Argentina's authorities have freed 202 Colombians who were lured to that country on the promise of work and then forced to toil in inhumane conditions at a plastics factory, highlighting the country's continued struggle to combat human trafficking and forced labor.
Police arrested 23 Colombians, including the alleged head of the criminal organization that controlled the workers, in a "mega-operation" that spanned 10 provinces and saw 72 simultaneous raids, reported the AFP.
The workers were reportedly held in conditions of "labor exploitation," lacking registration, social security, or healthcare. Authorities believe the people in charge of the scheme recruited their fellow Colombians to work in Argentina, then held them illegally in inhuman conditions and forced them to work to pay back their "debts."
Siomara Ayeran, the director of Argentina's customs department, said she suspects that many of the estimated 3,000 Colombians who entered Argentina illegally between 2009 and 2011 were recruited by this criminal organization and were later exploited them, the AFP reported. Authorities in Cordoba discovered the operation after noting several young Colombians arriving at the airport without luggage or money, the Associated Press said.
InSight Crime Analysis
Argentina is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking, including both sexual exploitation and forced labor, according to the US State Department. The State Department lists the country as failing to meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, despite attempts to strengthen its anti-human trafficking laws in recent years. In 2011, there were 167 ongoing trafficking prosecutions and 19 convictions, compared to 78 prosecutions and 15 convictions in 2010, the State Department says.
According to Argentine officials, the number of labor trafficking victims, such as the newly freed Colombians, outnumbered sex trafficking victims by three to one in 2011. The "mega-operation" that broke up the Colombian ring appears to have been one of the largest labor trafficking operations in recent years but is far from the only one. In April this year, authorities freed 45 Bolivians from textile workshops in Buenos Aires, and in December 2012, authorities discovered 16 Chinese victims near the border with Uruguay.