The government increased protection efforts for Kazakhstani victims, but made uneven protection efforts for foreign victims. While it improved the availability of protection services for Kazakhstani victims, efforts to identify and assist foreign victims remained negligible, with no shelters available to foreign victims. The government identified 76 trafficking victims, a decrease from 110 in 2016. Of those, 50 were victims of sex trafficking, 20 of forced labor, and six of forced criminality. All but five of the identified victims were from Kazakhstan; of five foreign victims, four were from Uzbekistan and one from Georgia; five of the Kazakhstani victims were subjected to trafficking in Brazil, four in Bahrain, and three each in Turkey and South Korea, while the rest were subjected to trafficking in Kazakhstan, recruited from rural to urban areas for both labor and sexual exploitation. All 71 Kazakhstani victims identified by the government received assistance from government-funded programs; however, foreign victims were not eligible for assistance in government-funded shelters. In 2017, NGOs reported assisting 177 trafficking victims, compared to 167 in 2016; among these, police referred 22 while 155 referrals came from international organizations, embassies, NGOs, and the victims themselves. Of the 177 trafficking victims assisted by NGOs, 39 were Kazakhstani and 138 were foreigners; 13 were victims of sex trafficking, 158 of forced labor; 36 were female, and 141 male. Of the 138 foreign victims, 131 were from Uzbekistan. The government-funded and NGO-operated trafficking hotline received 1,350 phone calls in 2017, the vast majority of which were requests for information while 13 were referred to anti-trafficking police units; these referrals resulted in six confirmed cases of labor exploitation. Observers noted many foreign victims were reluctant to self-identify to the police due to lack of trust, perceived corruption, and fear of punishment or deportation due to their unlawful status, among other reasons. In cases where law enforcement identified foreign victims, victims often refused to cooperate. According to experts, foreign victims report to local police upon return to their home country, where they feel safer.
In addition to four existing government-funded, NGO-operated shelters, in 2017 the government opened trafficking shelters in seven cities: Almaty, Temirtau, Petropavlovsk, Uralsk, Aktobe, Kyzylorda, and Taldykorgan. The 11 NGO-operated trafficking shelters offered legal, psychological, and medical assistance and were accessible to all Kazakhstani trafficking victims, regardless of gender or age. Shelter services were not conditional upon victim’s cooperation with law enforcement. Foreign citizens were not eligible to receive services at these shelters. In 2017, the government allocated at least 162.7 million Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT) ($491,080) to direct victim assistance, including 159 million KZT ($479,910) for shelter assistance and 3.7 million KZT ($11,170) for victim assistance during investigations, an increase from 25.97 million KZT ($78,390) in 2016. The shelters were opened and staffed in accordance with the 2016 established standards for trafficking victim shelters. In 2017, a law on victim compensation was adopted, which allowed victims, including foreign victims to request monetary compensation as a part of the criminal proceedings, instead of filing a civil suit in conjunction with the criminal case; the law was scheduled to be implemented in 2020.
NGOs reported effective victim referral and police cooperation with anti-trafficking units assigned to each region. Law enforcement units mandated to address migration or trafficking issues have a formal system to identify trafficking victims among at-risk persons, such as undocumented migrants or persons in prostitution; nonetheless, officials’ efforts to identify foreign victims were limited. The government encouraged victims—including foreigners—to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings, access to pre-trial shelter services, and basic provisions such as food, clothing, and medical and legal assistance. However, if a criminal case was not initiated, authorities did not recognize or give protective status to foreign victims. In 2017, the government provided two foreign victims legal protection (compared to 15 foreign victims in 2016), including suspension of deportation proceedings, and special temporary residency throughout the criminal investigation. NGOs reported foreign victims sometimes experienced problems in accessing local medical care due to a lack of health insurance or residence permits. The government did not offer legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face retribution or hardship and, according to local law, victims were deported after expiration of their temporary residency rights. In 2017, there were no reports of authorities criminally punishing victims for crimes as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, authorities routinely detained and deported possible foreign victims with no proactive efforts made to screen for trafficking victimization, offer referral to care providers, or ensure they were not penalized for crimes committed as a result of their trafficking.