The government maintained negligible efforts to protect victims. As in previous years, the government did not provide funding or programs for protective services dedicated to trafficking victims. The law did not specifically define who is a trafficking victim or differentiate trafficking victims from victims of other crimes; experts noted this hindered identification measures and limited access to victim services. NGOs provided all protection services, including shelter, food, legal services, basic medical and psychological support, interpretation, facilitating the return of documents or wages, and assisting in the resettlement or repatriation of victims, although few were able to provide specialized assistance specifically for trafficking victims. The last dedicated trafficking shelters closed in 2015 due to lack of funding; however, government-funded homeless shelters could accommodate Russian and foreign victims. Authorities did not routinely screen potential victims seeking assistance at these shelters for trafficking indicators; in prior years, the shelters provided medical and psychiatric aid, and referred victims to international NGOs and other homeless shelters located in many of Russia’s regions. There were no reports of victims assisted in these shelters in 2018 or 2019. A shelter “for women in difficult life situations,” run by the Russian Orthodox Church, continued to accept victims and offered them food, housing, and psychological care, although not medical assistance; the government did not provide financial support for the shelter. There were limited examples of government cooperation with civil society. Despite the lack of formal cooperation, NGOs reported working with some local government-run centers to provide assistance to potential victims on an ad hoc basis. Similar to previous reporting periods, the government took steps to limit or ban the activities of civil society groups, including some dedicated to anti-trafficking activities, through measures such as “foreign agent” laws. Further, the government’s efforts to exert pressure on NGOs through the implementation of restrictive laws also targeted those providing protective services for trafficking victims; the government previously designated two locally registered NGOs working on trafficking issues as “foreign agents” and NGO employees who criticized the government’s anti-trafficking efforts reported receiving verbal threats. The “Yarovaya” package of anti-terror laws made it a crime for individuals or organizations to provide material assistance to people considered to be in Russia illegally; authorities could prosecute NGOs who assisted unlawfully present victims of trafficking.
The government reported the identification of 61 trafficking victims in 2019, compared with 19 reported identifications in 2018. According to law enforcement statistics, of these 61 identified victims, 41 were female sex trafficking victims, four males were victims of forced labor, and 16 were children, although many of these were likely baby-selling cases not considered to be trafficking without the purpose of exploitation in sex trafficking or forced labor. Available data did not specify national origin in all cases but most victims were Russian, at least four were from Uzbekistan, and one was Nigerian. NGOs estimated the number of victims to be in the thousands. Police regularly avoided registering victims in criminal cases that were unlikely to be solved in order not to risk lower conviction rates. The government did not develop or employ a formal system to guide officials in proactive identification of victims or their referral to available services, nor did it have a program to protect or support victims who participated in the investigation or prosecution of their alleged traffickers. Authorities reportedly pressured some victims to cooperate in investigations without any offer of protection. Although informal cooperation between law enforcement and NGOs at the local level resulted in some victims receiving limited services, NGOs reported a significant number of cases go unreported due to the lack of a formal referral mechanism, victims’ fears, and the lack of government assistance to victims. The government maintained a readmission agreement with the EU to assist in the repatriation of Russian trafficking victims, but did not keep official statistics on how many victims it assisted in this way; NGOs reported authorities referred few returning victims to them for services.
Authorities penalized victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. Observers noted authorities often did not recognize foreign victims as such when they were unlawfully present in Russia, which resulted in the penalization of foreign victims rather than their referral to care. Authorities treated foreign victims as illegal migrants and criminally charged them with prostitution or unlawful presence in country; many victims were detained or deported without being screened for trafficking indicators. Authorities frequently prosecuted Russian and foreign victims of sex trafficking for engaging in commercial sex and did not take proactive measures to identify victims during raids on brothels. Authorities punished child victims of forced criminality, often together with the traffickers who forced them to commit these crimes. Authorities did not screen other vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers or foreign women entering Russia on student visas despite evidence of their intention to work or other vulnerabilities to trafficking. In limited instances, Moscow city police informally provided “permit letters” valid for one year to individuals the police determined were trafficking victims. While the letters offered no official status to the migrants, they allowed victims to remain in the Moscow region without risk of deportation or prosecution while police investigated their trafficking case. Authorities reportedly prosecuted Russian citizens returning from Syria and Iraq, where some were subjected to trafficking, under anti-terror laws without being screened for indicators of trafficking. The government continued the repatriation of Russian minors, including potential trafficking victims, whose parents were alleged fighters with ISIS. ISIS was known to use child soldiers and perpetrate other forms of trafficking. The government did not report screening specifically for indicators of trafficking, but media reports indicated the children received counseling. An estimated 200 children had returned to Russia since this program first became public in 2017; media reports indicated the government repatriated 122 children in 2018-2019.
Migrant laborers from the DPRK continued to work in Russia, especially in the Far East, often under conditions of forced labor. A February 2016 agreement between Russia and the DPRK enabled Russian authorities to deport North Koreans residing “illegally” in Russia, possibly even those with refugee status; this may increase the risk of labor trafficking for North Koreans working under the state-to-state agreement. Moreover, DPRK authorities reportedly arrested, imprisoned, subjected to forced labor, tortured, and sometimes executed repatriated trafficking victims. In February 2018, government officials announced that in accordance with UNSCRs 2375 and 2397, Russia would cease issuing new work permits to North Korean laborers and repatriate those workers whose contracts had expired. Russian officials further stated they were taking steps to fulfill Russia’s obligations under the relevant UNSCR to repatriate all of these workers by the end of 2019, and reported the number of DPRK workers in Russia (11,490 at the start of 2019) declined steadily throughout the year. However, the government reported at least 1,000 DPRK workers remained in the country at the end of January 2020. Despite reports that the government ceased issuing new work permits to North Korean laborers, observers noted many laborers continued to enter the country via fraudulent channels to work informally, for example by obtaining tourist or student visas, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. The government issued 16,613 tourist and 10,345 student visas to North Koreans in 2019, compared with 2,035 tourist and 2,610 student visas in 2018. Although government representatives publicly stated authorities asked DPRK workers to leave voluntarily, it was not evident that authorities screened workers for trafficking indicators or offered them options to legally remain in the country.