The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 17 victims in 2020 (25 victims in 2019). Of these, three were victims of sex trafficking, five of forced labor, one of both sex trafficking and forced labor, seven of forced criminality, and one of “imposing slavery” (in 2019, 13 were victims of sex trafficking, three of forced labor, seven of forced criminality, one of both forced labor and forced criminality, and one of “imposing slavery”); seven were children (16 children in 2019); seven females and 10 males (17 females and eight males in 2019); and one foreign victim (three foreign victims in 2019). The government maintained standard operating procedures (SOPs) for screening and identifying victims and published a protocol on identification, assistance, and protection of victims. Civil society, media, and GRETA continued to report a lack of government efforts to adequately screen irregular migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children. International organizations criticized the government for violent pushbacks of irregular migrants and asylum seekers into Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, while civil society and media alleged border police abused irregular migrants and asylum seekers, including one allegation of sexual abuse. International and civil society organizations claimed these practices strongly discouraged victims from self-identifying or cooperating with authorities. However, the MOI reported conducting internal investigations for all claims of abuse and UNHCR reported accusations were hard to verify as migrants wanted to move quickly through Croatia and were inaccessible for follow-up investigations. The MOI investigated 60 cases of alleged pushbacks and excessive use of force in 2019 and 2020 and fired and charged two Karlovac-based police officers in June 2020 over the assault of an Afghan asylum seeker.
A multidisciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) provided SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services. According to the NRM, first responders carried out the preliminary identification of potential victims and contacted one of four regional mobile teams consisting of social workers from a Center for Social Work and NGO representatives, who traveled to assess potential adult victims in person and coordinated victim care and placement. For child victims, first responders contacted the Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family and Social Policy (MLPSFSP), who dispatched a mobile team of specialized social workers. The MOI cooperated with mobile teams to officially identify victims and included specialized police officers for potential child victims. Officials reported the mobile team for child victims functioned well, but NGOs participating in the mobile team for adults had not been reimbursed for expenses related to the use of their private vehicles for official travel. Sources reported difficulties in recruiting new NGO members into the mobile team due to the financial burden and that the one-day training for new team members was inadequate to learn the complex process of identifying victims. The government approved and allocated 170,000 Croatian kunas ($28,570) to reimburse travel costs for mobile teams but, according to participating NGOs, Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities (OHRRNM) did not reimburse invoices in a timely manner.
The government and NGOs provided victims protection and assistance, including shelter, medical assistance, legal assistance, psycho-social support, rehabilitation, reintegration services, and, during the pandemic, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests; three adults and five children received assistance in 2020 (two adults and 16 children in 2019). The government funded two NGO-run shelters, one for adults and one providing specialized support for children, and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children provided a range of educational and psychosocial services for unaccompanied and exploited children, including child trafficking victims; these shelters accommodated two adults and three children in 2020 (two adults and three children in 2019). The government-funded, NGO-run shelter for adults allowed freedom of movement and provided separate accommodation for men and women, where they could stay for up to one year with the possibility of an extension. The government-funded, NGO-run shelter for children had the capacity to accommodate five child victims and could enroll children into school, including distance learning. The government continued its efforts to implement foster care for the custody of children instead of using state childcare institutions. MLPSFSP did not organize any foster families for child victims in 2020 (three child victims in 2019) and appointed special caregivers for three children (five children in 2019). MDFYSP organized trainings for foster families and special caregivers and required them to maintain a license, but officials reported a shortage in the number of foster families and special caregivers to fully support the increasing number of child victims. The Croatian Employment Bureau (HZZ) maintained special coordinators in regional and branch offices, who assisted victims in finding employment and worked with businesses to employ victims; HZZ did not assist any victims in 2020. MLPSFSP allocated funding for NGO-run shelters based on the number of assisted victims. It allocated 216,590 kunas ($36,400) to support the NGO-run shelter for adults, compared with 457,000 kunas ($76,800) in 2019. Additionally, MLPSFSP allocated 441,690 kunas ($74,230) for the NGO-run shelter for children, compared with 527,000 kunas ($88,570) 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 screening efforts for trafficking indicators in irregular migration flows reported by some observers, authorities may have detained and deported some unidentified victims among irregular migrants and asylum seekers. Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims, but foreign victims without work permits at the time of their exploitation could not receive compensation for lost wages. Foreign victims could receive a temporary residence permit after a 60-day reflection period for adults and 90 days for children; the government reported one victim received a temporary residence permit (one in 2019). In response to the pandemic, the government amended the Law on Foreigners to extend temporary residence permits up to 30 days from the end of the pandemic. Seven out of the 15 county courts had Victim and Witness Support Offices (VWSO) that provided assistance during criminal proceedings, including requests to testify via video link, referrals to specialized institutions, legal and logistical assistance, and measures to prevent re-traumatization. The government also funded a civil society network to provide legal and psychological assistance and logistical support in county courts without VWSOs. Observers reported courts with VWSOs offered assistance consistently, and while the eight courts without a VWSO did not have the capacity or resources to provide victim-centered approaches, government-funded civil society organizations provided assistance in those areas. Civil society reported the judiciary was not always familiar with legal protections available for trafficking victims, and some judges lacked sensitivity and an understanding of the impact of psychological trauma and required victims to provide statements or testimonies multiple times, causing re-traumatization. Children could provide testimonies to specialized professionals in child interview rooms, but observers reported, in 2019, a judge required a child to testify in court for seven hours. The law provided witness protection, and the government reported no victims required witness protection in 2020. Authorities reported difficulties in encouraging victims to cooperate with investigations, particularly sex trafficking cases or cases involving potential foreign victims. The law entitled victims to restitution in criminal cases and compensation in civil suits, but experts reported judges rejected claims for restitution in criminal cases and recommended victims to file a civil suit. Judges in civil courts were sometimes better positioned to assess emotional pain, but civil suits were expensive, lengthy, and required victims to re-testify about their exploitation, causing re-traumatization. A municipal civil court issued a trafficking victim compensation for the first time and awarded 143,650 kunas ($24,140).