Progressing Towards a SAFE Belize for Human Trafficking Survivors
July 29, 2023: Walkathon organized by CSO coalition group in partnership with Benque Viejo Del Carmen Town Council, to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (Photo by RET)
Belize sits on the northeast coast of Central America – bordered by Mexico on the north, and Guatemala on the south and west. The country remains on the Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking according to the 2023 US Department of State TIP Report. This means that the country does not meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking, the Government of Belize (GOB) has made strides in combating trafficking in persons – identifying more victims, improving screening, and improving data collection among other achievements. RET International has partnered with GOB and stakeholders to enhance the work on the ground in Belize.
It has been about six months since the official handing over of the “Standard Operating Procedures for Shelters and Other Accommodations for Survivors of Trafficking in Persons” (SOPs) created under the Shelters with Adequate Functioning for an Effective Response to Human Trafficking in Belize (SAFE Belize) Project. Wide-reaching consultations with more than 30 civil society organizations, spearheaded by RET International and key partners resulted in the finalized SOPs. This live document is now being used by shelters, stakeholders, and the government to standardize procedures within facilities catering to survivors of human trafficking.
“The SAFE Belize Project has greatly helped their organization as well as other CSOs in attaining vital information and better practices towards victims (survivors).”
The SOPs were tailor-made to strengthen shelters to adequately serve survivors of human trafficking in Belize. The standard shelter procedures and strong coordination with the Government of Belize (GOB) are aimed at providing guidance and best practices that can be utilized by shelters, stakeholders, and GOB. This will not only boost those entities’ capacity to effectively respond to cases of human trafficking but will also help in creating a safe space where survivors can begin to chart their path to becoming self-reliant.
RET spearheaded the formation of a coalition of CSOs and NGOs under the SAFE Belize project. Its purpose is to coordinate and collaborate to combat Trafficking in Persons in Belize. The RET Belize country office is the secretariat of the coalition and is tasked under the project to provide capacity building training to its members.
Stephanie Reina, vice-chair of the CSO Coalition Group shared, “The SOP has improved knowledge through the continuous training provided to the CSOs. Allowing step-by-step guidelines on how to detect human trafficking, report, placement, and how to accommodate the survivors. In addition, it details the role and responsibilities of each staff member. This plays an important role for each person as a refresher in order to have good practice within a facility.” Moreover, it has allowed CSOs to understand their limitation on certain procedures where collaboration with government stakeholders should take place.”
“The partnership between RET International and the Benque Viejo Town Council along with the Police Department over the past years has educated the town on human trafficking, [and] it is really important to keep that relationship between both.”– Edgar Cocom, Benque Town Council
Besides strengthening the capacity of existing shelters and working to unite CSOs, another component of the project looks at identifying new prospective organizations that may be involved in supporting survivors of human trafficking. One organization that have long served the vulnerable populations in the Belizean public is now seeking to form a new shelter to cater to survivors of human trafficking.
According to one CSO member, “The SAFE Belize Project has greatly helped their organization as well as other CSOs in attaining vital information and better practices towards victims (survivors).”
Collaboration with GOB has also been a salient aspect of the project. Partnerships with central and local government, particularly border communities, have resulted in increased knowledge of human trafficking according to a representative from the Benque Town Council, Edgar Cocom.
“The partnership between RET International and the Benque Viejo Town Council along with the Police Department over the past years has educated the town on human trafficking,” Cocom said. “It is really important to keep that relationship between both,” he added.
The SAFE Belize project runs until 2025. The RET International team continues to execute training with members of key organizations working to address trafficking in persons in Belize. So far, 90 individuals from a diverse cross-section of organizations have been engaged.
For the remainder of the project, RET will continue increasing awareness through training and human trafficking knowledge-sharing sessions, work one-on-one with existing and new potential shelters to strengthen their strategic documents and support the execution of the CSO coalition group’s work plan.