The government increased victim protection efforts. The government officially identified 91 victims (98 in 2018); 85 were female sex trafficking victims and six were male forced labor victims (82 female victims of sex trafficking and 16 male victims of forced labor in 2018); two were foreign victims (none in 2018); and one child victim (none in 2018). Observers reported officials did not acknowledge the existence of internal trafficking and highlighted a complete absence of efforts to proactively identify Azerbaijani victims of internal trafficking, including children. As a result, most officially identified victims were Azerbaijani victims identified in destination countries or foreign victims exploited in Azerbaijan; officials identified one Azerbaijani victim of internal trafficking in both 2018 and 2019. The government did not report information on identified children and parents “involved in begging for the purpose of helping their parents,” (450 children and 207 parents in 2018) but observers reported police declined to investigate potential forced child begging cases and returned most children to their parents without investigating the role of the family in the children’s exploitation leaving these children vulnerable to further harm.
The government had SOPs for victim identification but first responders, including law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel, were either unaware of the procedures or did not consistently follow or understand them. Observers continued to report the lack of screening of vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, including women, children, LGBTI persons in commercial sex, and foreign migrant workers. Additionally, the government lacked policies tailored to children, such as interview questions, indicators, and referral procedures. SOPs required first responders to refer potential victims within 24 hours to ATD, who officially recognized victims based on an investigation. NGOs and the government provided support services to some potential victims; however, individuals without official recognition did not receive the one-time government-provided allowance and did not have the ability to bring a civil claim against the alleged traffickers. The government did not provide data on the number of potential trafficking victims referred by civil society to ATD (57 in 2018) and the number of those victims ATD determined to be victims (two in 2018).
The government increased assistance for victim protection significantly, allocating 194,700 manat ($114,530), including operation costs for the MIA-run shelter for trafficking victims, compared to 147,490 manat ($86,760) in 2018. In addition, the government created grants for victim assistance and awareness campaigns and awarded NGOs a total of 209,000 manat ($122,940). In 2018, the government allocated 125,650 manat ($73,910) to civil society for awareness campaigns and raised 13,000 manat ($7,650) from private donors to support potential and official victims. The MIA operated a shelter for trafficking victims, which provided accommodation, financial assistance, legal assistance, and medical and psycho-social support; 78 officially recognized victims received support at the shelter (95 officially recognized victims and three potential victims in 2018). The MIA-run shelter had separate areas for women, men, and children but limited freedom of movement and required victims to submit an application to leave the shelter. The MIA-run shelter accommodated potential victims for up to one month but longer stays required victims to cooperate with law enforcement. The MIA-run shelter provided the only accommodation for male victims. The government allocated a resettlement allowance of 700 manat ($410) from an assistance fund for officially recognized victims; all victims received the resettlement allowance in 2018 and 2019. The Victim Assistance Centers (VAC) in Baku and Goychay provided legal, psychological, medical, and employment assistance to officially recognized and potential victims; VACs assisted 85 victims (92 in 2018). VACs provided 19 officially recognized victims with medical aid (28 in 2018), 36 with psychological assistance (47 in 2018), and 21 with legal aid (32 in 2018). Additionally, the government did not provide data on the number of potential victims who received medical aid from VACs (25 in 2018), the number of victims who received psychological assistance (17 in 2018), and the number of victims who received legal aid (nine in 2018). The government aided 14 officially recognized victims to find employment (20 in 2018) and 45 victims with vocational training (23 in 2018). The government provided in-kind support and assistance to children of victims; 56 children received school supplies, 14 children received identity documents, and 22 children were enrolled in pre-school education. Observers reported low pay for VAC employees led to high staff turnover and decreased service quality due to inexperienced staff assisting victims. Additionally, the government awarded some contracts to organizations with no experience and jeopardized victim safety and assistance quality. The government referred 67 victims to NGO-run shelters (47 in 2018). NGOs remained severely underfunded and restrictive legislation governing foreign grants limited NGOs’ ability to receive funding from foreign donors. Most NGO-run shelter staff who provided support services worked on a voluntary basis. The SMS did not report data on the number of temporary residence permits issued to foreign victims (none in 2018).
The government likely penalized unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Experts reported authorities may have penalized sex trafficking victims with administrative fines for prostitution due to an absence of screening efforts. In previous years, an international organization referred foreign migrant workers who displayed indicators of trafficking, but ATD did not recognize any as a victim and authorities subsequently deported some. Authorities did not use legally mandated victim-witness protection measures for trafficking victims. In previous years, GRETA and other international organizations reported prosecutors believed such measures were unnecessary for trafficking victims and noted the lack of licensed attorneys providing legal assistance to victims due to low pay. Children testified without a child psychologist or attorney to communicate legal terminology in a child-friendly manner, which may have caused further trauma to these children.