The government maintained efforts to protect victims. For the fourth consecutive year, the Ministry of Justice reported continued efforts to develop standard operating procedures on victim identification. The police did not collect detailed law enforcement data, including on trafficking, and the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion (MSSI) only collected aggregate data on vulnerable persons and not trafficking-specific data. The government did not report how many of the 65 potential victims of trafficking in 2018 it confirmed as victims, compared with nine sex trafficking victims confirmed from 267 potential victims in 2017. Separately, an NGO, which partnered with the government stated it identified 12 victims.
The government did not provide rehabilitative services directly to victims. While the government had in past years provided some funding to three NGOs to provide shelter and psycho-social services to trafficking victims, during 2018, the government’s nine months without an approved state budget delayed funding to the NGOs. MSSI technical field officers and 97 national police victim protection unit investigators identified and referred victims to services. An international organization continued to assess the availability and the quality of victim care as poor and noted that while the government stated it provided services to both men and women, its existing victim assistance was structured for domestic violence victims, who were overwhelmingly female. Local NGOs also faced large capacity constraints; the government’s primary victim assistance provider was only able to provide shelter for four victims at a time. Adult victims may leave shelters unattended.
Law enforcement routinely performed raids on areas known for prostitution, which was legal in the country, in part to assess immigration status. According to immigration officials, police, and media sources, authorities detained en masse foreign women in prostitution—many of whom were possible victims of sex trafficking—during such raids and deported them without proper trafficking screening. For instance, in April 2018, authorities raided two karaoke bars and found 27 women from Cambodia, China, and Vietnam; traffickers had allegedly recruited them online and promised free homestays and food but when they arrived, coerced them to engage in commercial sex acts, made them sleep in the bar, and forced them to pay both the owners of the bars and the recruiter a large portion of the money they received from sex buyers. The government did not identify any of these women as trafficking victims and the immigration director publicly stated the victims had misused their visas. Several of the women returned to their home countries. The government had not yet completed implementing regulations and guidance on the 2017 Law on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking, which stated trafficking victims may not be detained, accused, or judged for having entered or resided illegally in Timor-Leste, nor for having participated in unlawful acts committed as a direct consequence of the victim’s trafficking situation. Observers also noted that in many cases judges did not follow the Law on Witnesses, which provided important protections in court proceedings for victims. The government did not provide foreign victims with alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. The government reported it funded the repatriation of one foreign victim to her home country.