The Government of Macedonia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Macedonia remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by training first responders on victim identification and working with local authorities to establish local anti-trafficking action plans. The government established an anti-trafficking Task Force, re-established mobile identification teams in four regions, and dispatched social workers to conduct proactive victim identification at border crossings and migrant and refugee camps. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government identified six victims and convicted one trafficker, judges continued to issue weak sentences that were below the government’s own minimum penalty, and law enforcement lacked staff to conduct adequate proactive investigations. The government decreased overall funding for victim protection and did not award grants to anti-trafficking NGOs, despite NGOs identifying and serving the vast majority of potential victims identified during the year. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns; while the government charged a civil servant with complicity in 2017, it has not prosecuted a government official for complicity in several investigations it has initiated in recent years.

Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, and impose strong sentences; increase efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims and train officials on screening for trafficking among individuals in prostitution, migrants, refugees, and other at-risk populations; allocate sufficient resources for victim protection efforts; provide accommodation to foreign potential trafficking victims in safe and appropriately rehabilitative settings and allow victims to leave shelters at will; allocate sufficient resources and personnel to the police anti-trafficking unit to proactively investigate trafficking; provide advanced training to judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement on trafficking investigations and prosecutions; improve compensation mechanisms for victims and inform them of their right to seek restitution; and make public government anti-trafficking efforts.

The government maintained weak law enforcement efforts. Articles 418(a) and (d) of the criminal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed a minimum penalty of four years imprisonment, which was sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government investigated four cases in 2017 (two in 2016). The government prosecuted four defendants (two in 2016), and convicted one trafficker in both 2016 and 2017. Judges continued to issue sentences below the minimum penalty of four years imprisonment; the only convicted trafficker in 2017 received two years probation, but the prosecutors appealed and the sentence remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

The Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings and Migrant Smuggling Unit (CTHBMSU) within the Ministry of Interior (MOI) led specialized investigations, but for much of 2017 lacked the staff to conduct adequate proactive investigations. The MOI trained 718 police officers on trafficking issues and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) trained 25 inspectors on forced labor issues. The government established an anti-trafficking task force and law enforcement conducted joint investigations with Albania, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. In previous years, observers reported some police and labor inspectors allegedly accepted bribes from traffickers and authorities suspected bar and brothel owners received warnings ahead of time before police raids. The government charged a civil servant with complicity in trafficking in 2017. In 2016, the government charged a municipal inspector for trafficking and three police officers remained under investigation since 2014 for suspected involvement in organizations engaged in trafficking; the government did not report progress on those cases.

The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified six victims in the reporting period (six in 2016). Of these, four victims were subjected to sex trafficking, one to both sex trafficking and forced labor, and one to forced labor (six were subjected to sex trafficking in 2016); five were children (three in 2016); and five were female and the other a male (six females in 2016). The government and NGOs also identified 99 potential trafficking victims in 2017 (125 in 2016); 57 were adults and 42 were children. MLSP reestablished mobile identification teams in four regions for vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims, and continued to dispatch social workers to conduct proactive victim identification at border crossings and migrant and refugee camps; MLSP identified one official victim (one potential victim in 2016). The government trained first responders on victim identification, including police officers, labor inspectors, immigration officials teachers, and social workers. However, experts reported most government agencies lacked proactive identification efforts. Officials screened for trafficking indicators at border posts, but border agents did not properly identify victims. MLSP social workers and police continued to identify potential forced labor victims among predominately Romani children engaged in street begging and street vending. The government placed them in daycare centers and warned, fined, or jailed their parents; in cases where courts deemed parents unfit to care for their children, the state placed the children in orphanages.

First responders referred potential victims to CTHBMSU and MLSP, which were authorized to officially identify victims. The government referred 15 potential trafficking victims and civil society referred 84 potential victims (56 were adults and 41 were children), compared to 36 potential victims referred by the government and 89 by civil society in 2016. The government and NGOs provided potential victims and officially recognized victims with protection and assistance, including food, clothing, medical assistance, psycho-social support, rehabilitation, and reintegration services. MLSP-run social service centers also employed specialized staff and provided psycho-social support and reintegration assistance, including education and job placement. However, potential trafficking victims did not have access to the government-run shelter and its support services until officially recognized by the government and GRETA reported officially recognized victims did not receive any formal notification, which hindered their entitlement to free medical and legal assistance. Specialized assistance was not available for male victims and observers reported only one forced labor victim ever received reintegration support. The government operated a shelter for trafficking victims and a transit center for irregular migrants that offered separate facilities for foreign potential victims of trafficking; both facilities could house male, female, and child victims. The government allocated 2.7 million denars ($52,870) to the government-run shelter and the transit center for foreigners, compared to 3.8 million denars ($72,450) in 2016. The government also allocated 382,950 denars ($7,500) to support services and security for victims, compared to approximately 1 million denars ($19,580) in 2016. The government did not award grants to NGOs in 2016 or 2017; NGOs reported their reliance on these grants forced them to reduce services to victims. Observers reported the government relied heavily on funding from the international community and on NGOs to provide assistance. The government-run shelter opened only when authorities identified an official trafficking victim due to budget restraints. The government-run shelter allowed victims freedom of movement, but the migrant facility did not permit foreign potential victims to leave without a temporary residence permit. GRETA reported the migrant facility was in “poor material condition” and “effectively a detention facility and not the appropriate environment for trafficking victims,” and reported the facility held unaccompanied minors and potential child trafficking victims in recent years. The government-run shelter accommodated five child victims during the reporting period and the migrant facility housed 131 foreigners in 2017. The law permitted foreign victims a two-month reflection period to decide whether to testify against their traffickers, followed by a six-month temporary residence permit, regardless of whether they testified; no foreign victims requested residence permits in 2016 or 2017.

The government did not penalize trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, the government may have deported, detained, or restricted freedom of movement of some trafficking victims due to inadequate identification efforts. The government did not report the number of potential victims that assisted in initial investigations (12 in 2016) and five of the six officially identified victims gave statements against their alleged traffickers (two in 2016). The Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors trained 76 officials in non-penalization of victims and victim identification. The government reported no victims required witness protection services in 2016 or 2017. While victims could claim restitution through civil proceedings, no victims had ever successfully completed a claim due to the complexity of the process. The government and civil society continued efforts to develop a victim compensation fund that allowed authorities to allocate compensation to victims from seized criminal assets.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The National Commission (NC), which comprised government agencies, international organizations, and NGOs, met regularly and published an annual report of its activities. The government appointed a new national coordinator in July 2017, who led the NC and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts. Observers reported increased communication and cooperation between civil society and government due to the national coordinator. However, the national rapporteur did not produce a public assessment for the third consecutive year. The national coordinator, in cooperation with international organizations, launched a month-long awareness campaign. The NC distributed approximately 1,500 awareness raising leaflets to the general public and the MOI organized 11 round tables and 249 lectures in schools to raise awareness. The government assisted three local anti-trafficking commissions (Prilep, Gevgelija, and Veles) in developing the first local action plans for trafficking. The government did not operate a hotline, but MOI managed an application to report various offenses, including trafficking; the application received one trafficking-related report, but it did not result in an investigation. The government, in partnership with NGOs, conducted seminars for Romani students, teachers, and NGOs on the risks of forced marriages of minors. Observers reported cases of Romani children not registered at birth whose parents lacked the registration and identification documents to access health care, social protection, and education. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government warned citizens travelling abroad regarding fraudulent offers of employment within the Schengen zone.

As reported over the past five years, Macedonia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and girls in Macedonia are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country in restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Foreign victims subjected to sex trafficking in Macedonia typically originate from Eastern Europe, particularly Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. Citizens of Macedonia and foreign victims transiting Macedonia are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in construction and agricultural sectors in Southern, Central, and Western Europe. Children, primarily Roma, are subjected to forced begging and sex trafficking through forced marriages. Migrants and refugees traveling or being smuggled through Macedonia are vulnerable to trafficking, particularly women and unaccompanied minors. Traffickers frequently bribe police and labor inspectors. Police have been investigated and convicted for complicity in human trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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