The government made uneven victim protection efforts. While victim identification decreased and civil society asserted victims were frequently penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, the government reported assisting more victims than last reporting period. Authorities identified fewer victims for the second year in a row, making it the fewest victims identified since 2015. In 2019, cantonal authorities reported identifying 150 victims (170 in 2018), at least 67 of whom were sex trafficking victims (106 in 2018). Of the trafficking victims identified by the government in 2019, 11 were minors and eight were Swiss. The government did not disaggregate data between sex and labor trafficking. The federal government continued to lack national standard victim identification and referral procedures across cantons; however, it distributed a previously updated victim identification checklist to all cantons and relevant organizations in December 2019. Civil society noted concerns regarding the absence of a national victim protection program. Eighteen of 26 cantons had roundtables, which functioned as victim referral mechanisms; roundtables included police, prosecutors, and NGOs. Victim assistance was available in at least 24 out of the 26 cantons, providing a wide-ranging network of care facilities mainly tailored to the needs of women and children; however, trafficking specific services varied from canton to canton. The government provided government-funded trafficking-specific counseling for 184 potential trafficking victims in 2018, compared with 164 in 2017.
The Swiss Victim Assistance Law entitled all adult trafficking victims to access the government-funded women’s shelters or assistance centers for victims of abuse and to special safeguards during criminal proceedings; however, the government did not report how many trafficking victims received shelter or special safeguards during the reporting period. At least four government-funded and NGO-operated shelters continued to provide specialized assistance for victims of trafficking, two of which provided services to children. However, according to GRETA and civil society, the government did not have specialized shelters or assistance for child victims of trafficking, nor did it have standardized identification procedures for children. Cantonal authorities maintained jurisdiction on providing protection for victims, and trafficking victims were entitled to free and immediate assistance centers that varied from canton to canton. At least 13 cantons maintained referral agreements with NGO-operated victim assistance facilities that specialized in trafficking. With the noted variances, cantons generally provided victims with a minimum of four weeks of emergency lodging and living allowance, several hours of consultations with a lawyer, mental health counseling and medical treatment, transportation, and translation services. If recovery required more time, the victim assistance law obligated the government to assume the additional cost of longer-term care. Victims had free movement in and out of shelters. While victim assistance was not dependent on cooperation with law enforcement, some NGOs asserted that authorities sometimes used victim penalization to pressure victims into cooperating with law enforcement. In 2019, the government granted 403,290 Swiss Francs ($417,490) to five NGOs for 2020, exceeding its traditional annual allocation of 400,000 Swiss Francs ($414,080); this compared with 373,520 Swiss Francs ($386,670) granted from the 400,000 Swiss Franc ($414,080) allocation in 2019. Federal and cantonal government sources financed the vast majority of a leading NGO’s 2.6 million Swiss Francs ($2.69 million) operating costs for its trafficking victim protection program, the same amount as provided in 2018.
In 2019, a leading government-funded NGO assisted 169 trafficking victims, of which 76 were new victims, 152 were women, 12 transgender, and five male. Fifty-four percent were sex trafficking victims, 13 percent were labor trafficking victims, and the remaining 33 percent were unspecified forms of trafficking. In 2019, 23 percent of the new trafficking victims were from Africa, particularly Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and 16 percent were from Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. This compared with 177 trafficking victims, of whom 80 were new victims, in 2018. A variety of sources referred victims to the NGO, including other NGOs, government-operated counseling centers, government offices, foreign consulates, police and judicial authorities, healthcare sector employees, lawyers, and family. Civil society stated services for labor trafficking victims were limited and the government lacked case management resources for victims in the asylum system. According to NGOs, services for child and male victims were inadequate, especially shelter, counseling, and victim referral resources. The government provided male victims temporary shelter in hotels or government-funded NGO-operated shelters for men.
The government also facilitated assistance to foreign victims of trafficking, which included financial support; however, authorities granted few long-term residency permits and instead provided victims with repatriation assistance to help them return home. In 2019, the government provided repatriation assistance to 27 victims, an increase compared with 17 in 2018; the government provided 32,000 Swiss Francs ($33,130) to an NGO for repatriation assistance in 2019. Cantonal immigration authorities were required to grant victims a minimum 30-day reflection period to decide whether to participate in judicial proceedings against their traffickers, but longer stays generally required cooperation with law enforcement. In 2019, the government granted 52 individuals reflection periods, 77 short-term residence permits, and 14 hardship-based residence permits (56 reflection periods, 91 short-term residence permits, and 16 hardship-based residence permits in 2018). In 2019, an NGO reported that the government granted refugee status to three trafficking victims and temporary admission to 13 victims it assisted during the reporting period. Authorities continued to note the growing number of trafficking victims among asylum-seekers during the reporting period. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) identified 73 potential victims undergoing the asylum process in 2019 (56 female and 17 male), compared with 111 in 2018 (56 female and 17 male). One leading NGO also assisted 94 cases of asylum-seeking trafficking victims; however, there may have been overlap in victim numbers for SEM and the NGO. The government’s border police screened newly arrived asylum-seekers alone to eliminate the potential influence of traffickers operating within migrant camps, and specialists at SEM ensured identification and coordination practices remained consistent across the federal asylum reception centers. However, NGOs and GRETA continued to report asylum accommodations did not provide adequate assistance and counseling services to possible victims. Victim services were only available to victims who experience trafficking within Switzerland; asylum-seekers remained vulnerable as they could be deported back to their first country of EU entrance without first receiving victim protection. GRETA noted cantons often did not transfer victims detected in the asylum system to specialized trafficking victim support centers because of financial constraints but continued to host them in asylum centers. GRETA also noted the lack of adequate accommodation and supervision for children, and lack of a systematic approach; GRETA urged the government to address these issues in its 2019 report. Implementation of the 2019 asylum law aimed to increase the protection of unaccompanied minors and facilitated earlier identification of victims by providing them with free legal representation. However, civil society criticized the government for not systematically referring victims to services once identified and often shifting responsibility to the legal advisor. The victim’s legal advisor could refer victims to NGOs for assistance, but the government would often decline to provide financial support, according to an NGO.
Trafficking victims could request restitution from their trafficker through criminal proceedings, and the government reported awarding restitution to 25 victims in 2018, a slight decrease compared with 31 victims in 2017. GRETA and civil society noted restitution amounts were insufficient, especially compared to other serious crimes such as rape, and traffickers frequently did not pay. Trafficking victims could also pursue damages through a civil case, but the government did not report awarding damages to any victims during the reporting period. Victims could seek compensation from the government if the convicted trafficker was unable to pay the awarded restitution or damages, but the government did not delineate between restitution and compensation, making it unclear how much compensation was provided during the reporting period. GRETA criticized the lack of viable avenues for victim restitution when victims had no verifiable expenses or employment losses because the courts found it difficult to quantify the specific amount of lost income. While the government had a legal norm prohibiting the non-punishment of victims of crimes, the relevant provision of Swiss law did not explicitly address human trafficking or the criminal coercion often experienced in trafficking cases. NGOs asserted that victim penalization was common, with victims frequently charged with violating immigration laws, labor laws, or local prostitution regulations. GRETA urged the government to adopt a provision on the non-punishment of specifically trafficking victims and encouraged additional training of public prosecutors in this regard.