The government maintained efforts to protect victims. The government identified and assisted 144 victims (including 69 victims of labor trafficking, 56 victims of sex trafficking, seven victims of forced criminality, and 12 victims of other forms of exploitation), compared to 152 victims in 2015 (93 victims of sex trafficking and 43 labor trafficking). First responders followed formal written procedures on proactive victim identification; however, observers reported challenges in accurately identifying victims. The government trained staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations. The government circulated administrative notices on referral procedures to prosecutors, police, health care workers, migration staff, and other stakeholders and updated regulations to improve referral procedures for Belgian trafficking victims and victims of forced begging. While NGOs referred many victims to the shelters, most victims were identified by law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals. To qualify for victim status, victims must have broken off all contact with traffickers and agreed to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter.
The government allocated approximately €430,000 ($453,109) to each of the three specialized NGO-run shelters. NGO-run shelters also received various amounts of funding from regional governments. Despite complete reliance on these three NGO-run shelters for the majority of victims’ services, the government provided ad hoc rather than dedicated funding. NGO-run shelters carried the administrative burden of requesting funding each year from different levels of government (region, community, federal). NGO-run shelters provided specialized, comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims, including psycho-social, medical, and legal care. The shelters were open to all victims regardless of gender, immigration status, or nationality. The government also funded two shelters for children; child trafficking victims shared these facilities with victims of other crimes. Adult victims could leave the shelter unchaperoned. The government reportedly did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, victims who were not properly identified, particularly child sex trafficking victims, were vulnerable to such penalization. The government granted most identified foreign victims residence and employment permits and protective services; however, full protection status and the residence permit were conditional on the victim assisting in the prosecution of their trafficker. Victims who were not citizens of EU member states could only obtain permanent residency upon the successful prosecution and sentencing of traffickers, although residence permits for indefinite periods of time were available without conviction if authorities established a formal charge of trafficking. During the year, the government issued or renewed 216 residence permits to trafficking victims. Although government-supported NGOs provided some legal representation to victims, such support was limited due to a lack of steady funding. Victims can claim compensation through the same mechanism that allows any victim of crime to claim compensation at local courts; however, observers reported victims faced expensive legal fees.