The government maintained protection efforts. The federal government continued to lack standard procedures across cantons for victim protection and victim identification. In 2017, cantonal authorities identified 228 victims (197 in 2016), 120 of whom were victims of forced prostitution (107 in 2016). Assistance for victims of violence was available in 24 out of the 26 cantons, but did not always include anti-trafficking services and varied canton to canton. In 2016, the latest year for which assistance data was available, 101 victims and relatives of victims received government-funded trafficking-specific counseling, compared with 71 in 2015. For the second consecutive year, civil society and an international organization reported an increase in the number of trafficking victims among asylum-seekers. The State Secretariat for Migration identified 100 potential victims undergoing the asylum process in 2017. The government’s border police adopted a new policy of screening newly arrived asylum-seekers alone in order to eliminate the potential influence of traffickers operating within migrant camps. However, NGOs reported asylum accommodations did not provide adequate assistance and counseling services to possible victims and asylum-seekers remained vulnerable as they could be deported back to their first country of EU entrance without first receiving victim protection.
Under the Swiss Victim Assistance Law, all trafficking victims were entitled to help from the government-funded women’s shelters or victim assistance centers for victims of abuse, and enjoyed special safeguards during criminal proceedings. Cantonal authorities maintained jurisdiction on providing protection for victims, and trafficking victims were entitled to free and immediate assistance centers that varied from canton to canton. Some cantons had formal referral systems in place with NGO-operated victim assistance facilities specialized in trafficking. While the provisions of local victim assistance centers varied from canton to canton, they generally provided victims with up to four weeks of emergency lodging and living allowance, several hours of consultations with a lawyer, mental health counseling, medical treatment, transportation, and translation services. If recovery required more time, the government was obligated to assume the additional cost of longer-term care. Through the anti-human trafficking ordinance, the government granted 314,060 Swiss francs ($322,110) to five NGOs from a total annual allocation of 400,000 Swiss francs ($410,260). Nine cantonal authorities adopted a new financing model for one Zurich-based NGO linked to the number of victims assisted and no longer allocated funds for fixed operating costs. NGOs reported the new model forced them to be more reliant on the federal government and private donations. The ordinance allowed all organizations involved in implementing anti-trafficking measures to apply for a government grant. Federal and cantonal government sources financed the vast majority of a leading NGO’s 2.6 million Swiss francs ($2.7 million) operating costs for its trafficking victim protection program. The NGO assisted 228 trafficking victims, 202 of which were women, 19 transgendered, and seven male. Sixty percent were sex trafficking victims, 13 percent were forced labor victims, and the remaining 23 percent fell into other categories. Twenty-three percent of victims were referred by cantonal or federal police and judicial authorities, a decrease from 47 percent in 2016, which was reportedly due to recent pressure from local criminal defense attorneys to exclude the NGO’s participation in the early stages of trafficking investigations. Services for child and male victims were limited, especially shelter, counseling, and victim referral resources. The government provided male victims temporary shelter in centers, hotels, or NGO-operated shelters for men, and NGOs that received government support provided limited services to such victims. One of the leading NGOs also assisted male victims and helped four transgendered victims. NGOs reported insufficient resources for male and child trafficking victims. The government also facilitated assistance to foreign victims of trafficking; however, due to strict residency requirements, few were granted long-term residency permits and instead were provided with repatriation assistance to help them return home. In 2017, the government provided repatriation assistance to 16 victims, the majority from Eastern Europe. A leading NGO reported an increase in cases of victims, relatives of victims, and witnesses fined for breaching immigration laws and subsequently deported, despite making official statements to assist ongoing trafficking cases.
Cantonal immigration authorities were required to grant victims a minimum 30-day reflection period to decide participate in judicial proceedings against their traffickers. The government granted 55 individuals reflection periods, 90 short-term residence permits, and 14 hardship-based residence permits (48 reflection periods, 90 short-term residence permits, and 21 hardship-based residence permits in 2016). The government held three workshops in Bern, Lausanne, and Zurich to educate officials on guidelines for issuing residence permits to victims. NGOs expressed concern that it remained difficult for victims to obtain victim protection and hardship residence permits without the assistance of a judge. Twenty-three victims received restitution payments in 2016, compared with 16 in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available for comparison.