The government decreased victim protection efforts. The government officially identified 98 victims (71 in 2017), including 82 female victims of sex trafficking and 16 male victims of forced labor (66 female victims of sex trafficking and five male victims of forced labor in 2017). None were foreign victims (three were foreign victims in 2017). The government did not identify any child victims in 2016, 2017, or 2018. GRETA and other observers reported minimal efforts to proactively identify Azerbaijani victims of internal trafficking, including children. As a result, most officially identified victims were Azerbaijani victims identified in destination countries or in previous years, foreign victims exploited in Azerbaijan; officials identified one Azerbaijani victim of internal trafficking in 2018 (none in 2017). The government identified 450 children and 207 parents “involved in begging for the purpose of helping their parents,” but it identified no forced begging victims and returned children to their parents without investigating the role of the family in the children’s exploitation.
The government had standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification but first responders, including law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel, were either unaware of the procedures or did not consistently follow or understand them. Observers reported the lack of screening of vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, including women, children, LGBTI persons in prostitution, and foreign migrant workers. Additionally, the government lacked policies tailored to children, such as interview questions, indicators, and referral procedures. SOPs required first responders to refer potential victims within 24 hours to ATD, who officially recognized victims based on an investigation. NGOs and the government provided support services to some potential victims; however, individuals without official recognition did not receive the one-time government-provided allowance and did not have the ability to bring a civil claim against the alleged traffickers. Civil society referred 57 potential trafficking victims to ATD (six in 2017) and ATD determined two to be victims (none in 2016 and 2017).
The government allocated 147,490 manat ($86,760) for victim protection, compared to 150,530 manat ($88,550) in 2017. The MIA operated a shelter for trafficking victims, which provided accommodation, financial assistance, legal assistance, and medical and psycho-social support; 95 officially recognized victims and three potential victims received support at this shelter (65 officially recognized victims and six potential victims in 2017). The MIA-run shelter had separate areas for women, men, and children but limited freedom of movement and required victims to submit an application to leave the shelter. The MIA-run shelter accommodated potential victims for up to one month but longer stays required victims to cooperate with law enforcement. The MIA-run shelter provided the only accommodation for male victims. The government allocated a resettlement allowance of 400 manat ($240) from an assistance fund for officially recognized victims; 98 victims received the resettlement allowance (71 in 2017). The government raised 13,000 manat ($7,650) from private donors in 2018 for a foundation to support potential and official victims. The Victim Assistance Center (VAC) in Baku provided legal, psychological, medical, and employment assistance to officially recognized and potential victims. MIA referred 92 victims to the VAC (68 victims in 2017), civil society referred 27 potential victims (28 potential victims in 2017), and five potential victims self-referred. The VAC provided 28 officially recognized victims with medical aid (44 in 2017), 47 with psychological assistance (52 in 2017), and 32 with legal aid (52 in 2017). Additionally, the VAC provided 25 potential victims with medical aid, 17 with psychological assistance, and nine with legal aid. The government also aided employment of 20 officially recognized and potential victims (21 in 2017) and 23 with vocational training (10 in 2017). Observers reported low pay for VAC employees led to high staff turnover and decreased service quality due to inexperienced staff assisting victims. The government did not provide funding to NGO-run shelters despite relying heavily on their victim support and reintegration services; the government referred 47 victims to NGO-run shelters (41 in 2017). NGOs remained severely underfunded and restrictive legislation governing foreign grants limited NGOs’ ability to receive funding from foreign donors. Most NGO-run shelter staff who provided support services worked on a voluntary basis. The State Migration Service (SMS) could issue temporary residence permits for foreign victims, had authorities identified any in 2018.
The government likely penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Experts reported authorities may have penalized sex trafficking victims with administrative fines for prostitution due to inadequate identification. Similarly, an international organization referred foreign migrant workers who displayed indicators of trafficking, but ATD did not recognize any as a victim and some were subsequently deported. Authorities did not use legally stipulated victim-witness protection measures for trafficking victims. GRETA and other international organizations reported prosecutors believed such measures were unnecessary for trafficking victims and noted the lack of licensed attorneys providing legal assistance to victims due to low pay. Children testified without a child psychologist or attorney to communicate legal terminology in a child-friendly manner.