The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Among the 267 unconfirmed trafficking victims identified, the national police confirmed and referred nine—all sex trafficking victims—to short-term shelter and protective services run by a local NGO. This was a decrease from 21 in 2016. The government did not report providing any protective services directly to victims. The Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) had technical officers in the field in each of the 13 districts and the national police had 97 investigators in local communities as part of its victim protection unit to help identify victims. The standard operating procedure for victim identification used by police consisted of 25 questions that determine whether a case was human trafficking. Through foreign government funding, a local NGO provided victim identification training to local leaders in two target districts (Oecusse and Dili).
The government allocated an unknown amount of funds to three NGOs to provide psycho-social and shelter services to trafficking victims. However, an international organization assessed access and quality to victim care as poor. The MSS stated it provided services to both men and women; however, a local NGO noted the logistical challenges of effectively serving male victims since the government was using the existing domestic violence infrastructure to assist victims, which tends to provide more services to women. Adult victims may leave shelters unattended.
The government’s referral system employed MSS field staff to receive tips from local communities and coordinate with police and NGOs, which reported improved cooperation through the referral network. An unknown number of victims received vocational training, legal assistance, or reintegration support from NGOs, some of which received government funds. According to immigration officials, police, and media sources, foreign women in prostitution—many of whom were possible victims of sex trafficking—were sometimes detained en masse during law enforcement raids and deported without proper screening, or as a result of arresting officers’ inability to derive pertinent information from the women due to their having been coached to provide identical accounts. Law enforcement reported karaoke bar owners confiscated the passports of foreign workers and only surrendered them if the police ordered the foreign workers’ deportation. Authorities also charged some suspected victims with immigration violations, after which they appeared at initial court hearings and were made to forfeit their passports to secure their reappearance. Authorities believed this arrangement pushed some of the victims to return to their offending places of work rather than face deportation. The government did not provide foreign victims with alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, and the government did not report assisting in the voluntary repatriation of any victims.
The February 2017 Law on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking provided extensive protections for victims, including those specific to victims testifying in criminal cases. The new law also authorized a period of reflection and potential residence permits to foreign victims as well as voluntary repatriation of Timorese victims from abroad. However, the government did not complete implementing regulations for the new law. Foreign workers in forced labor or sex trafficking were not necessarily identified as being victims since workers were often charged with visa violations based on immigration investigations. In 2017, immigration authorities deported without screening for trafficking indicators 735 irregular migrants for violation of the migration and asylum law.