Three separate human trafficking networks that targeted Venezuelans were dismantled in less than a week in Colombia, showing how the increasing forced migration of Venezuelan citizens buoys the crime in the region.
The Colombian Attorney General’s Office and the criminal investigation unit of the police discovered a network that used promises of work on coffee farms to trick Venezuelans into what they thought was legitimate job recruitment, according to a report in El Tiempo. In reality, however, the criminal groups forced them to sell drugs.
Authorities rescued 10 people who were being held in a house in Quindío department’s capital city of Armenia. In addition to forcing the victims to sell drugs, the gang made them pay 600,000 Colombian pesos (approximately $200) plus transportation costs, El Universal reported.
In a separate police operation conducted on October 18 in the city of Barranquilla, authorities dismantled an organization whose members posed as religious devotees to lure some 60 Venezuelans into their clutches, Infobae reported. The victims were found crammed into small, locked rooms and were forced to perform sexual acts in front of web cameras.
Just five days later in the same city, authorities rescued 30 young Venezuelans who were victims of the same crime, according to information published by El Universal. They also arrested one of the leaders of the human and sex trafficking network.
InSight Crime Analysis
A growing criminal practice, the trafficking of Venezuelan citizens in Colombia presents authorities with a unique challenge. A striking 75 percent of registered trafficking victims whom Colombian authorities have assisted since 2016 have Venezuelan nationality.
Human trafficking is considered a modern form of slavery and an international crime that requires the cooperation of all nations involved. Lilian Aya, a human trafficking consultant with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), explained that in most cases the victims of such crimes are subjected to psychological torture.
“The criminals take advantage by making misleading offers. They offer their prisoners a different kind of work than what they actually give them. They also don’t let them go out and they take away their personal documents to condition them to a dependent relationship,” Aya told InSight Crime.
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Further complicating the situation is the level of vulnerability experienced by Venezuelans, which increases due to the country’s extreme economic instability and the mass migration it causes. This makes them particularly easy prey for human traffickers. According to the United Nations, 2.3 million Venezuelans had migrated as of July 2018, with the highest migration rate occurring within the last three years.
In Colombia, the main recipient country, the IOM counted 870,093 Venezuelans. It must come as no surprise, then, that human trafficking mafias are flourishing there.