The government slightly increased protection efforts. The government identified nine victims (13 in 2017). Of these, eight were subjected to forced labor and one to both sex trafficking and forced labor (eight were subjected to sex trafficking and five to forced labor in 2017); two were children in both 2017 and 2018; four were foreign (none in 2017); and eight were males and one female (10 were females and three were males in 2017). The 2014 Law on Identification and Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation defined identification, referral, and assistance procedures for relevant actors. First responders did not use standard indicators to screen vulnerable populations and experts continued to report a lack of proactive identification and a reliance on victims to self-identify; however, ATU proactively identified four forced labor victims and the Migration Service screened 203 asylum seekers for trafficking indicators. The government provided temporary shelter, emergency medical aid, and psychological aid to potential trafficking victims during the “pre-identification stage,” a stage where the government collected information on the potential victim within a maximum of 10 days. The Victim Identification Commission, which consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Prosecutor General’s office, police, and NGOs, officially recognized victims based on information collected during the “pre-identification stage.” Civil society reported the referral procedures functioned well and they had positive cooperation with the government.
The government allocated 19.07 million drams ($39,320) in both 2017 and 2018 for victim protection efforts, including operational costs for an NGO-run shelter. The government and local NGOs jointly provided legal, medical, and psychological assistance; housing; a one-time monetary compensation of 250,000 drams ($515); and access to social, educational, and employment projects. The government offered free health care but relied on NGOs to provide legal assistance, including the cost for attorneys. Three victims received health care (two in 2017), six victims received the one-time monetary compensation (five in 2017), and five victims received legal assistance from an NGO (nine in 2017). The government maintained a cooperation agreement and partially funded one specialized NGO-run shelter to provide services to victims; the NGO-run shelter assisted three newly identified victims (19 in 2017) and 41 people in total (36 in 2017). The NGO-run shelter required adult victims to notify staff when they left shelters unescorted, but victims were free to leave if they no longer wanted assistance. Authorities afforded foreign victims the same rights and services as Armenian citizens. Male victims did not have access to a shelter and only NGOs rented apartments; four victims were accommodated in rented apartments. The government hired and trained 64 new social workers on trafficking issues and provided vocational training classes to victims. Despite these efforts, civil society continued to provide the bulk of reintegration and long-term support services. Experts reported cases of re-victimization or homelessness due to the lack of transitional housing and reintegration opportunities for victims. Additionally, the government did not include trafficking victims in the list of vulnerable people eligible for state housing. The NGO-run shelter and childcare institutions accommodated child victims but experts reported a shortage in accommodation and foster families for children, which resulted in some cases where authorities returned children to family members who were involved in their exploitation. GRETA and OSCE reported in 2017 cases of child labor and child abuse in state childcare institutions; staff at state childcare institutions considered child labor to be normal. The law designated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate repatriation of Armenian victims from abroad, but an absence of established procedures and funds to cover logistical costs created obstacles in repatriation; the government did not repatriate victims in 2018 (three victims in 2017). The law entitled foreign victims to receive a permanent residence permit but applications required evidence of employment.
Observers reported anecdotal accounts of some sex trafficking victims penalized with administrative fines due to inadequate identification. Law enforcement officers in some remote areas lacked information and training to inform victims of their rights to protection or assistance. Victims hesitated to assist in prosecutions due to a lack of confidentiality in public testimonies creating a fear of retaliation from traffickers and stigmatization from their family and community. Authorities did not protect victims’ rights during court proceedings and victims, including children, always appeared in front of their traffickers in court, risking re-traumatization. The government continued to lack a formal victim-witness protection program. The Criminal Procedure Code and a 2016 decree stipulated some victim-witness protection measures but none were used in 2017 and 2018. Victims were legally entitled to obtain restitution during criminal proceedings or through a separate civil suit; no victims filed a civil suit in 2017 and 2018. In previous years, judges had not issued damages in civil suits, asserting that victims did not substantiate the financial damages they had suffered. The law allowed investigators to place defendants’ property in custody to fund potential civil claims, but this rarely occurred in practice.