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CROATIA: Tier 2

The Government of Croatia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Croatia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating and prosecuting more suspects and continuing proactive identification efforts. The government implemented robust awareness campaigns and civil society reported good cooperation with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy (MDFYSP). However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The MOI denied reports of migrant abuse and asserted it conducted internal investigations related to all claims of abuse; however, civil society claimed the government did not consistently screen migrants and asylum-seekers to identify victims of trafficking and alleged that police abuse had a detrimental effect on cooperation between migrants and authorities that discouraged victims from self-identifying. Judges continued to issue lenient sentences, while some prosecutors lacked an understanding of trafficking and often prosecuted trafficking using other offenses with, at times, lesser sentences.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Institutionalize and implement screening procedures for migrant flows, including asylum-seekers and unaccompanied minors.Increase capacity and training to accurately screen for victims and consistently implement screening procedures for vulnerable populations, particularly migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, seasonal workers, and Roma.Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms. Train judges at all levels of the judiciary to take the severity of trafficking into account when issuing sentences and sensitize judges on victim-centered approaches.Allocate and disburse sufficient resources to NGOs participating in the mobile identification teams for their travel and training costs.Establish procedures to ensure trafficking cases are handled by trained prosecutors and train prosecutors on victim-centered approaches.Continue to encourage victims’ participation in investigations and prosecutions by providing alternative methods to testify, including remote testimony or funding for travel and other expenses for victims to attend court hearings.Further reduce the judiciary’s backlog of cases, including trafficking cases.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 106 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of one to 15 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement investigated 19 cases with 31 suspects (seven cases involving 22 suspects in 2018). The government initiated the prosecution of 26 defendants in 13 cases (15 defendants in four cases in 2018). The government continued to prosecute 27 defendants in ongoing cases (33 defendants in ongoing cases in 2018). Courts convicted four traffickers (five in 2018); one for sex trafficking, one for labor trafficking, and two for forced criminality. Judges issued two traffickers an appealable sentence of two years imprisonment and two traffickers an appealable partially suspended sentence of two years and eight months, which required the traffickers to spend one year and three months imprisonment and the remainder on probation. Judges also issued an appealable acquittal for six defendants and a final acquittal for two defendants. Court proceedings generally lasted years causing a substantial backlog of criminal cases, including trafficking cases dating as far back as 2013 and 2014.

Law enforcement personnel under the MOI conducted proactive investigations of commercial sex establishments and cooperated with the Ministry of Labor to jointly inspect 116 employers in the agriculture, construction, hospitality, and service industries; most inspections resulted in administrative labor violations involving contracts, permits, and salaries rather than labor trafficking prosecutions. Civil society representatives and government officials reported MOI officials accurately and consistently identified victims and noted good cooperation. The government did not have prosecutors who specialized in trafficking cases but did provide training and education on trafficking to some prosecutors. NGOs reported that the government did not consistently refer cases to prosecutors who have received such training. Judges and prosecutors lacked an understanding of trafficking and often prosecuted trafficking crimes using other offenses that entailed lesser sentences, such as prostitution, sexual abuse, and pandering. Similarly, some prosecutors qualified trafficking with offenses easier to prove to decrease their large caseloads. Prosecutors heavily relied on victim testimony and did not use special investigative measures to corroborate evidence, while judges continued to issue lenient sentences, often by liberally applying mitigating circumstances. The government maintained institutionalized training programs on various trafficking issues at the Police Academy, Police College, Judicial Academy, and Border Police Directorate. In addition, the government, in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations, trained police, border police, prosecutors, and judges. The government continued an international investigation with Slovenian authorities and signed extradition and mutual legal assistance agreements with the United States, although the agreements have not yet entered into force. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 25 victims (73 victims in 2018). Of these, 13 were victims of sex trafficking, three of labor trafficking, seven of forced criminality, one of both labor trafficking and forced criminality, and one of “imposing slavery” (60 of forced criminality, 10 of sex trafficking, three of labor trafficking, and one unknown in 2018); 16 were minors (two in 2018); 17 females and eight males (26 females and 46 males in 2018); and three foreign victims (62 in 2018). In 2019, the government conducted three large operations to screen for indicators of trafficking: in April police cooperated with the Ministry of Labor to screen 18,353 people and, 11,160 vehicles for indicators of forced labor; in June police screened 67,554 people, 62,077 vehicles, and 545 locations for indicators of child trafficking; and, in September police separately screened 99,742 people, 25,118 vehicles, and 474 locations for indicators of sex and child trafficking and forced criminality. These efforts led to the identification of one adult trafficking victim and one child victim. While the government reported increasing screening efforts in migrant populations, civil society and media reports continued to indicate government efforts to screen migrants and asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied children, were seriously lacking. International organizations criticized the government for violent pushbacks of illegal migrants, and civil society and media continued to report border police assaulted and harassed migrants. International and civil society organizations claimed these practices strongly discouraged victims from self-identifying or cooperating with authorities. The MOI denied reports of migrant abuse and reported it conducted internal investigations related to all claims of abuse.

A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism provided standard operating procedures for identifying and referring victims to services. According to the national referral mechanism, first responders carried out the preliminary identification of potential victims and contacted one of four regional mobile teams consisting of social workers from a Center for Social Work and NGO representatives, who travelled to assess the potential adult victims in person and coordinated victim care and placement. For child victims, first responders contacted the MDFYSP, who dispatched a mobile team of specialized social workers. The MOI officially identified all victims in cooperation with first responders and the regional mobile team and with specialized police officers responsible for protection were called for potential child victims. Officials reported the mobile team for child victims functioned well, but NGOs participating in the mobile team for adults were financially burdened with travel and training costs. Observers reported difficulties in recruiting new NGO members into the mobile team due to the financial burden. In addition, the one-day training for new team members was inadequate to learn the complex process of identifying victims. The Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities (OHRRNM) committed to paying travel costs for mobile teams but, according to participating NGOs, OHRRNM did not reimburse invoices in a timely manner, if at all.

The government and NGOs provided victims protection and assistance, including shelter, medical assistance, legal assistance, psycho-social support, rehabilitation, and reintegration services. The government funded two NGO-run shelters, one for adults and one providing specialized support for children, and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children provided a range of educational and psycho-social services for unaccompanied minors and exploited children, including child trafficking victims; these shelters accommodated two adults and three children (three adults in 2018). The government continued efforts in the implementation of foster care and away from using state child care institutions to mitigate traffickers targeting children in state orphanages. MDFYSP organized a foster family for three child victims (one in 2018) and appointed special caregivers for five children. MDFYSP organized trainings for foster families and special caregivers and required them to maintain a license but officials reported the need to increase the number of foster families and special caregivers to fully support the increasing number of child victims. Civil society organizations reported good cooperation with MDFYSP. The Croatian Employment Bureau appointed special coordinators in regional and branch offices, who assisted victims in finding employment and worked with businesses to employ victims. MDFYSP allocated 457,000 kunas ($70,420) to support the NGO-run shelter for adults, compared with 609,060 kunas ($93,850) in 2018, and 527,000 kunas ($81,200) for the NGO-run shelter for children, compared with 365,390 kunas ($56,300) in 2018.

The government did not report any cases of penalization of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims, but foreign victims without work permits at the time of their exploitation could not receive compensation for lost wages. Foreign victims could receive a temporary residence permit after a 60-day reflection period for adults and 90 days for minors; government reported one victim in 2019 received a temporary stay based on humanitarian concerns (one in 2018). Seven out of the 15 county courts had Victim and Witness Support Offices (VWSO) that provided assistance during criminal proceedings, including requests to testify via video link, referrals to specialized institutions, legal and logistical assistance, and measures to prevent re-traumatization. The government funded a civil society network to provide legal and psychological assistance and logistical support in county courts without VWSOs. Observers reported courts with VWSOs offered assistance consistently but the eight courts without a VWSO did not have the capacity or resources to provide victim-centered approaches. Some judges lacked sensitivity and an understanding of the impact of psychological trauma and required victims to provide statements or testimonies multiple times, causing re-traumatization. Children could provide testimonies to specialized professionals in child interview rooms, but observers reported, in one case, a judge required a minor to testify in court for seven hours. The law provided witness protection, but the government reported no victims entered witness protection in 2019. Authorities reported difficulties in encouraging victims to cooperate with investigations, particularly sex trafficking cases or cases involving potential foreign victims. Experts reported judges rejected claims for restitution in criminal cases and recommended victims request compensation or file a civil suit. Judges in civil courts were sometimes better positioned to assess emotional pain, but civil suits were expensive, lengthy, and required victims to re-testify about their exploitation, causing re-traumatization.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. OHRRNM served as the secretariat for the senior-level national coordinating committee; the national committee met once in 2019. The committee’s working-level operational team held monthly meetings and monitored the implementation of the 2018-2021 national action plan; however, observers reported OHRRNM exhibited a general lack of attention to anti-trafficking efforts. The government monitored its anti-trafficking efforts, produced annual reports, and posted information on ministries’ websites. MDFYSP allocated 250,000 kunas ($38,520) for awareness campaigns and solicited project proposals from civil society. OHRRNM reported spending 93,304 kunas ($14,380) on services for trafficking victims, including funding for the NGO-run hotline. Observers reported the NGO-run hotline operated only from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. due to inadequate financial support; the hotline received 474 calls, leading to four investigations (280 calls leading to four investigations in 2018). The MOI operated a specific unit for crime prevention, including trafficking, and OHRRNM organized roundtables on combating child trafficking. The government held awareness campaigns targeting students and teachers, distributed informative materials and continued to organize awareness-raising events for NGOs, government officials, and workers from the tourism industry. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by continuing to distribute materials from the “If You Are a Man, You Will Not Buy a Woman” campaign.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Croatia, and traffickers exploit victims from Croatia abroad. Women and girls from the Balkans and Central Europe are exploited in sex trafficking in Croatia. Traffickers exploit Croatian women and girls in sex trafficking within the country and elsewhere in Europe. Although there were no official reports this year of traffickers exploiting marginalized Romani children in forced begging in Croatia, this was reported in previous years. Traffickers exploit Croatian, Bosnian, and Romanian women and increasingly Afghan, Filipino, Pakistani Taiwanese, and Thai men in forced labor in the Croatian agricultural sector. Migrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries traveling or being smuggled through Croatia are vulnerable to trafficking, particularly women and unaccompanied minors. In 2018, Taiwanese women and men were exploited in forced labor and forced criminality in an illegal call center.

U.S. Department of State

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