The government increased protection efforts. The Department of Equal Opportunity (DEO) coordinated protection efforts and reported government-supported NGOs assisted 1,354 potential victims in 2017, a significant increase from 851 victims assisted in 2016; however, this figure did not differentiate between victims of trafficking and other forms of exploitation, and thus the actual increase in trafficking victim identification is unclear. Of the total, 176 were victims of labor exploitation and 24 of forced begging. Fifteen percent were men and one percent was transgender. Approximately 71 percent were from Nigeria, and an international organization estimated up to 75 percent of the Nigerian women and unaccompanied children who arrived in 2017 were trafficking victims. Children represented nearly 11 percent of all victims receiving assistance, many being boys forced to beg or commit robbery. The Ministry of Interior formed a working group focused on support for unaccompanied minors at risk of trafficking, and a new law strengthening their protection went into effect. NGOs reported many unaccompanied Nigerian minor victims were 15 to 17 years old, but at the direction of their traffickers routinely declared themselves as 18 or more years old to age-qualify for an asylum application, and then transfer to an adult reception center, giving greater freedom to leave the center unnoticed with their trafficker. NGOs, however, confirmed increased scrutiny by authorities of these age-claims, and authorities sent victims into child protection if unable to confirm adult age-status. NGOs estimated more than 6,000 minors in Italy were victims of sex trafficking in 2017.
The government relied predominantly on NGOs and international organizations to provide shelter and services to victims, which reported overall improvement in coordination with immigration officials at both the arrival points and the longer-term reception centers. The government followed standard UNHCR procedures to screen for trafficking victims among asylum-seekers. However, NGOs charged with meeting migrants on arrival continued to stress the need for longer time periods for interviewing and screening of migrants at the ‘hot spot’ arrival ports in order to accurately determine victim status, although hot spots can also be overcrowded, with little privacy, and not conducive to a stay beyond one or two days. NGOs noted the level of government funding remained insufficient given the significant increase in trafficking victims over current and past years, and also cited the need for a more formal referral mechanism. NGOs and officials alike stressed a critical need for more interpreters of lesser-known African dialects to be available during the initial screening of migrants. One NGO estimated existing reception centers could only adequately accommodate 25 percent of migrant needs. Centers were ill-equipped to address the unique needs of trafficking victims and lacked adequate security against traffickers seeking to recruit victims. The government allotted €22.5 million ($27 million) exclusively to trafficking victim assistance programs implemented by NGOs in 2017, a significant increase from €14.5 million ($17.4 million) in 2016 and €8 million ($9.6 million) in 2015. Local governments provided additional funds to victim assistance programs, although figures were not available. Government-funded NGOs provided separate facilities for men and unaccompanied children. NGOs commented quality standards for assistance programs were inconsistent, with continued disparity in programming levels between different regions of Italy. However, the government made progress in addressing this disparity through funding 18 assistance programs more equitably spread across all regions of Italy.
Foreign victims were granted assistance for up to six months and were eligible for temporary residency and a work permit. Adult victims could extend their temporary residence permit if employed or enrolled in a job training program. The government granted 418 residence permits to victims in 2017, compared to 340 permits in 2016. Child victims automatically received a residence permit until age 18 and accommodations in a general children’s center or a designated center for trafficking victims who were also asylum-seekers. Children received counseling and enrolled in local public schools with the support of mentors. However, by the end of 2017, an estimated 32 percent of unaccompanied children had left the centers, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Victims were not required to cooperate with law enforcement to obtain a residence permit, although some NGOs and international organizations reported authorities sometimes gave preference to those who cooperated.
An NGO noted significant improvements in interagency cooperation in the past year, citing lessons learned over several years of responding together to the migrant crisis, particularly in coordinated screening of asylum applicants for trafficking. They cited continued challenges in adapting to changing trafficking dynamics and methods, and the related need for improved coordination among ground-level local NGOs, international organizations, and the national government. NGOs also noted victim assistance from the EU was insufficient in light of the large numbers of continued arrivals by sea. NGOs, prosecutors, and local officials praised the contribution of trained cultural mediators hired by the government or provided by government-funded NGOs, for their skill in communicating with migrants and victims.