The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 95 trafficking victims and potential trafficking victims, compared to 109 in 2015. Of these, 55 were adults and 44 were children (61 adults and 48 children in 2015), 11 were male and 84 were female (22 male victims and 87 female victims in 2015), and eight were foreigners (four foreign victims in 2015). Sixty-two were identified as potential victims and 33 officially identified as victims, a status provided after a joint interview held by representatives from both law enforcement and state social services. The law guaranteed equal services for both potential victims and officially recognized victims.
Three specialized NGO-run shelters and one state-run shelter provided assistance to trafficking victims, including food, counseling, legal assistance, medical care, educational services, employment services, assistance to victims’ children, financial support, long-term accommodation, social activities, vocational training, and post-reintegration follow-up. NGO-run shelters supported 75 trafficking victims and potential victims and the state-run shelter supported 30, of which 10 were from 2015. The government provided 21.7 million leks ($169,231) to the state-run shelter, a decrease from 23,970,000 leks ($186,900) in 2015. The government provided 15.3 million leks ($119,093) to NGO-run shelters to support 24 staff salaries, an increase from 10 million leks ($77,972) to support 12 staff salaries in 2015. For the first time, the government added 4.7 million leks ($36,647) to the budget from seized criminal assets to fund reintegration and support services. Food support for NGO-run shelters decreased to 1.8 million leks ($14,035) from 3 million leks ($23,392) in 2015. NGO-run shelters continued to operate under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs. Financial mechanisms used to fund these shelters annually remained complicated and open to manipulation by local governments. Government funding for the three NGO-run shelters was delayed by two months and one shelter never received funding for food. NGO-run shelters allowed adult victims to leave the shelter voluntarily, but the state-run shelter required victims to seek approval from the director of the shelter. The government provided free vocational training, textbooks for child victims, and health cards that provided free access to health care. Only one NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for child victims under the age of 16. Male victims were provided with rented apartments, where they received assistance from NGOs. Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims, including legal assistance.
First responders followed a standard operating procedure for identifying and referring victims to services; however, the government deactivated mobile identification units because international donors no longer provided support and the government lacked the funds to continue the units. NGOs reported law enforcement jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. For example, a female trafficking victim was convicted of prostitution and sentenced to 16 months imprisonment, of which she served nine months. Another victim was sentenced to 18 months probation but won her case on appeal. NGOs reported police often associated trafficking with movement and were unlikely to identify victims recruited and exploited in the same region of the country. Observers reported cases of border guards and immigration officials not carrying out standard screening procedures. The government, in cooperation with an international organization, trained 388 officials in 12 regions on victim identification, referral, and assistance. The law provided foreign victims a three-month reflection period with temporary residency status and authorization to work for up to two years, although the government had yet to grant this status to a victim. Victims could obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against traffickers; three victims filed for compensation but their cases were still pending during the reporting period. Observers reported threats were made to victims and their families during court proceedings. Courts allowed testimony via video conferences and victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program, but no trafficking victims participated in the program.