The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 81 potential victims and five officially recognized victims (96 potential victims and seven officially recognized victims in 2019). Of these, 48 were sex trafficking victims, 27 forced labor, and six forced criminality; 62 were female and 24 were males; 58 were children; three were foreign victims from The Gambia, Philippines, and Serbia. The government maintained a multidisciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) and updated SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services. First responders referred potential victims to law enforcement and state social services, who conducted joint interviews to determine officially recognized victim status. The law provided equal services for both potential and officially recognized victims. MIUs in eight regions, consisting of social workers from NGOs and police officers, identified most of the victims every year, but the units’ sustainability was uncertain due to the lack of permanent staff, formalization, and resources; MIUs identified 45 potential victims (42 potential victims in 2019). Experts reported that police did not participate consistently in the MIUs despite signing a memorandum of understanding that formalized their participation. Experts also stated that law enforcement rarely initiated cases when civil society identified a potential victim, but ASP noted that definitional differences with civil society on what constituted trafficking caused obstacles in identification. Observers continued to report that border police lacked resources, interpreters, and knowledge to screen consistently or implement SOPs for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers. As in previous years, ASP did not screen individuals in commercial sex for indicators of trafficking during raids and investigations of commercial sex establishments, and the Labor Inspectorate lacked the training to identify victims of forced labor. Observers also reported that the absence of a standardized database created confusion among relevant government agencies on who was responsible for providing support.
The government operated one specialized shelter and supported three specialized NGO-run shelters. The government allocated 17.6 million leks ($175,390), compared with 21.5 million leks ($214,250) in 2019 to NGO-run shelters to support 29 staff salaries. The government provided an additional 6.8 million leks ($67,760) for food support to NGO-run shelters in 2019 and 2020. The government allocated 29.3 million leks ($291,980) to the government-run shelter, a significant increase compared with 20.9 million leks ($208,270) in 2019. The government also transferred 4.6 million leks ($45,840) to a fund of seized criminal assets for victim support services (none in 2019). NGO-run shelters continued to operate under financial constraints and relied on outside sources for operating costs. Additionally, funding delays hindered shelter operations, and the government decentralized funding mechanisms for all social programs to municipal governments in 2019. Municipality grants prioritized NGOs that provided local assistance rather than the national scope needed for trafficking shelters, and experts alleged solicitation and bidding procedures at the municipal level were rife with corruption. The four shelters constituted the National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters (NCATS); victims who required services not available in one shelter were referred to another shelter within the coalition. NCATS and the government provided assistance to all 86 officially recognized and potential victims (115 in 2019), including food, mental health counseling, legal assistance, health care, educational services, employment services, assistance to victims’ children, financial support, long-term accommodation, social activities, vocational training, and post-reintegration follow-up. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection issued an order to improve information sharing among institutions during the pandemic and offered residential services for vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. The government provided vocational training for 20 officially recognized and potential victims; however, experts reported a lack of resources for long-term care and reintegration efforts, particularly for child victims and victims with children. NGO-run shelters allowed adult victims to leave the shelter voluntarily; the state-run shelter required victims to receive permission from the shelter director for their security. One NGO-run shelter provided specialized services for victims under the age of 18 and rented apartments for male victims, where they received assistance from NGOs. Observers reported the shelters in the NCATS had professional staff and good quality of care; however, experts reported victim assistance measures for victims with mental health issues were not sufficient. National Employment Services offices prioritized jobseekers from vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims; 60 potential and officially recognized victims registered with the employment office for employment opportunities.
Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims; the law provided foreign victims a three-month “reflection period” with temporary residency status and authorization to work for up to two years. While the government granted or renewed residency to two foreign victims (one in 2019), NGOs reported facing difficulties in obtaining temporary residence permits for their beneficiaries. Unlike previous years, there were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, the government may have detained or deported some women in commercial sex, irregular migrants, and asylum seekers. The government did not report the number of victims that cooperated in investigations and prosecutions (14 in 2019). SPAK possessed equipment that allowed testimony via video conferences, which was used in one case (the same number as in 2019). Victims who testified against traffickers had access to the witness protection program; one victim continued to participate in the program. The government maintained the DCCJ with four part-time prosecutors and a judicial police officer responsible for child protection in criminal proceedings. DCCJ, in cooperation with a foreign government, produced documents on rights of children in conflict with the law, rights of child victims, and SOPs for officers and prosecutors dealing with cases involving children. The government maintained 22 victim assistance coordinators, who provided legal assistance and guided victims in accessing services. Judges did not issue restitution in criminal cases and no victims pursued compensation through civil suits. Authorities assisted in the voluntary repatriation of two Albanian victims and also repatriated one foreign victim to The Gambia and one to Serbia.