The government maintained weak protection efforts. The government identified eight victims (nine in 2018). Of these, five were subjected to forced labor and three to sex trafficking (eight were subjected to forced labor and one to both sex trafficking and forced labor in 2018); two were children in both 2019 and 2018; four were male and four female (eight were males and one female in 2018); two victims were from Tajikistan and one from Iran (four foreign victims from India in 2018). The 2014 Law on Identification and Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation prescribed identification, referral, and assistance procedures for relevant actors; however, experts continued to report a lack of proactive identification efforts and a reliance on victims to self-identify. The government did not provide standard indicators, and first responders did not screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, including individuals in commercial sex and foreign migrant workers. The government provided temporary shelter, emergency medical aid, and psychological aid to potential trafficking victims during the “pre-identification stage,” a stage where the government collected information on a potential victim within a maximum of 10 days. The Victim Identification Commission, which consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), the Prosecutor General’s office, police, and NGOs, officially recognized victims based on information collected during the “pre-identification stage.” Civil society continued to report the referral procedures functioned well, and they had positive cooperation with the government.
The government allocated 19 million drams ($40,000) in both 2019 and 2018 for victim protection efforts, including operational costs for an NGO-run shelter. The government and local NGOs jointly provided legal, medical, and psychological assistance; housing; a one-time monetary compensation of 250,000 drams ($530); and access to social, educational, and employment projects. The government offered free health care but relied on NGOs to provide legal assistance, including the cost for attorneys. Three victims received health care (three in 2018), and six victims received the one-time monetary compensation (six in 2018). The government amended the law to allow legal guardians of child victims to receive the one-time monetary compensation. The government maintained a cooperation agreement and partially funded one specialized NGO-run shelter to provide services to victims; the NGO-run shelter assisted four newly identified victims (three in 2018). The NGO-run shelter required adult victims to notify staff when they left shelters unescorted, but victims were free to leave if they no longer wanted assistance. Authorities afforded foreign victims the same rights and services as Armenian citizens. Male victims had access to the shelter and NGOs rented apartments; no male victims required accommodation (four in 2018). The government provided vocational training classes to victims, but civil society continued to provide the bulk of reintegration and long-term support services without government funding. Additionally, the government did not include trafficking victims in the list of vulnerable people eligible for state housing. The NGO-run shelter and childcare institutions accommodated child victims, but experts reported a shortage in accommodation and foster families for children, which resulted in some cases where authorities returned children to family members who were involved in their exploitation. GRETA and OSCE reported in 2017 cases of child labor and child abuse in state childcare institutions. The government did not provide training to social workers, compared to training 64 social workers on trafficking issues in 2018. The law designated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to coordinate repatriation of Armenian victims from abroad, but there was an absence of established procedures or funds to cover logistical costs; no victims required repatriation in 2019 or 2018. The law entitled foreign victims to a 30-day reflection period in which victims can recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. The law also entitled foreign victims to receive a permanent residence permit, but applications required evidence of employment; one foreign victim received a permit.
In previous years, observers reported authorities may have penalized some sex trafficking victims with administrative fines due to inadequate identification. According to some non-governmental experts, law enforcement officers in some remote areas may lack information and training to inform victims of their rights to protection or assistance. Victims hesitated to assist in prosecutions due to a lack of confidentiality in public testimonies creating a fear of retaliation from traffickers and stigmatization from their family and community. Authorities did not fully protect victims’ rights during court proceedings and victims, including children, appeared in front of their traffickers in court, risking re-traumatization. The government continued to lack a formal victim-witness protection program. The criminal procedure code and a 2016 decree mandated some victim-witness protection measures but none were used in 2019 and 2018. Victims were legally entitled to obtain restitution during criminal proceedings or through a separate civil suit. In previous years, judges had not issued damages in civil suits, asserting that victims did not substantiate the financial damages they had suffered. The law allowed investigators to place defendants’ property in custody to fund potential civil claims, but this rarely occurred in practice.