The government maintained negligible protection efforts. The government identified eight victims in 2018, compared with one victim in 2017, 11 victims in 2016, and 12 in 2015. An international organization reported assisting 25 victims, including 12 females and 13 males, but estimated the total number of victims was significantly higher, as evidenced by the 6,998 calls to the foreign-funded trafficking hotlines in Ashgabat and Turkmenabat. This was more than twice the number of calls received in 2017, but the vast majority related to safe migration, while only seven calls were related to human trafficking. The trafficking hotline in Turkmenabat was reopened in 2018, after operations were suspended in 2017 due to lack of funding. Despite the anti-trafficking law requiring the provision of a wide range of services from the government to trafficking victims, for the third year, the government did not provide comprehensive services to all trafficking victims, nor did it fund international organizations or NGOs to provide such services. An NGO operated one shelter for female trafficking victims in Turkmenistan with foreign-donor funding. The shelter provided comprehensive services to seven female victims in 2018, including local reintegration and job placement. There was no specialized care center for male victims, although NGOs provided some support. In accordance with the 2016-2018 national action plan, the government continued to partner with an international organization to draft SOPs for victim identification and referral; although the group completed the SOPs, the government failed to adopt them. Authorities remained without formal written procedures to identify victims or refer them to care providers, but they informally referred suspected trafficking victims to an international organization for services. Some law enforcement agencies only reported individuals as identified trafficking victims if their cases led to trafficking convictions. The prosecutor general’s office reported victims could apply for physical protection and assistance in obtaining free medical care; however, officials did not provide details of specific cases in which such assistance was provided during the year, and NGOs indicated previously that some victims were required to pay for their own medical treatment.
The anti-trafficking law provided that victims, including those who participate in criminal proceedings, were exempt from administrative or criminal liability for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, and were guaranteed employment. It also required law enforcement agencies to respect the confidentiality of victims. The amended legal code also provided for free legal assistance to trafficking victims who apply for official status; the government did not report providing any legal assistance to victims. There were no reports of victims seeking or obtaining restitution in civil suits. The government made no attempts to identify sex trafficking victims among women arrested for engaging in prostitution. Consequently, officials may have penalized sex trafficking victims for prostitution offenses. After some Turkmen, including trafficking victims, returned home from other countries, the migration service reportedly blocked them from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years.