he government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2017, the most recent year data was available, the government-funded national victim registration center and assistance coordinator registered 958 possible trafficking victims, compared with 952 in 2016. Of these, 534 were victims of sex trafficking, 249 of labor trafficking, 42 of both labor and sex trafficking, and 133 of uncategorized trafficking. Children comprised 194 of the victims (227 in 2016). The top countries of victim origin in 2017 (in order of prevalence) were the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Nigeria. The police reported identifying 432 victims (446 in 2016); regional health care organizations, 320 (240 in 2016); labor inspectors, 38 (38 in 2016); border security, 21 (12 in 2016); and the remainder from other organizations. The BES islands did not identify any victims in 2018. The government continued to identify fewer victims than in years prior to 2016, but officials and civil society did not interpret this trend as a decrease in trafficking prevalence. Both attributed the identification of fewer victims to a shift in police resources away from trafficking to new priorities, which led to staff turnover and a loss of accumulated trafficking expertise. Additionally, civil society reported victims preferred to register for residency permits under the asylum process rather than the specialized process for trafficking victims. In 2017, the national rapporteur conducted a multiple systems estimation study, which estimated 6,250 trafficking victims within the country.
The government funded an extensive network of care facilities for both foreign and domestic victims. The government fully funded three NGO-managed shelters that provided dedicated services for child, adult females, and adult male trafficking victims to include 50 shelter beds with 16 beds designated for male victims. The government provided €800,000 ($917,430) to the shelters, a significant decrease from €1.6 million ($1.83 million) in 2017. All shelters provided medical and psychological care, schooling, language and skills training, and legal assistance; some also provided self-defense classes and most had facilities accessible to disabled individuals. Local governments also funded shelters for domestic violence victims, which had dedicated space for trafficking victims. Children remained vulnerable in the protection system; in May 2018, police arrested two men for trafficking 12 girls in a youth care facility. Authorities funded several shelters designated for “lover-boy” trafficking victims (girls coerced into sexual exploitation through a sham relationship). The government did not provide data on the number of victims referred to care facilities in 2018, but from 2013 to 2017, 824 of the 5,433 identified victims, or 15 percent, chose to receive services at the shelters. In 2018, the number of health care regions with a trafficking victim coordinator increased to 24, compared with 16 in 2017. The government issued a grant to an NGO to fill all 35 regional coordinator positions by 2020.
The government permitted potential victims to stay in shelter care for a three-month reflection period to begin recovery and decide whether to assist law enforcement. The national rapporteur reported the three investigative agencies—the police, the military police, and the labor inspectorate—did not uniformly offer the three-month reflection period to foreign victims. Labor authorities stated criteria for granting non-EU victims reflection periods remained unclear. In 2017, the most recent year data was available, 131 of the 584 foreign victims made use of the reflection period. During the reflection period, non-EU victims had access to specialized shelters but could not work. After the reflection period, victims who agreed to assist police could continue to stay in shelters. According to civil society, foreign victims who ceased cooperation with authorities lost their residency permit and consequently all support services. NGOs reported non-EU victims were increasingly unwilling to report to the authorities as they were concerned with participating in a long court process, fearful of retribution from convicted traffickers due to light sentencing, and uncertain of obtaining permanent residency. In an effort to address concerns regarding assistance linked to criminal investigations, the government completed a pilot project that assigned a multidisciplinary team to review victimhood designation without dependence on cooperation with a criminal investigation; project results were pending. Victims willing to testify against their alleged trafficker were eligible to receive a temporary residence permit (B-8 permit), if authorities decided to prosecute a suspected trafficker. Victims received permanent residency when the court convicted the trafficker in their case or when they maintained temporary B-8 status for three or more years. In 2017, the most recent year data was available, 131 (160 in 2016) foreign victims applied for the permanent B-8 permit. A victim could apply for asylum if their case closed without a conviction or they declined to assist in an investigation. The government did not report the number of potential victims who applied for asylum. A procedure also existed to circumvent B-8 eligibility requirements for residency in cases where victims were seriously threatened or had serious medical or psychological conditions. Authorities worked with civil society to repatriate foreign victims unable to acquire residency permits.