The government significantly increased efforts to proactively identify and refer trafficking victims to care. Between April 2018 and January 2019, the government reported that the National Authority identified 780 trafficking victims from among the potential victims referred to it by government agencies and civil society organizations. The MOI identified 383 trafficking victims. Additionally, child protection specialists from MWFC identified 709 potential trafficking victims among the 10,000 child abuse cases it received in 2018. The MOH also identified 69 potential trafficking victims of sexual and economic exploitation, forced begging, and domestic servitude among patients that received services from the MOH. Despite authorities’ efforts during the reporting period to proactively identify trafficking victims, the government lacked formal victim identification procedures to guide officials during much of the reporting period; however, judicial and border police reportedly had practices in place to screen for potential trafficking victims among those that overstayed their legal residency or who were subject to expulsion after serving a prison sentence. In addition, the MSA continued to train all labor inspectors to identify potential trafficking victims; there were 25 labor inspectors and 24 social workers in the MSA’s labor inspectorate that were trained as specialized points of contact for child trafficking victims. Government officials continued to work in cooperation with civil society groups to train key law enforcement, judicial, immigration, and social services personnel to identify victims among high-risk populations. Despite these efforts, the national anti-trafficking commission and MOI special victims unit were the only government entities that were authorized to officially identify trafficking victims, thereby allowing victims access to state-run services and providing exemptions from exit visas for foreign victims. NGOs reported that the limited number of ministries who could legally identify a trafficking victim slowed the process for victims to receive care. Moreover, insufficient interagency coordination and resources reportedly hindered the timely identification and referral to services for trafficking victims. In addition, civil society organizations reported the special victims unit did not have sufficient personnel or resources to provide adequate assistance to trafficking victims, nor did personnel have the cultural understanding or training to communicate with vulnerable migrants from the sub-Saharan African population, including potential trafficking victims. Due to a lack of systematic victim identification procedures and policies, some unidentified victims may have been punished for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution or immigration violations.
At the end of the reporting period, the government began to implement the national victim referral mechanism, which streamlined all stages of the referral process from victim identification and assistance to civil and criminal proceedings. For example, as part of the investigation into the so-called Koranic school in Regueb, a special victims unit—accompanied by child protection officers and psychologists—referred 42 boys aged 10-18 years old to a specialized care facility near Tunis. Additionally, the MOI provided assistance and accommodation to 50 child trafficking victims and 30 foreign victims. The anti-trafficking commission also assisted 80 victims, 63 of whom were identified by an international organization, by providing them exemption from the exit fee penalty that allowed them to return to their home countries; the government also allowed them access to state-run health and social services. The government also repatriated and provided support and medical care to 35 Tunisian victims, who were exploited in sex and labor trafficking in Saudi Arabia after applying for work through the Agency for Placement Abroad in Private Establishments (EPPA)—a Tunisian government agency. The Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) reported it provided lodging, medical and psychological assistance, and legal aid to 70 victims of economic exploitation at its centers for vulnerable populations. Two of these MSA-run centers in Sousse and Sfax had designated areas available for victims of all forms of trafficking where victims could enter and exit freely and return on a regular basis for help seeking employment; the MSA—in collaboration with an international organization—continued to provide training for the centers’ staff on rehabilitation and care for trafficking victims. In January 2019, the MSA and anti-trafficking commission signed an agreement for the MSA to dedicate one room in all social care centers for victims of trafficking and violence. During the reporting period, the national anti-trafficking commission utilized a center within its national headquarters—established in January 2018—to house trafficking victims while the commission helped victims navigate administrative and judicial procedures. An MOH-operated hospital in Tunis had a unit with trained personnel dedicated to caring for victims of violence, including sexual exploitation, which offered psycho-social support, medical documentation, and legal expertise; the government did not report if this unit assisted any trafficking victims during the reporting period. Seventy-nine government-run youth centers around the country provided psycho-educational services to at-risk children ages six to 18, including child trafficking victims. In April 2018, the MWFCE inaugurated one of these centers near Tunis as the first center solely for child trafficking victims, which provided services to the 42 victims referred by the aforementioned special victims unit. Despite this, civil society contacts reported there were limited services, especially long-term, reintegration, and relocation services, around the country for child trafficking victims.
The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Under the anti-trafficking law, the government offered all identified foreign trafficking victims relief from deportation, and victims had the right to free legal aid to assist them in engaging in civil and criminal proceedings against their traffickers. The anti-trafficking law also allowed victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes access to psychological and physical protection services.
Despite these available centers and services, the anti-trafficking commission and civil society partners reported the country lacked sufficient shelters to support vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. Although the commission and NGOs partnered to reintegrate victims into society, the lack of resources, trained personnel, and sufficient shelter beds created challenges in doing so. Additionally, civil society organizations reported that there were not adequate shelter or safe spaces available for male victims of trafficking and other forms of violence; there were only three government-run shelters that could accommodate male trafficking victims, but those shelters did not provide access to trained counselors, economic reintegration programs, or legal support.