The government decreased efforts to protect trafficking victims. Authorities identified 64 trafficking victims (36 sex trafficking, seven labor trafficking, 10 forced criminality, 11 uncategorized), the same number as in 2019 (97 in 2018, 98 in 2017). Of these victims, 43 were female, 20 were male, and one identified as transgender. Eleven of the identified victims were children (six in 2019, 10 in 2018, three in 2017). There were five Danish victims identified (none in 2019 or 2018, one in 2017). Experts noted the trend toward online advertisement of commercial sex made identifying sex trafficking victims more difficult. NGOs reported the government’s perspective that trafficking was a sex-based phenomenon with primarily female victims led to the underreporting and inadequate identification of adult and child male victims in forced labor. Furthermore, while local organizations, including local unions and churches, played a central role in identifying large-scale labor cases in recent years, the pandemic-related lockdown hindered organizations’ ability to identify victims through their communities. In 2020, the government developed procedures for staff at asylum centers to identify trafficking indicators among potential victims, but observers noted staff did not receive training. The government provided a list of indicators and procedures to authorities for proactive victim identification. The procedures involved multiple government and law enforcement agencies, requiring several interviews of victims, who at times remained in detention before referral to NGOs, and required police to call CMM if a suspected victim was in custody. CMM was responsible for formal identification of victims of Danish or EU origin or who were documented migrants, and the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) was responsible for formal identification of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. DIS screened potential victims during the asylum interview; however, according to NGOs, the DIS interview was often too brief to make an accurate identification. Due to the pandemic, CMM and DIS were unable to conduct interviews in prison facilities; as a result, the police agreed to conduct detailed interviews with trafficking-specific questions. Officials had the authority to detain potential victims for 72 hours and could extend this period when they needed more time to determine victim status or immigration status, or to identify traffickers. NGOs contended authorities primarily treated victims as undocumented immigrants subject to deportation, especially if victims were previously detained by law enforcement. Furthermore, while the government provided guidelines on not imposing penalties upon trafficking victims, Danish law lacked a non-punishment provision ensuring victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Observers noted incidents in which authorities prosecuted victims, including children, for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.
In 2020, all 64 identified victims received some form of government assistance (63 in 2019, 89 in 2018, 88 in 2017); 41 victims entered care facilities. As a standard practice, CMM assigned a contact person to identified victims to assist them with support. Government-funded, NGO-operated facilities provided trafficking victims medical and psychological care, shelter, and financial, legal, and reintegration assistance. Although these facilities were trafficking-specific, authorities sometimes housed victims with asylum-seekers. Three shelters for female victims accommodated up to nine adults and received 7.8 million kroner ($1.29 million) from the government. During the reporting period, CMM established counseling centers and health clinics for foreign women in commercial sex in Copenhagen and Aarhus. There was no specialized shelter for male victims, but accommodation was available if necessary. Municipal child protection authorities assisted child victims and placed them in municipal accommodation or in residential care institutions. The Danish Red Cross assisted unaccompanied children in facilities partially funded by the government and screened all unaccompanied children in asylum centers for trafficking indicators. Observers continued to express concern over the disappearance of unaccompanied children from asylum centers and reports of unaccompanied children, particularly Moroccan boys living in asylum centers, being forced into sex trafficking, forced labor, and petty criminality. Regional experts reported shortcomings, such as a lack of clear procedures, in the identification of child victims, especially among unaccompanied children. Of the 11 child victims identified, eight received accommodations – four in asylum centers and four under the auspices of relevant municipalities.
Stricter immigration policies and guidelines, including an assessment deeming parts of Syria safe, increased vulnerability among asylum-seekers and refugees, particularly those the government returned to their country of origin who could face retribution or hardship. The Aliens Act allowed the government to grant residence permits to refugees and family members, including trafficking victims, for temporary stay only, and to revoke residence permits if the need for protection no longer existed, unless contrary to Denmark’s international obligations. Consequently, Syrian refugees—the highest percentage of asylum-seekers in Denmark—who received residence permits linked to their approved asylum claims had their cases reopened and reviewed, affecting approximately 1,250 Syrians. Officials and media outlets reported, by the end of 2020, 170 Syrian refugees from Damascus and Rif Damascus had their residence permits revoked or denied for renewal and more than 1,000 remained under review, exposing them to long stays in asylum centers and increased risk to trafficking.
In 2020, the government did not report granting residence permits to victims, the same as in 2019 and 2018 (one in 2017). Regional experts underscored it was “nearly impossible” for victims to receive a residence permit in Denmark, noting since 2015 the government had granted only six new residence permits. Experts also underscored the difficulty for victims to receive work permits. As part of procedure, the government granted identified, undocumented trafficking victims a 30-day reflection period to stay in Denmark and receive support and assistance with the potential to extend another 90 days. The government required victims who accepted the subsequent 90 days extended departure deadline to leave voluntarily within 120 days. Regional anti-trafficking experts, including the Council of Europe, emphasized this period did not refer to a period of reflection and recovery necessary to determine whether victims would cooperate in the investigation of their cases; rather it was a period of time the victims had to cooperate in their repatriation. Until March 2020, an international organization served as the contracted partner for voluntary returns. Since then, the government moved the mandate to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration’s Return Agency, which oversaw the return of foreigners, who received rejected residency requests, including trafficking victims, to their country of origin. While the move centralized victim support in the Return Agency, NGOs expressed concern the new agency lacked experience and capacity. Furthermore, one NGO reported the Return Agency held the passports of four trafficking victims without their consent – a practice that could potentially re-traumatize victims. During the reporting period, the ministry responded to a parliamentary inquiry about this practice, stating the Return Agency had victims who opted into the voluntary return program “deposit” their passports with the government to “ensure the alien’s presence, while the cooperation with the alien on an individual action plan leading up to the repatriation takes place.” Predictably, some victims chose not to participate in a voluntary return because they viewed it as merely preparation for deportation. Additionally, traffickers’ use of debt-based coercion and victims’ lack of protection in their home countries served as significant deterrents from accepting the return. The government allowed victims who assisted in the prosecution of a trafficker to remain in Denmark for the duration of the investigation or court proceedings. However, NGOs reported the threat of deportation prevented victims from coming forward and led some identified victims to leave shelters before the conclusion of police investigations or court proceedings in order to evade deportation. Additionally, observers noted that many victims saw no benefit to being identified and that there was little to no incentive for victims to serve as witnesses since there were no long-term residency options, the compensation process remained complex, and above all else, the government prioritized returning victims to their countries of origin.