The government maintained protection efforts for Kazakhstani victims, and efforts to identify and assist foreign victims remained negligible. The government identified 40 trafficking victims, a decrease from 83 in 2018. Of those, all but six were exploited in Kazakhstan; 35 were victims of sex trafficking and five were victims of forced labor. All but three of the identified victims were from Kazakhstan; the government identified two victims from Uzbekistan, both in forced begging, and one victim from Russia in forced labor. Four of the Kazakhstani victims were victims of sex trafficking in the Republic of Korea. As in the previous year, the government identified the majority of sex trafficking victims during one of four anti-trafficking special police operations intended to uncover trafficking cases by locating and closing brothels, arresting pimps, and registering women in commercial sex. The small number of forced labor and foreign victims indicated a continued lack of consistent proactive screening efforts by officials during routine law enforcement engagements throughout the year. In 2019, NGOs reported assisting 76 trafficking victims, compared to 122 in 2018; among these, 21 were Kazakhstani and 55 were foreigners; the majority were men and victims of forced labor. Of the 55 foreign victims, 51 were from Uzbekistan. Law enforcement referred 12 victims to NGOs (19 in 2018), foreign embassies referred three, NGOs referred 23, international organizations referred seven, and 31 victims self-referred (including through hotlines). The government-funded and NGO-operated trafficking hotline received 1,834 phone calls in 2019, the vast majority of which were requests for information, while 12 calls were referred to anti-trafficking police units but did not result in confirmed trafficking cases. Observers continued to note many foreign victims were reluctant to self-identify to the police due to lack of trust, perceived corruption, and fear of punishment or deportation due to their unlawful status, among other reasons. In cases where law enforcement identified foreign victims, victims often refused to cooperate. According to experts, foreign victims frequently reported their exploitation to local police upon return to their home country, where they felt safer.
The government received fewer funding applications from NGOs to run trafficking shelters and as a result funded eight NGO-operated shelters. In 2018, more NGOs applied for funding, and 10 were funded. The eight NGO-operated trafficking shelters offered legal, psychological, and medical assistance and were accessible to all Kazakhstani trafficking victims, regardless of gender or age. These services were not conditional upon victims’ cooperation with law enforcement; however, in all but one case, restrictive social protection laws prohibited foreign citizens from receiving services at these shelters, and all assistance to foreign victims was contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement. In attempt to improve the social assistance to foreign victims, in a particular case, as a pilot, a local government in the Kyzylorda Region provided an NGO with funding to place foreign victims into a shelter. Victims were required to decide on cooperation at the time of their identification. In 2019, the government allocated at least 77.2 million Kazakhstani tenge (KZT) ($202,630) to direct victim assistance, including 76.2 million KZT ($200,000) for shelters and one million KZT ($2,620) for victim assistance during investigations—this was a decrease of more than 17 percent from 93.4 million KZT ($245,240) allocated in 2018 due to fewer NGOs seeking government grants to fund shelters. The shelters were staffed in accordance with the 2016 established standards for trafficking victim shelters. Several NGOs reported improvement to the inefficient annual process by which the government reviewed applications for shelter operation contracts that previously led to the NGOs experiencing severe operational and financial constraints at the end of each funding cycle and delays to the awarding of new contracts. The government solicited feedback from NGOs on systemically improving the funding process to limit service disruptions. As a result, one NGO in Almaty received funding at the beginning of the year, without delay; however, the government had not yet implemented systemic improvements. The government adopted a law on victim compensation in 2017, scheduled to be implemented in 2020. Victims could file a civil suit, but many were unaware of their ability to do so and could not afford attorney fees; no victims pursued a civil suit in 2019. The government provided pro bono attorneys to trafficking victims, although NGOs reported these attorneys were often inexperienced.
NGOs continued to report effective victim referral and police cooperation with regional anti-trafficking units, which were composed of one or two police officers. Law enforcement units mandated to address migration or trafficking issues had a formal system to identify trafficking victims among at-risk persons, such as undocumented migrants or individuals in commercial sex; nonetheless, officials’ efforts to identify foreign victims and victims of labor trafficking remained limited. The government encouraged victims—including foreigners—to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings, access to pre-trial shelter services, and basic provisions such as food, clothing, and medical and legal assistance. Such assistance ceased for foreign victims if the government did not initiate a criminal case. If a criminal case was not initiated, authorities did not recognize or give protective status to foreign victims. In 2019, the government provided one foreign victims legal protection (compared to one foreign victim in 2018 and two in 2017), including suspension of deportation proceedings and special temporary residency throughout the criminal investigation. NGOs reported foreign victims sometimes experienced problems in accessing local medical care due to a lack of health insurance or residence permits. The government did not offer legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face retribution or hardship and, according to local law, victims were required to be deported after expiration of their temporary residency rights. NGOs reported a shortage of lawyers authorized to participate in administrative deportation cases. In 2019, there were no reports of authorities punishing victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, authorities routinely detained and deported possible foreign victims with no proactive efforts made to screen for trafficking indicators, offer referral to care providers, or ensure they were not penalized for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit.
In February 2020, the government announced it concluded operation “Zhusan,” which repatriated more than 550 Kazakhstani women and minors from Iraq and Syria, including potential trafficking victims, whose parents or spouses were alleged fighters with ISIS. ISIS was known to use child soldiers and perpetrate other forms of trafficking. The children were generally housed with family members, and the state fully funded and supported their rehabilitation and reintegration.