Trinidad: 69 victims of ‘mod­ern day slav­ery’ rescued from cages in church

Some of the persons found in the cage (Guardian photos)

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – Six­ty-nine peo­ple rang­ing from the ages of 19 to 70 years have been found locked away in cages at a church lo­cat­ed along the East­ern Main Road in Arou­ca on Wednes­day morn­ing.

These peo­ple both men and women are be­lieved to be vic­tims of “mod­ern day slav­ery” and “hu­man traf­fick­ing” ac­cord­ing to Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith who spoke to the Guardian Me­dia Lim­it­ed’s Lead In­ves­tiga­tive desk Mark Bas­sant ear­li­er on Wednes­day just out­side the Trans­formed Life Min­istry Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre.

“What we be­lieve is that we have cracked what we be­lieve is the biggest hu­man traf­fick­ing ring in the coun­try…some of them said they have been here for years…this is a much big­ger pic­ture and we have to in­ves­ti­gate each and every case…this re­lates to vir­tu­al slav­ery with what we have seen here. Some of them say they have been tor­tured. It is such a big­ger pic­ture with prof­it be­ing made out of this…fam­i­ly mem­bers de­lib­er­ate­ly send­ing their loved ones here and ex­tract­ing the prof­its from the fam­i­lies, ” Grif­fith said.

He de­scribed the scenes as “bar­bar­ic, ” “Per­sons are seen in cages, hand­cuffed…per­sons were be­ing tor­tured. We saw tasers and ba­tons…and again this is a sit­u­a­tion of vir­tu­al mod­ern day slav­ery.”

Dur­ing a a sting op­er­a­tion co­or­di­nat­ed by Grif­fith and ex­e­cut­ed by the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tion Re­sponse Team (SORT), the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice (TTPS) res­cued the 69 T&T cit­i­zens (65 men and 4 women). They were all held cap­tive, where most of them were in cages and some hand­cuffs.

The op­er­a­tion com­menced at about 12:15 am on Wednes­day, at the promi­nent church.

Ac­cord­ing to the TTPS search war­rants were is­sued pur­suant to Sec­tion 13 Chap. 12:10 of the Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Act, af­ter a pe­ri­od of mon­i­tor­ing and in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Grif­fith, Deputy Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Op­er­a­tions (Ag.) Jayson Forde, the TTPS’s Vic­tim and Wit­ness Sup­port Unit, North­ern Di­vi­sion C.I.D. are al­so on the scene, as­sist­ed by a med­ical unit com­pris­ing of doc­tors, nurs­es and am­bu­lance at­ten­dants from the North Cen­tral Re­gion­al Health Au­thor­i­ty, who are al­so con­duct­ing ini­tial on-scene ex­am­i­na­tions of the res­cued na­tion­als.

Six peo­ple were ar­rest­ed at the church, in­clud­ing the Pas­tor.

In an im­me­di­ate de­fense of the church and it’s pas­tor, a com­mit­ted mem­ber claimed “lies.”

Speak­ing on strict anonymi­ty, she said it is a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion home for peo­ple who want to come out of drug ad­dic­tion.

“It is not hu­man traf­fick­ing. It is a re­hab so the pas­tor have the place gat­ed to pre­vent them from run­ning away. These peo­ple’s par­ents sign con­tracts and agree. They al­so view the places…So why would fam­i­lies put there love one there if they saw it? No­body there is in chains etc they are ly­ing. God hear me it is a lie, ” the church mem­ber said.

Guardian me­dia was told that fam­i­ly mem­bers pay from $5,000 and more for their loved ones to be in the cen­tre.

Grif­fith said he was told by se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers that re­ports were made about the or­gan­i­sa­tion a few months ago and added that it is al­leged that they were aware of false im­pris­on­ment. He added that he is ap­palled that they did not do a thor­ough search where they would have seen per­sons be­ing held in cages, some of them for years, “and then be­ing aware that they were in cages and noth­ing was be­ing done so this mat­ter has gone a bit fur­ther where it is ac­tu­al­ly ex­pand­ing in­to a pos­si­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tion tak­ing place with po­lice of­fi­cers.”

Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty, Stu­art Young said he was con­tact­ed at about 2:30 am by Grif­fith and briefed on the on­go­ing po­lice op­er­a­tion tak­ing place, “where the TTPS had un­cov­ered ap­prox­i­mate­ly 70 per­sons be­ing held in very dis­turb­ing cir­cum­stances at what was be­ing de­scribed as a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre.”

Young said he was al­so in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Min­is­ter of Health Ter­rence Deyals­ingh and the Di­rec­tor of the Counter Traf­fick­ing Unit of the Min­istry of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty, to en­sure that nec­es­sary sup­port was pro­vid­ed for an un­fold­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Young said he is shocked and dis­turbed on hear­ing the news, “From the pre­lim­i­nary in­for­ma­tion pro­vid­ed to me, I am shocked and dis­turbed at the cir­cum­stances un­der which hu­mans were be­ing held and I strong­ly con­demn same.”

“I re­mind per­sons that this is now an ac­tive and un­fold­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion and I am cer­tain that facts sur­round­ing this dis­turb­ing mat­ter will be­gin to be un­cov­ered. Ac­cord­ing­ly, it is pru­dent for lit­tle more to be said at this time and the TTPS should be per­mit­ted to do their work, ” he added.

Young has thanked all those in­volved in the op­er­a­tion of find­ing and free­ing the vic­tims who he said may have been held against their will and sub­ject to in­hu­mane and de­grad­ing treat­ment.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing.