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AUSTRIA: Tier 1

The Government of Austria fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Austria remained on Tier 1. These efforts included increasing cooperation with foreign law enforcement and proactively and strategically following protocols in counter-narcotic operations by law enforcement to identify victims and ensure they were not punished for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Although the government meets the minimum standards, the government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers and some gaps remained in the referral process for potential victims of trafficking among migrants and asylum-seekers.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Increase efforts to identify victims among vulnerable groups—including children, asylum-seekers, and individuals in commercial sex—and ensure all victims have access to services. • Increase efforts to identify victims of labor trafficking, such as by expanding training to help front-line responders recognize indicators of labor trafficking, including subtle means of fraud or coercion. • Thoroughly investigate and prosecute traffickers and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms, consistent with those imposed for other serious crimes such as rape. • Thoroughly investigate and prosecute traffickers and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms, consistent with those imposed for other serious crimes such as rape. • Strengthen efforts to guarantee effective access to compensation for victims, including by enforcing court compensation orders. • Continue to increase efforts to identify potential victims among Austrian citizens. • Uniformly apply the non-punishment provision for unlawful acts traffickers compel victims to commit and codify in law the non-punishment of victims. • Standardize the government law enforcement database on investigations, prosecution, convictions, and sentencing to include all cases of trafficking and disaggregate information on convictions and sentencing where defendants have committed multiple crimes. • Appoint an independent national anti-trafficking rapporteur.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 104a of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities also prosecuted sex trafficking under Article 217, which criminalized all transnational prostitution and prescribed penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment when a trafficker induced a foreign individual to engage in prostitution by force, fraud, or coercion.

The Federal Crime Office’s (FCO) human trafficking and smuggling service led the government’s efforts to investigate trafficking crimes and coordinated joint investigations with foreign law enforcement when necessary. Many public prosecutors’ offices had specialized anti-trafficking divisions and some courts had specialized judges. The government conducted 61 investigations involving at least 102 suspects under Article 104a, compared with 66 investigations of 102 suspects in 2019. The government initiated prosecutions under Article 104a against one defendant and continued 12 ongoing prosecutions in 2020, compared with 21 total prosecutions in 2019. Courts convicted four traffickers under Article 104a, compared with 10 in 2019. Authorities attributed the decrease in the number of prosecutions and convictions to a higher frequency of cases being rejected due to insufficient evidence. Moreover, due to pandemic-related restrictions, courts were unable to secure witness testimony in some cases. The government prosecuted 10 defendants and convicted three under Article 217, but it did not specify how many involved trafficking offenses. In contrast to the Austrian court register, the government statistics agency published comprehensive data on criminal cases, including convictions and sentences, but it classified multi-offense convictions by the crime that carried the most severe punishment; some trafficking crimes may have been recorded as other offenses. The most recent data the agency published on prison sentences was from 2019, when courts sentenced nine traffickers under Article 104a. Courts sentenced one trafficker to six years’ imprisonment, two to five years’, one to four years’, one to three and a half years’, one to two years’, one to a partially suspended sentence of three years’, one to a suspended sentence of two years’, and one to a suspended sentence of 20 months’. Additionally, under Article 217, courts sentenced one individual to a prison term of 39 months’, one to a suspended sentence of 10 months’, and one to a suspended sentence of six months’. Despite the lack of comprehensive data for 2020, individual case reports provided some sentencing information. In a landmark case, law enforcement arrested traffickers from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina who forced nationals from those countries to be “street runners” in drug trafficking. Specialized anti-trafficking police units worked with counter-narcotic police units to ensure they identified victims and did not punish them for crimes their traffickers forced them to commit. In May 2020, law enforcement collaborated with international authorities to disband an organized international sex trafficking operation that had exploited Romanian women in Vienna. An international organization expressed concern that authorities were sometimes confused about whether to charge a suspected trafficker under Article 104a or Article 217, as the transnational prostitution statute pre-dated the trafficking law but still applied to trafficking crimes. The international organization noted this confusion could lead to gaps in data collection, including with respect to data on victim identification.

The government, assisted by an NGO, provided specialized training to authorities, including law enforcement, border control, labor inspectors, diplomatic, consular, and judicial personnel. Law enforcement officials received mandatory training on trafficking as part of their basic training and had opportunities for additional training and seminars throughout their careers. The FCO increased efforts to train law enforcement on digital methods of combating trafficking in response to a rising trend in traffickers’ use of social media and online recruitment. National and provincial authorities cooperated with authorities from other countries, including neighboring EU countries, to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. In 2020, the government requested mutual legal assistance in 50 cases and executed 16 requests for mutual legal assistance from foreign officials, whereas in 2019 there were 22 cases and six executed requests. Authorities reported no new cases of forced labor in diplomatic households; one case from 2019 was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government modestly increased protection efforts. The government continued to implement a referral mechanism in practice, launched in November 2018, for law enforcement to identify adult victims and refer them to care. Authorities used guidelines and checklists to screen potential victims for indicators of trafficking and referred identified victims to NGOs for assistance. However, experts noted the government lacked a formalized national referral mechanism that includes a wide variety of stakeholders that may come into contact with a potential trafficking victim. Government-funded NGOs provided shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, and German language classes to adult victims, including specialized services for victims with disabilities. A separate referral mechanism for children guided local authorities in identifying and providing services to child victims. One government-funded NGO reported it provided services to 314 female victims and their children in 2020 (336 in 2019), of whom police referred 117 and other government agencies referred 36. Some of these victims may have been children, as the organization provided assistance to women and girls age 15 years and older. Another NGO, which provided government-funded services for male victims, reported assisting 62 victims in 2020, although it did not specify how many of these were government referrals. The government identified 13 Austrian victims under Article 104a and four Austrian victims under Article 217 in 2020; the government identified 34 Austrian victims in 2019. Although identification statistics did not disaggregate labor and sex trafficking cases, the majority of identified victims were exploited in sex trafficking. Experts noted, however, that the relatively low number of identified forced labor cases could be attributed to authorities’ failure to recognize labor trafficking indicators rather than to low prevalence. Authorities reported victim identification was constrained in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions on the commercial sex industry; authorities were unable to conduct regular health inspections and provide counseling services, limiting their ability to identify potential victims of trafficking.

The government allocated €1.43 million ($1.76 million) to specialized anti-trafficking NGOs to provide shelter, services, and legal support to victims in 2020, compared with €988,110 ($1.2 million) in 2019. However, the government also allocated €274,590 ($336,920) between April 2019 and December 2019 to an NGO providing specialized services for male victims and €410,000 ($503,070) between June 2018 and December 2019 to support NGO-run counseling centers for male victims and undocumented migrants. Government funding accounted for the bulk of support for these organizations. The city of Vienna funded a government-run center for unaccompanied migrant children, including child trafficking victims, offering legal, medical, psychological, social, and language assistance; the center reported it did not provide assistance to any child trafficking victims in 2020. The government’s anti-trafficking task force published annual guidelines on child victim identification and included these in brochures on children’s rights that were distributed throughout the country in 2020. The government provided training to NGOs working with migrants and asylum-seekers to help them identify trafficking victims among these groups. Law enforcement personnel screened individuals in commercial sex, including in brothels and massage parlors, for indicators of trafficking and monitored websites selling commercial sex to identify victims. The government funded NGOs to provide training on victim identification for law enforcement, labor inspectors, detention and asylum center authorities, border control, revenue officials, and military, diplomatic, and consular personnel.

The law provided for the protection of victims’ rights during criminal proceedings. NGOs were permitted to accompany victims to hearings and interviews. Courts provided trauma-informed methods for presenting evidence and testimony when victims needed protection from traffickers during the investigation and prosecution phases. Victim protection procedures granted victims a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers; some NGOs reported concerns about inconsistencies in the reflection period and noted victims were not always informed of this right. Victims’ access to services was not dependent on their willingness to participate in the criminal process. The Ministry of Justice reported providing, via NGOs, psycho-social and legal assistance during criminal proceedings to 150 trafficking victims in 2020 – the same number as in 2019. The provision of legal aid was constrained by gaps in the identification of victims; experts noted cases in which victims were not properly identified and therefore unable to access specialized legal assistance. Foreign trafficking victims from outside the EU had the right to temporary residency, with possible annual extensions, which allowed access to employment; victims from EU member states did not require residence permits. The government granted seven residence permits and extended 18 permits to trafficking victims in 2020, compared with 13 new permits and 24 extensions in 2019. Victims who chose to return to their country of origin received repatriation assistance from government-funded NGOs.

Victims could file civil suits against traffickers for damages and compensation, even in the absence of a criminal prosecution, and could still pursue civil suits in the event of an acquittal in a criminal case. Courts could award restitution upon criminal conviction; in 2020, courts awarded restitution to eight victims in trafficking cases, compared to 25 in 2019. Experts expressed concern that access to compensation and restitution remained rare in trafficking cases; furthermore, compensation awards were unevenly enforced, as it was the victim’s responsibility to enforce the order through a claim with legal authorities. Compensation was also negatively impacted by the return to the victim’s country of origin. The government included the topic of victim compensation in its trainings and seminars for prosecutors and judges. The Ministry of Justice published guidelines for the non-punishment of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Administrative fines for illegal commercial sex or immigration violations were forgiven if the individual was found to be a victim of trafficking. However, gaps in victim identification may have left some victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. Observers noted the non-punishment provision was infrequently applied and cited the lack of a specific legal provision on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking. Experts noted gaps in the government’s referral process for suspected cases of exploitation among asylum-seekers; some migrants who showed signs of trafficking may have been sent to other countries in the EU without receiving services due to the government’s enforcement of EU regulations on asylum-seekers.

PREVENTION

The government modestly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. A national anti-trafficking task force led the government’s efforts and included representatives from federal ministries, provincial governments, NGOs, business and labor interest groups, and civil society. The task force included working groups to address issues of particular concern, including child trafficking, labor exploitation, and non-punishment of victims. The working group on child trafficking started drafting a concept for a national center for child trafficking victims, while the working group on labor exploitation began a project to compile informational material for foreign childcare workers to increase their knowledge of their rights. The government did not finalize its 2021-2023 national action plan prior to the end of the reporting period; the Ministry of Interior commissioned a study in August 2020 on trafficking in Austria and completed it in March 2021 in preparation for drafting the 2021-2023 plan. Civil society representatives who were not official members of the task force were periodically invited to attend task force meetings, and regional human rights coordinators covering anti-trafficking issues were regularly represented in the task force. The government finalized an implementation report assessing its progress in combating trafficking under its 2018-2020 national action plan but did not submit it to parliament during the reporting period. Despite pandemic-related restrictions, the task force held four of its five planned plenary meetings in 2020. A senior foreign ministry official headed the task force and served as the national anti-trafficking coordinator; Austria did not have an independent anti-trafficking rapporteur to evaluate the effectiveness of government efforts.

The government organized and funded public awareness events and programs, including a virtual conference for approximately 500 participants from civil society, international organizations, and members of the diplomatic and consular corps. It also continued its program to raise awareness in schools, subsidized anti-trafficking publications and television programming, and funded outreach activities to individuals in commercial sex. In August 2020, the government launched an awareness campaign through billboards and online platforms to educate the public. The Ministry of Labor provided an online resource for migrant workers that was available in seven languages and included information on labor laws, minimum wage standards, collective agreements, and rights of workers. The government-funded counseling center for undocumented workers continued an information campaign for seasonal agricultural workers and held workshops to raise awareness. The government trained labor inspectors to identify trafficking victims using a set of guidelines developed by the national task force’s labor trafficking working group. Authorities required a quality certificate for agencies employing nursing care personnel to prevent them from engaging in labor exploitation. Observers noted the labor inspectorate’s mandate was limited to addressing health and safety conditions, which they claimed hindered inspectors’ ability to respond to other exploitative work conditions; however, Austrian authorities stated inspectors received training on identifying labor exploitation and were required to report suspected cases to police. Austrian embassies and consulates in source countries informed visa applicants of the potential dangers of trafficking. The FCO operated a 24-hour trafficking hotline that received 500-600 calls and emails annually, with interpretation available in multiple languages. The foreign ministry continued efforts to prevent trafficking among employees of diplomatic households by holding events to inform them of their rights and by requiring them to obtain identification cards in person. The government continued partnering with neighboring governments and regional organizations to combat transnational trafficking; the FCO continued programs with China and Nigeria to combat cross-border trafficking and improve and expand joint investigations. The government provided funding for projects to combat trafficking in a range of countries in the EU and Africa, as well as Cambodia and Nicaragua.

The government maintained efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by continuing to distribute awareness materials on the possibility of sex trafficking in commercial sex. The government continued efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens, including by airing an awareness video in places such as airports and hotels, as well as on outbound flights, and by raising awareness within the tourism industry. The government continued to enforce public procurement guidelines for the elimination of labor trafficking in the purchase of goods and services; the government funded a project to analyze the use of tools and initiatives to counter trafficking in international supply chains and a study on the effects of the pandemic on working conditions in global supply chains.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Austria. Traffickers exploit women and girls from Eastern Europe (especially Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia), Southeast Asia, China, Nigeria, and South America in sex trafficking. More than 95 percent of identified victims are foreign women subjected to sex trafficking, and approximately 65 percent of trafficking victims come from EU member states. Traffickers exploit women from Nigeria and China in sex trafficking in massage parlors and brothels; many of the Nigerian victims arrive in Austria as asylum-seekers. Some Austrian women engage in activities such as commercial sex, which leave them vulnerable to trafficking. Sex trafficking is concentrated in urban areas but also occurs in smaller towns. Traffickers working in well-developed networks recruit sex trafficking victims with fraudulent offers of employment in restaurants and domestic service or by posing as potential romantic partners. Most traffickers are Austrian men or men from the same country as their victim; many are members of international organized crime groups. Observers note an increasing trend in labor trafficking. Traffickers exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants are especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploit children, physically and mentally disabled persons, and Roma in forced begging. Children, especially Romani girls, are also exploited in forced criminality. Traffickers use Austria as a transit point in moving victims to other European countries.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future