The government modestly increased protection efforts. The government identified nine victims (eight in 2019). Of these, nine were victims of forced labor, including five victims of forced begging; five were children; three were female and six male; and one was a foreign victim from Iran. The 2014 Law on Identification and Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation prescribed identification, referral, and assistance procedures for relevant actors. The government developed screening indicators for social workers and adopted procedures to identify child victims among children not enrolled in school; however, experts continued to report that officials did not proactively identify victims and instead relied on victims to self-identify. Observers continued to report that first responders did not consistently screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, particularly individuals in commercial sex and foreign migrant workers. The government provided temporary shelter, emergency medical services, and psychological aid to potential trafficking victims during the “pre-identification stage,” a stage where the government collected information on a potential victim within a maximum of 10 days. The Victim Identification Commission (VIC), which consists of representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), PGO, police, and NGOs, officially recognized victims based on information collected during the “pre-identification stage;” the VIC officially recognized five victims in 2020 and five additional victims from January to March 2021 (eight in 2019). Civil society continued to report the referral procedures functioned well, and they had positive cooperation with the government.
The government allocated 40.2 million drams ($78,060) for victim protection efforts, including operational costs for an NGO-run shelter, an increase compared with 19 million drams ($36,890) in 2019. The government and local NGOs jointly provided legal, medical, and psycho-social support; housing; a one-time monetary compensation of 250,000 drams ($490); and access to social, educational, and employment projects. One victim received free health care (three in 2019), and one victim received the one-time monetary compensation (six in 2019). In 2019, the government amended the law to allow legal guardians of child victims to receive the one-time monetary compensation. The government maintained a cooperation agreement and partially funded one specialized NGO-run shelter to provide services to victims; the NGO-run shelter assisted 10 identified victims during the reporting period (four in 2019). The NGO-run shelter required adult victims to notify staff when they left shelters unescorted, but victims were free to leave if they no longer wanted assistance. Additionally, the NGO-run shelter provided male victims with separate rooms or rented apartments; one male victim received accommodation (none in 2019). The government provided vocational training classes to victims, but civil society continued to provide the bulk of reintegration and long-term support services without government funding. Additionally, the government did not include trafficking victims in the list of vulnerable people eligible for state housing. The NGO-run shelter and childcare institutions accommodated child victims, but experts reported a shortage of accommodation and foster families for children, which resulted in some cases where authorities returned children to family members who were involved in their exploitation. In previous years, the government did not have established procedures or funds to cover logistical costs for the repatriation of victims. For the first time the government allocated funds for repatriation in 2020, although no victims required repatriation in 2019 or 2020. The government provided foreign victims the same services as Armenian victims. The law entitled foreign victims to a 30-day reflection period in which victims could recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. The law also entitled foreign victims to receive a permanent residence permit, but applications required evidence of employment; no foreign victim received a permit in 2020 (one in 2019).
There were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of consistent identification procedures for trafficking indicators, authorities may have detained and deported individuals in commercial sex and foreign migrant workers who were unidentified victims. According to experts, law enforcement officers in some remote areas may lack information and training to inform victims of their rights to protection or assistance. Victims hesitated to assist in prosecutions due to a lack of confidentiality in public testimonies creating a fear of retaliation from traffickers and stigmatization from their family and community. Authorities did not fully protect victims’ rights during court proceedings and victims, including children, appeared in front of their traffickers in court, which may have caused re-traumatization. The government lacked a formal victim-witness protection program. The Criminal Procedure Code and a 2016 decree mandated some victim-witness protection measures, but none were used in 2019 and 2020. Judges did not issue restitution during criminal proceedings and victims did not file civil suits for compensation in 2019 or 2020. In previous years, judges did not issue damages in civil suits, asserting that victims did not substantiate the financial damages they had suffered. The law allowed investigators to place defendants’ property in custody to fund potential civil claims, but this rarely occurred in practice.