The government maintained victim protection efforts. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the government’s lead agency for combating trafficking, had standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the proactive identification of trafficking victims; however, the government did not report how widely officials disseminated or used these SOPs. Some police officers used a checklist to proactively identify victims when they came into contact with commercial sex establishments; however, the government did not formally adopt or disseminate the checklist and its use was inconsistent. The government did not report victim identification data based on substantiated cases of trafficking as it had in the past, thereby making past data incomparable. The government reported 770 potential victims based on the number of cases recorded with police in 2017; of those identified, 383 were men, 258 women, and 129 children. The government identified 355; 1,815; and 2,899 victims in 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively; experts commented the decrease from thousands of victims identified in 2015 and 2014 may be due in part to the application of a more accurate definition of trafficking. Police directly recovered from exploitative situations 545 of the 770 potential victims identified in 2017. NGOs and international organizations reported identifying more than one thousand victims during the reporting period. Notably, one international organization identified 37 Rohingya victims who were subjected to trafficking within Bangladesh and provided them rehabilitation services. The Bangladesh Army and Rapid Action Battalion reportedly were active in the identification of potential Rohingya victims of trafficking.
While the government did not provide services specifically designed for trafficking victims, the Bangladesh Police operated victim support centers in each of Bangladesh’s eight divisions for women and children victims of violence, including trafficking victims. The centers provided temporary shelter for up to five days and medical and psychological counseling. With partial funding from a foreign government, the Ministry of Social Welfare (MSW) operated one-stop crisis centers at medical facilities for women and children victims of violence, including trafficking victims, to provide shelter, medical care, psychological counseling, and referral to other services, including legal assistance and police for case filing. MSW operated nine one-stop crisis centers at the divisional level and 40 smaller centers at the district and 40 at the sub-district levels. The government did not provide shelter or rehabilitation services, other than repatriation and job placement, to adult male victims. Foreign victims were not provided access to government services. While the government retained a court-order mechanism to refer trafficking victims to rehabilitation services, it did not have a broader referral mechanism to refer victims to rehabilitation services. In 2017, the government reported referring only one victim to government or NGO-run services and reported all other victims were returned directly to their families. Some NGOs reported the government referred victims to them for rehabilitation during the reporting period, but such referrals were ad hoc and the government did not track victim care in a systematic way. NGOs provided male victims with some services, although shelter was not available. NGOs continued to state government services did not meet minimum standards of care and insufficient rehabilitation resources contributed to victims being re-trafficked. Government shelters did not allow victims to leave without a court order and a court order was also required for NGOs or international organizations to be able to contact victims in government shelters to provide further rehabilitation services.
The government continued to implement its 2015 memorandum of understanding with the Government of India on human trafficking, which included coordination on the rescue and repatriation of Bangladeshi victims. In practice, NGOs reported the Bangladeshi government sometimes provided only the necessary travel documents for repatriation. NGOs or the victim’s family frequently paid the cost of repatriation from India and other countries and at times this resulted in family members incurring burdensome debt. The government continued to operate one safe house in Lebanon, one in Oman, and three in Saudi Arabia for female Bangladeshi workers fleeing abusive employers. The government maintained 29 labor offices in embassies and consulates overseas to provide welfare services to Bangladeshi migrant workers, including legal and interpretation services. Overseas Bangladeshi workers who secured their employment through the Bureau for Manpower, Education, and Training (MEWOE), could lodge complaints with MEWOE to seek restitution for labor and recruitment violations, including allegations of forced labor, through an arbitration process, although observers stated the awards were often minimal. MEWOE reported 344 complaints were settled from July 2016 to June 2017 through the recovery of 297,300 BDT ($3,630) from recruiting agencies; it did not report if any of these complaints involved forced labor. Victims could also file civil suits seeking restitution.
The PSHTA entitled victims to protection during judicial proceedings, including police security. The government did not report if it provided such protection to victims during the reporting period and NGOs noted insufficient implementation of this provision resulted in traffickers intimidating victims not to pursue cases. NGOs reported some Bangladeshi trafficking victims who transited through various land and sea routes, instead of being detected as victims, were detained and fined for failure to carry a passport. Unregistered Rohingya refugees, including potential trafficking victims, may have been at risk of indefinite detention because of their lack of documentation. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims of trafficking to countries where they might face hardship or retribution.