The government increased efforts in victim protection. The government identified 76 victims (40 in 2017). Of these, 34 were victims of sex trafficking, 18 of forced labor, two for forced begging, one for forced criminality, and 21 for multiple types of exploitation (21 were victims of sex trafficking, four of forced labor, four of forced begging, one of forced criminality, and 10 of multiple types of exploitation in 2017). Thirty-two victims were children (18 in 2017) and 57 were female and 19 were male (36 females and four males in 2017). First responders referred 193 potential victims (142 in 2017) to the government’s Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV); law enforcement referred 89 (44 in 2017), social welfare organizations referred 45 (57 in 2017), other government entities referred 21, and 38 were referred by civil society or other means (41 in 2017).
The government continued to lack formal victim identification procedures, including standardized indicators to screen vulnerable populations. Local centers for social work (LCSW) often did not intervene in cases of potential forced begging, and forced labor involving Roma. The government also used an outdated national referral mechanism that lacked established roles and responsibilities for referring victims to support services. CPTV assessed and officially recognized victims referred by first responders and developed a protection and assistance plan for each victim. CPTV had two units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center (URC). The government updated standard operating procedures for CPTV, but experts continued to report the lack of control and transparency over the official victim assessment. Additionally, GRETA reported CPTV lacked the staff to review cases in a timely manner and resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. Observers reported CPTV lacked specific procedures for child trafficking victims. For example, the questionnaire used in the identification process was not adapted to children and children often did not understand the questions. Observers reported there were no child-friendly premises for interviews and the majority of social workers did not receive specific training on working with children. CPTV trained 45 professionals from different sectors on trafficking within migrant flows, 98 social workers on victim identification, and 40 volunteers and professionals on trafficking issues; however, CPTV continued to report many relevant ministries did not consider victim protection as a part of their responsibility.
The government could not provide information on funds allocated for victim protection in 2017 and 2018 and did not provide funding to NGOs despite relying on their victim support and reintegration services. Although the government required that victims be referred only to licensed service providers, only two types of services had official licensing criteria and standards established; of the two major NGOs that work on trafficking issues, one was licensed to provide comprehensive residential and life skills support, and the other was licensed to administer an SOS hotline. Experts continued to report CPTV referred fewer victims to NGOs for support and assistance. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, educational, medical, financial, and reintegration support. The government opened the URC in February 2019, designed to provide safe shelter and services, after five years of delays; the URC had the capacity to accommodate six victims. Before the URC’s opening, an NGO operated the only specialized shelter for female trafficking victims. LCSW operated shelters for domestic violence victims that also accommodated female trafficking victims. GRETA visited a LCSW-run shelter in Sremska Mitrovica and reported “good living conditions,” but these shelters generally lacked the specialized programs and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims. The government maintained a drop-in shelter for street children and when authorities identified victims, they returned them to their families, referred them to foster care, or placed them in one of the two Centers for Children without Parental Care. The government did not provide specialized accommodation for male victims. An NGO rented accommodation for male victims as needed and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV maintained a protocol with the National Employment Service (NES) to assist victims in finding employment; CPTV referred 37 victims to NES for assistance (36 in 2017). The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits renewable up to one year and passed a law allowing potential victims to stay in Serbia for three months; one victim received a residence permit (two in 2017) and two victims had their residence permits extended. Two additional victims identified in the migrant population were granted asylum.
The government penalized victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, particularly forced criminality. CPTV and civil society organizations intervened to suspend known prosecutions of trafficking victims but were not always successful. Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations, but once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims to cooperate with investigations and testify during prosecution, including children. Observers reported Serbian authorities threatened some victims with prosecution for non-cooperation. Judges did not always grant witness protection to trafficking victims or adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings. Although the government passed a law designating officially recognized victims as a “particularly vulnerable group” eligible for special assistance and procedural consideration, judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims, including children; this status allowed witnesses to testify without the defendant present and allowed testimony via video link. Victims frequently appeared in front of their traffickers and did not receive notification when authorities released their traffickers from custody. Observers reported CPTV continued to consistently appoint lawyers to represent victims, but the length of trials and assistance provided to victims depended on the individual prosecutor or judge. The law entitled victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for restitution, but judges continued to encourage victims to seek restitution solely by filing civil suits. Civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the abuser numerous times; only two victims received compensation to date.