymously. 

Speaking about past investigations, Dr Theuma said that once a Colombian national, who showed clearly elements that she was a victim of human trafficking had stopped cooperating with the police after her family was threatened in Colombia. 

‘We tried to convince her to speak up officially, however, we did not have any control on what was happening in Colombia,’ Theuma said. The investigation was halted as the police could not force the victim to cooperate. 

‘It’s not easy for the victims to speak up’

Dr Theuma explained that given the traumatic experiences, they go through, it is very difficult for victims to speak up.

The role of the police is to investigate such cases and prosecute individuals. Dr Theuma stressed on the importance of more collaboration between the different entities.