The government maintained protection efforts for Kazakhstani victims, but efforts to identify and assist foreign victims remained negligible, with no shelters available to foreign victims. The government identified 83 trafficking victims, an increase from 76 in 2017. Of those, all but six were exploited in Kazakhstan; 79 were victims of sex trafficking, three of forced labor, and one of forced begging. All but two of the identified victims were from Kazakhstan; the government identified two victims from Uzbekistan, one in forced labor and one in sexual exploitation. Six of the Kazakhstani victims were victims of sex trafficking in South Korea. The government identified the majority of sex victims during one of four anti-trafficking special police operations intended to uncover trafficking cases by locating and closing brothels, arresting pimps, and registering women in prostitution; the small number of labor victims indicated a lack of consistent proactive screening efforts during routine law enforcement efforts throughout the year. In 2018, NGOs reported assisting 122 trafficking victims, compared to 177 in 2017; among these, 36 were Kazakhstani and 86 were foreigners; 29 were victims of sex trafficking, 92 of forced labor; 42 were female, and 80 male. Of the 86 foreign victims, 82 were from Uzbekistan. Law enforcement referred 19 victims to NGOs, foreign embassies referred ten, NGOs referred 69, 23 were referred by international organizations, and 24 victims self-referred (including through hotlines). The government-funded and NGO-operated trafficking hotline received 1,834 phone calls in 2018, the vast majority of which were requests for information while 23 were referred to anti-trafficking police units, but they did not result in confirmed trafficking cases. Observers noted many foreign victims were reluctant to self-identify to the police due to lack of trust, perceived corruption, and fear of punishment or deportation due to their unlawful status, among other reasons. In cases where law enforcement identified foreign victims, victims often refused to cooperate. According to experts, foreign victims report to local police upon return to their home country, where they felt safer.
The government continued to fund 10 NGO-operated shelters; one shelter in Temirtau closed due to gaps in the funding cycle. The 10 NGO-operated trafficking shelters offered legal, psychological, and medical assistance and were accessible to all Kazakhstani trafficking victims, regardless of gender or age. These services were not conditional upon victim’s cooperation with law enforcement; however, foreign citizens were not eligible to receive services at these shelters, and all assistance to foreign victims was contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement. Victims were required to decide on cooperation at the time of their identification. In 2018, the government allocated at least 92 million KZT ($245,240) to direct victim assistance, including 90 million KZT ($239,900) for shelters and 2 million KZT ($5,330) for victim assistance during investigations, a decrease from 162.7 million KZT ($433,690) in 2017; the government shelter allocation in 2017 was significantly higher than in 2018 due to costs related to opening seven new shelters during the year. The shelters were staffed in accordance with the 2016 established standards for trafficking victim shelters. Bidding for shelter operation contracts is conducted annually, as the funding cycle is limited to one year; NGOs reported severe administrative and financial constraints at the end of the calendar year due to the end of the funding cycle and delays to the awarding of new contracts, which limited their ability to provide services. The government adopted a law on victim compensation in 2017, which allowed victims, including foreign victims, to request monetary compensation as a part of the criminal proceedings, instead of filing a civil suit in conjunction with the criminal case; the law was scheduled to be implemented in 2020. In July 2018, the government introduced means to the Criminal Code providing for the fixed withholding of payments from convicted criminals; these payments will be used to fund victims’ monetary compensation. Victims could file a civil suit, but many could not afford attorney fees and were unaware of their ability to do so; no victims pursued a civil suit in 2018. The government provided pro bono attorneys to trafficking victims, although NGOs reported these attorneys were often inexperienced.
NGOs reported effective victim referral and police cooperation with anti-trafficking units assigned to each region. Law enforcement units mandated to address migration or trafficking issues had a formal system to identify trafficking victims among at-risk persons, such as undocumented migrants or persons in prostitution; nonetheless, officials’ efforts to identify foreign victims and victims of labor trafficking remained limited. The government encouraged victims—including foreigners—to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings, access to pre-trial shelter services, and basic provisions such as food, clothing, and medical and legal assistance. Such assistance ceased for foreign victims if the government did not initiate a criminal case. If a criminal case was not initiated, authorities did not recognize or give protective status to foreign victims. In 2018, the government provided one foreign victim legal protection (compared to two foreign victims in 2017 and 15 in 2016), including suspension of deportation proceedings, and special temporary residency throughout the criminal investigation. NGOs reported foreign victims sometimes experienced problems in accessing local medical care due to a lack of health insurance or residence permits. The government did not offer legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face retribution or hardship and, according to local law, victims were deported after expiration of their temporary residency rights. In 2018, there were no reports of authorities criminally punishing victims for crimes as a direct result of trafficking; however, authorities routinely detained and deported possible foreign victims with no proactive efforts made to screen for trafficking victimization, offer referral to care providers, or ensure they were not penalized for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit.
The government repatriated Kazakhstani women and minors, including potential trafficking victims, whose parents or spouses were alleged fighters with ISIS. ISIS was known to use child soldiers and perpetrate other forms of trafficking. The children were generally housed with family members, and the state fully funded and supported their rehabilitation and reintegration.