This week, the State Police reported that a restaurant owner had been detained for allegedly trafficking a Chinese citizen. The investigation into the case is still ongoing, but the suspect may be sentenced to imprisonment for up to eight years.
Latvia is increasingly becoming a country of human trafficking, say the police.
"If [previously] our country was the origin of the victims, it is now identified as the target country of the victims as the economic situation improves here and deteriorates in neighboring countries," said Armands Lubarts, State Police Human trafficking department's chief.
Gita Miruškina, the lawyer for the association 'Asylum Drošā Māja' says there could be more cases because they are often difficult to detect and recognize. If foreigners are employed, they don't know where to turn. Third-country nationals are hostages of the situation because they depend on their employer.
“The employer invites a foreigner to work to himself in the company. A third-country national receives the right to reside and work in Latvia, but specifically with that employer. If the employment relationship is terminated for any reason, he or she also has no more right to stay here in Latvia. And it gives an unfair employer a chance to really exploit this person,” explains Miruškina.
Police statistics show that last year, however, Latvia's nationals were more exposed to forced labor. People with mental impairments and different addictions are often selected as victims. Gita Miruškina said that, in order not to repeat such situations, social services are involved.
Last year the police detained a group of eight people in the three addiction prevention centers set up by the Neatkarība Balt group. Victims were offered to be involved in an addiction prevention program, but instead of providing medical treatment, victims were involved in serious and long-term coercive work. There were 105 residents at the center, but only 23 agreed they were victims. According to Latvian Radio, only 12 people agreed to cooperate with the State Police. The victims often do not turn to law enforcement.
Labor exploitation is mainly in physical jobs: logging, fishery, agriculture, construction.
In order to further prevent potential human trafficking, forced labor and the associated risks, anyone who has any information on possible cases may turn to the police by calling 110 or by writing an e-mail at [email protected].