The government modestly increased protection efforts. The government identified 109 confirmed trafficking victims, compared with 128 in 2019 and 142 in 2018. The government did not report how many potential victims applied for official status; in 2019, the government reported 251 potential victims applied for official victim status. Of the 109 confirmed victims, 107 were exploited in sex trafficking and two were victims of forced labor; 34 were children. Traffickers exploited 95 of the confirmed victims in sex trafficking or forced labor in Belarus and 14 abroad. NGOs assisted 44 trafficking victims in 2020, compared with 129 in 2019; 21 victims were female, 23 were male, 26 were exploited for forced labor, 11 were exploited in sex trafficking, and the remaining seven victims were uncategorized. The majority of the victims (22) were exploited in Russia, while 16 were exploited internally in Belarus. NGOs reported some victims were more reluctant to seek assistance and report cases during the pandemic because of the lack of COVID-19 preventative measures at many government facilities. NGOs reported a variance in the degree of cooperation with regional law enforcement. The government issued guidelines on victim identification in May 2020 to civil aviation organizations.
In July 2020, the government amended the NRM, simplifying and improving the procedure for identifying and providing support to victims, including by increasing the amount of time allowed by law for the identification process, if needed, from 30 days to up to 90 days, during which the government could request additional information from other countries to aid in the identification process. An NGO reported border officials appropriately used the NRM and did not penalize victims for acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government also continued to screen individuals arrested for commercial sex for trafficking indicators and exempt those identified as trafficking victims from any legal liability. The government reported referring 55 victims to NGOs and international organizations for reintegration services, compared with 48 in 2019. The government reported some victims declined services.
The government’s victim assistance services, while free, continued to be underutilized and suffered from burdensome bureaucratic requirements, delays in service delivery, and inconsistent quality of service, sometimes leading victims to choose to pay for necessary services elsewhere or find support through NGOs. The government did not have trafficking-specific facilities available to care for victims, but local authorities operated 137 “crisis rooms” that offered temporary shelter, including beds, meals, and personal hygiene products to vulnerable adults, including victims of trafficking, regardless of nationality; the government did not report if trafficking victims used these facilities in 2020. The government centers included accessible services for victims with disabilities and the government provided personal protective equipment to these centers to prevent COVID-19 infections. However, observers continued to report most victims sought assistance at private shelters because the government’s centers were poorly equipped and lacked qualified caregivers trained in trafficking. Victims’ access to services was not dependent on their willingness to participate in the criminal process. NGOs and an international organization provided the majority of victim assistance; however, the government did not provide direct financial support for NGOs.
The education ministry maintained 135 centers that could provide vulnerable children with shelter and basic provisions; children between the ages of three and 18 could stay at these centers for a maximum of six months, after which they were returned to their family, assigned to a foster family, or transferred to an orphanage or boarding institution. The government continued to run a program of child-friendly rooms for interviews, the provision of assistance, and reintegration services at 22 of these centers. Similar to past years, no child trafficking victims received services at these facilities; the government reported that there were no child victims requiring separate accommodation from parents or guardians. An NGO that had previously assisted the government in running the child-friendly rooms issued a report in January 2020 with recommendations on how to improve the use of the rooms and interviewing techniques; the recommendations included updating technical equipment and drafting legislation to institutionalize and govern the use of the rooms. In January 2021, the government amended the criminal code to require the recording of testimony of victims and witnesses under the age of 14 during pre-trial investigation for later use in court. The government provided training to 79 social service center specialists on providing assistance to victims of domestic violence and trafficking. Victims were entitled to free legal assistance and victims could request protection measures to include the non-disclosure of information, exemption from attending hearings, delivering testimony remotely, and closed court sessions.