The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified six victims (nine victims in 2018); four were victims of sex trafficking, one of forced labor, and one of forced begging (six victims of sex trafficking and three of both sex trafficking and forced labor in 2018). Of these, four were children (three in 2018); all were female in 2019 and 2018; and one foreign victim was from Bosnia and Herzegovina and two were from Kosovo (one foreign victim from Albania in 2018). The government and NGOs identified 124 potential victims (104 in 2018); 39 were adults and 85 were children (25 adults and 79 children in 2018); 91 were females and 33 were males (65 females and 39 males in 2018); and 29 were foreign potential victims (four in 2018).
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) maintained mobile identification teams (mobile teams) comprising social workers, law enforcement officers, and psychologists in five regions for vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims; mobile teams identified 86 potential victims and assisted 316 individuals (identified 104 potential victims and assisted 390 individuals in 2018). Mobile teams identify the majority of potential victims every year, and experts viewed the teams as a best practice in proactive identification and cooperation between civil society and government; however, funding and sustainability of the mobile teams remained uncertain with their only funding from an international organization ending in 2020. MLSP continued to dispatch social workers to screen vulnerable populations at border crossings and transit centers. The government trained first responders on victim identification, including police officers, labor inspectors, teachers, psychologists, and social workers. MLSP social workers and police continued to identify potential forced labor victims among predominantly Romani children engaged in street begging and street vending. The government placed them in daycare centers and warned, fined, or jailed their parents; in cases where courts deemed parents unfit to care for their children, the state placed the children in orphanages. The government developed an updated set of indicators with a focus on child forced labor. However, government and civil society actors raised concerns about the low number of identified victims, and experts reported most government agencies lacked proactive identification efforts. Border agents screened for trafficking indicators at border posts but did not properly identify victims, and international organizations reported authorities conducted informal forcible removals to neighboring countries. The government maintained standard operating procedures for the identification and referral of victims, and civil society reported the procedures worked well. The Office of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) within MLSP remained responsible for coordinating the identification and referral procedures. First responders referred potential victims to the anti-trafficking unit and/or the NRM, which were authorized to officially identify victims. NRM officials and social workers participated in interviews with potential victims, but law enforcement did not consistently include NRM officials and social workers at the outset of identifying potential trafficking cases.
The government allocated a total of 5.1 million denars ($93,250) to combat trafficking in persons, compared to 3.6 million denars ($65,700) in 2018. Of that, 2.2 million denars ($40,390) was dedicated to MOI for the protection and security of victims of trafficking, particularly those staying at the country’s only shelter for trafficking victims, compared to 230,020 denars ($4,200) in 2018. The MLSP received 2.7 million denars ($49,310) for social services and other types of victim assistance, compared to 295,840 denars ($5,400) in 2018. This included 1.2 million denars ($21,910) for services at the shelter—the first time the government provided funding to an NGO for direct assistance to victims. NGOs welcomed the funding but acknowledged it only covered 13 percent of the shelter’s operating expenses, and the government continued to rely heavily on funding from the international community. The government and NGOs provided potential victims and officially recognized victims with protection and assistance, including food, clothing, medical assistance, psycho-social support, rehabilitation, and reintegration services. MLSP assigned a guardian from a center for social welfare for victims while at the shelter; MLSP-run social service centers maintained one social worker at each of the 30 centers dedicated to handling trafficking cases and provided psycho-social support and reintegration assistance, including education and job placement. The government and NGOs provided assistance to 89 official and potential victims (31 in 2018), including basic necessities to 89 (31 in 2018), counseling and medical assistance to 30 (22 in 2018), legal assistance to seven (six in 2018), and vocational training for three (one in 2018). Specialized assistance was not available for male victims. In 2018, the government amended legislation to accommodate domestic and foreign potential trafficking victims at the shelter; however, the transit center continued to accommodate most foreign potential victims. The shelter accommodated female and minor victims with the capacity to house five victims, but the government did not have additional capacity to accommodate victims when the shelter was full. The shelter allowed victims freedom of movement, but the transit center did not permit foreign potential victims to leave without a temporary residence permit. Observers reported poor living conditions at the transit center, and GRETA similarly reported the transit center, despite renovations, was in “poor material condition” and was “effectively a detention facility and not the appropriate environment for trafficking victims.” The shelter accommodated five victims (nine in 2018), and the transit center accommodated one foreign victim. The law permitted foreign victims a two-month reflection period to decide whether to testify against their traffickers, followed by a six-month temporary residence permit, regardless of whether they chose to testify; no foreign victims requested residence permits in 2018 or 2019.
The government deported, detained, or restricted freedom of movement of some trafficking victims due to inadequate identification efforts; specifically, local police often deported foreign potential victims before their two-month reflection period expired. Additionally, local police detained and deported individuals in commercial sex without screening for trafficking indicators or notifying the task force, according to experts and government officials, who noted authorities deported approximately 245 potential trafficking victims in 2019. The government, in cooperation with an international organization, trained 70 representatives of the judiciary, prosecution, police, and social services on non-punishment of trafficking victims. Eight officially identified victims gave statements against their alleged traffickers (four in 2018). The government reported no victims required witness protection services in 2019 or 2018. Victims generally cannot leave the country before testifying in court; however, prosecutors, with the consent of the defense, can make exceptions. They can allow a victim to leave the country prior to testifying in court, upon giving testimony before a prosecutor, and in some cases, before a pre-trial procedure judge. While victims can claim compensation through civil proceedings, no victims have ever successfully completed a claim due to the complexity of the process. The government and civil society continued efforts to develop a victim compensation fund that allowed authorities to allocate compensation to victims from seized criminal assets.