The government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2018, the most recent year official data was available, the government-funded national victim registration center and assistance coordinator registered 668 possible trafficking victims, compared with 958 in 2017. Of these, 458 were victims of sex trafficking, 142 of labor trafficking, 28 of both labor and sex trafficking, and 40 of uncategorized trafficking. Children comprised 62 of the victims (194 in 2017). The top countries of victim origin in 2018 (in order of prevalence) were the Netherlands, Nigeria, Uganda, Romania, and Sierra Leone. The police reported identifying 530 victims (432 in 2017); regional health care organizations 91 (320 in 2017); labor inspectors 75 (38 in 2017); border security 12 (21 in 2017); and other organizations identified the remaining victims. The BES islands did not identify any victims in 2019. The government continued to identify fewer victims than in years prior to 2016, despite officials and civil society reporting no decrease in trafficking prevalence. During the reporting period, both attributed some of the decrease in the identification of victims to misinterpretation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which required non-law enforcement organizations to obtain consent from the victim before official registration unless a “justified interest” existed. Shelters said victims feared being stigmatized as a trafficking victim for the rest of their lives and would rather withdraw from the victim process. Non-law-enforcement organizations were hesitant to share personal information with law enforcement and other care organizations out of fear of being non-compliant with EU privacy regulations; this also resulted in the withdrawal of criminal complaints to the police. In October 2019, Dutch data protection authorities and legal experts argued that in their view providing care to trafficking victims was considered a “justified interest” under the GDPR and therefore consent was not required for trafficking victims to receive social services. Final EU legal opinion on “justified interest” remained pending. Additionally, civil society and government officials reported the government identified fewer victims due to a shift in police resources away from trafficking to new priorities, which led to staff turnover and a loss of accumulated trafficking expertise. Civil society reported victims preferred to register for residency permits under the asylum process rather than the specialized process for trafficking victims. In 2019, the national rapporteur conducted a multiple systems estimation study that estimated up to 7,000 trafficking victims within the country.
The government funded an extensive network of care facilities for both foreign and domestic victims. In July 2019, the government expanded shelter services by funding 36 additional specialized beds spread over six existing shelters for victims who also have a psychological disorder, developmental limitations, or “substance abuse disease.” The government allocated €2 million ($2.25 million) to fund these new services. The government fully funded three NGO-managed shelters that provided dedicated services for child, adult female, and adult male trafficking victims to include 50 shelter beds with 16 beds designated for male victims. The government provided €600,000 ($674,160) to the shelters, compared to €800,000 ($898,880) in 2018. All shelters provided medical and psychological care, schooling, language and skills training, and legal assistance; some also provided self-defense classes, and most had facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Local governments also funded shelters for domestic violence victims, which had dedicated space for trafficking victims. Children remained vulnerable in the protection system; the national rapporteur and independent media reported thousands of children had left without notice to unknown destinations from Dutch refugee centers over the past 10 years, some of them were found later in the UK, their planned final destination. In 2019, the number of health care regions with a trafficking victim coordinator increased to 33, compared with 24 in 2018.
The government permitted potential victims to stay in shelter care for a three-month reflection period to begin recovery and decide whether to assist law enforcement. To address an issue identified by the national rapporteur, the Ministry of Justice issued clear guidance to law enforcement agencies and the labor inspectorate to ensure the three-month reflection period was uniformly offered. During the reflection period, non-EU victims had access to specialized shelters but could not work. After the reflection period, victims who agreed to assist police could continue to stay in shelters. According to civil society, foreign victims who ceased cooperation with authorities lost their residence permits and consequently all support services. NGOs reported non-EU victims were increasingly unwilling to report victimhood to the authorities as they were concerned with participating in a long court process, fearful of retribution from convicted traffickers due to light sentencing, and uncertain of obtaining permanent residency. In an effort to address concerns regarding linkage of assistance to participation in criminal investigations, the government completed a pilot project that assigned a multidisciplinary team to review the effects of de-coupling the two. According to the government the project concluded that formal decoupling of designation as a victim from cooperation with law enforcement was unnecessary and lessons learned from the pilot would be incorporated into immigration procedures. The national rapporteur and NGOs criticized the decision not to continue and expand the pilot. Non-EU trafficking victims received a short-term residency permit (B-8 permit) upon identification. Victims willing to testify against their alleged trafficker were eligible to receive a five-year residence permit, which can be extended to a permanent residency permit if authorities decided to prosecute the suspected trafficker. In 2018, the most recent year data was available, 333 (131 in 2017) foreign victims applied for the permanent B-8 permit. A victim could apply for asylum if their case closed without a conviction or they declined to assist in an investigation. The government did not report the number of potential victims who applied for asylum. A procedure also existed to circumvent B-8 eligibility requirements for residency in cases where victims were seriously threatened or had serious medical or psychological conditions. Authorities worked with civil society to repatriate foreign victims unable to acquire residency permits.