The government maintained protection efforts. Based on open pre-trial investigations in 2018, the prosecution service identified 376 victims (309 of sex trafficking, 59 of labor trafficking, and eight of servitude), compared with 407 victims (323 of sex trafficking, 67 of labor trafficking, and eight of servitude) in 2017. Fifty-three of the identified victims were children (42 in 2017). Authorities did not identify foreign victims of trafficking during the year, compared to one potential victim of labor trafficking from Thailand in 2017. Experts alleged law enforcement could not effectively identify victims, due to insufficient knowledge and understanding of trafficking crimes. Pre-trial authorities formally identified trafficking victims, and the anti-trafficking commission, which coordinated the government’s efforts, referred victims to services. The government allocated 390,000 lev ($228,470) for services and implementation of the annual national anti-trafficking and victim protection program with an additional 557,000 lev ($326,300) from a Swiss grant, compared with 376,000 lev ($220,270) and 254,000 lev ($148,800), respectively, in 2017. Experts noted the victim protection program was chronically underfunded, which hampered implementation of a fully-fledged victim-centered approach, and with the conclusion of the Swiss grant in 2018, expressed concern for its sustainability. Experts also expressed disappointment in the lack of high-level political support, particularly vis-a-vis redirecting some of the money seized by traffickers toward victim assistance. Additionally, insufficient funding forced the two newly opened, NGO-operated shelters for victims in Sofia to suspend operations, further raising concerns with the government’s ability to financially support victim services. The government continued contracting NGOs to operate an additional three centers offering consultative services for trafficking victims and three shelters offering residential services. Twenty-four publicly-run crisis centers offered social services to children and women victims of violence, including trafficking; the centers provided support, counseling, and accommodations to 119 trafficking victims. Child victims could stay in centers for up to six months at which point child protection services could place them with relatives, a foster family, or another residential care institution. The government allocated 9,180 lev ($5,380) annually per child accommodated in a crisis center and 33 lev ($19) monthly per child attending school. The National Council on Child Protection maintained referral services and accommodation for unaccompanied minors. Child protection coordinated the repatriation of 15 child victims; however, the government did not allocate funds for repatriation and relied either on the sending country or the Swiss grant to cover the cost.
The law allowed foreign victims who cooperated with law enforcement to stay and work in Bulgaria for the duration of criminal proceedings before deportation, although no foreign victims had applied for this status. For foreign victims who chose not to assist in trafficking investigations, the government provided a 40-day recovery period (70 days for foreign child victims) before repatriation. The law accorded victims anonymity during the pre-trial and trial phases, but authorities rarely implemented this provision, resulting in victims facing intimidation and threats to change their statements. Observers noted many victims did not cooperate with law enforcement because they did not believe the judicial system would protect them, effectively administer justice, or convict perpetrators with meaningful sentences. Observers also noted some judges exhibited more concern with the rights of the traffickers than the rights and needs of the victims. Although in general victims lacked support during criminal cases, such as the state not providing knowledgeable legal counsel during trials, an increasing number of prosecutors from rural areas worked with NGOs and social workers to prepare victims for trial. The process for seeking compensation remained overly bureaucratic and discouraged victims from making claims; as a result, no victims received compensation.