The government maintained protection efforts. Multiple actors within the government and civil society were empowered to identify and refer trafficking victims. Although police and immigration officials used written guidelines for identification and referral, the national anti-trafficking coordinator acknowledged authorities required more training on these guidelines. As a result, the government created a national referral mechanism for victim identification and assistance but did not implement it due to the pending completion of the national action plan. The victim assistance system was the main channel for identifying victims via referrals, and through it, the government provided both direct care and funding for third-party care. The government received 394 potential trafficking victim referrals, and the assistance system admitted 247 potential trafficking victims (10 children), a notable increase from 303 and 229 (14 children), respectively, in 2019. The assistance system reported 25 percent of new recipients were sex trafficking victims, 49 percent were labor trafficking victims, and the remaining percentage were victims of forced marriage or other crimes classified as trafficking under Finnish law. Authorities noted 120 of the new recipients (49 percent) became trafficking victims in Finland rather than abroad, a sharp increase from 70 in 2019 and the most recorded since 2015. Of the 120, authorities registered 11 as sex trafficking victims, the same number as in 2019. All victims accepted into the assistance system consented to cooperate with police in the prosecution of their traffickers; however, in cases where victimization occurred outside of Finland and the conditions of the relevant jurisdiction made law enforcement cooperation unlikely, police did not open a criminal investigation. Finnish law required police to pursue cases specifically as trafficking crimes in order for victims to receive services through the assistance system. The government did not provide guidance to assistance system personnel regarding referrals of victims who were exploited in trafficking domestically and did not wish to contact the police. Furthermore, according to the national rapporteur, the placement of the assistance system within immigration services misrepresented trafficking as a crime requiring migration and reduced the focus on trafficking committed within Finland. The government continued to consider the transfer of the victim assistance system to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to address this concern and to weaken the link between the provision of assistance to victims and their participation in the justice process, which acted as an obstacle to victims’ willingness to come forward. Finnish police were not prohibited from prosecuting victims who, as a result of being trafficked, committed acts that violate national law. Observers continued to point out that the non-punishment provision existed in theory, but in practice, the police treated users of illegal drugs, potential victims who had been forced into criminality, and foreigners in the commercial sex industry as perpetrators of crimes.
Once victims were referred to the assistance system, consultants evaluated the case and decided on the victim’s course of care, which could include transportation to a safe house; psychological, medical, and legal assistance; or shelter. There was one government-funded shelter specifically for trafficking victims, though it accepted only women and their children—there were no shelters dedicated to male victims. Care providers sheltered most trafficking victims in private accommodations. Child services assigned unaccompanied child victims a guardian to serve as a legal representative. Authorities placed Finnish children who could not return to their families in foster care, while authorities placed unaccompanied migrant children in a migrant reception center specifically for children. Officials noted some municipalities lacked the knowledge and resources to provide assistance to trafficking victims. The Parliamentary Ombudsman reprimanded the City of Helsinki for failing to provide adequate support to victims and indicated that social workers employed by the city often did not know what benefits were available to victims and that benefits were in some cases denied even when the assistance system told the municipality what the victim was entitled to and that the state would reimburse the costs. Helsinki’s head of adult social work noted the legislation concerning benefits for victims was unclear and originally intended to assist undocumented victims and not legal residents of Finland. Observers noted municipalities experience difficulties with victim service provision because they functioned under the general framework of social welfare and were not sufficiently equipped with the resources to deal with crime-related issues such as trafficking or victims of trafficking. In 2020, the government spent €1.1 million ($1.3 million) on trafficking victim assistance and protection, approximately the same as in 2019 and 2018. In addition, the government allocated €200,000 ($245,400) for services to multiple organizations, compared with €292,520 ($358,900) in 2019.
Finnish Immigration Services conditioned eligibility to receive a specialized residence permit on the victim’s cooperation with police to commence a criminal investigation. Delayed investigations and police failure to submit the appropriate paperwork requesting victims to remain in the country left victims susceptible to deportation. Finnish law allowed foreign victims a six-month reflection period during which they could receive care and assistance while considering whether to assist law enforcement, and the law allowed legal residents a recovery period of up to three months. According to the assistance system, 24 victims took advantage of the reflection period in 2020 (23 in 2019). Victims could receive renewable temporary residence permits, which were valid for six to 12 months and allowed victims to seek employment. Authorities provided temporary residence permits to seven victims and renewed 11 permits, compared with 15 and three, respectively, in 2019. During the reporting period, the government in partnership with NGOs and other organizations developed a pilot project to provide training and full-time jobs to victims residing in Finland; the project was not yet operational.