The government decreased protection efforts. The government ordered national and regional lockdowns due to the pandemic several times in 2020, which included home confinement and limited freedom of movement – this, coupled with the increased use of private residences for commercial sex operations, decreased victim visibility to authorities, exacerbated vulnerabilities for sex trafficking victims, and made them more difficult to detect. The pandemic also exacerbated vulnerabilities for labor trafficking victims through the increased isolation of migrant and seasonal workers, which complicated detection by officials and NGOs. The government identified 470 new victims in 2020, a decrease compared with 657 in 2019. Of the victims identified, 310 were sex trafficking victims and 160 were labor trafficking victims, which included 142 victims of forced labor, eight victims of forced criminality, six victims of domestic service, and four victims of forced begging. The government also identified 175 persons at migration centers who the government believed were likely to become victims of trafficking but had not yet been exploited. Irregular migrants and asylum-seekers continued to make up the majority of identified trafficking victims, with most victims originating in Nigeria and a smaller percentage from Pakistan and The Gambia. All newly identified victims were foreign nationals. NGOs reported that gaps in authorities’ proactive victim identification efforts persisted during the reporting period. The government again did not identify any Italian nationals as victims and very few children (less than one percent); experts raised concerns about this potential gap in victim identification. Furthermore, NGOs reported police forces in some provinces did not fully cooperate with civil society organizations focused on undocumented migrants, due to a lack of understanding or mutual distrust, which subsequently limited the ability of local authorities to identify victims among this population.
The government cooperated with NGOs and international organizations to provide shelter and services to victims. In 2020, the government allotted €24 million ($29.45 million) to 21 trafficking victim assistance programs implemented by NGOs across the country, the same as in 2019. NGOs reported high but inconsistent quality standards of assistance programs across regions. NGOs reported that the Department of Equal Opportunity (DEO), which coordinated protection efforts, was not sufficiently funded or staffed to consistently monitor assistance programs nationally. In 2020, the DEO reported government-supported NGOs assisted 757 trafficking victims and 745 potential victims, compared with 1,877 trafficking victims assisted in 2019. The government also assisted 390 persons at migration centers whom the government believed were likely to become victims of trafficking but had not yet been exploited. Statistics pertaining to the number of victims assisted by the government included victims assisted for the first time in 2020 and ongoing assistance to victims identified in prior years. The DEO reported that in 2020 it performed fewer evaluations of potential victims and admitted fewer victims to protection services than in 2019 due, in large part, to the pandemic’s impact and the national lockdowns. While the government had a formal referral mechanism, it was implemented unevenly during the reporting period. NGOs and the DEO recognized inconsistencies in the efficiency and effectiveness of the current referral process between regions and found that quality standards were lower in the south. Insufficient availability of interpretation services for lesser-known African dialects, with victims coming from as many as 15 different language groups, remained a significant challenge. Trustworthy interpreters were also difficult to secure, as reportedly many interpreters came from the same communities as the accused traffickers.
According to NGOs and pro bono lawyers, many victims applied for asylum upon arrival rather than protection as a trafficking victim, either through pressure from their trafficker or believing that asylum status afforded greater freedoms, more immediate access to employment and services, and long-term residency. During the reporting period, regional committees continued to utilize national guidelines for asylum-seekers to adjudicate asylum applications to identify trafficking victims among applicants; however, inconsistencies in implementation persisted throughout the reporting period. Furthermore, asylum hearings for potential trafficking victims significantly declined in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions, though the government adapted by holding some hearings on virtual platforms. The overall decrease in hearings may have left some trafficking victims unidentified during the reporting period. To address prior identification inconsistencies, in January 2021, the MOI, in collaboration with an international organization, published updated comprehensive victim identification guidelines for asylum committees. Further, the National Commission on Asylum signed an information sharing agreement with the anti-mafia directorate to facilitate the prosecution of traffickers.
To reduce the number of refugees and migrants from Libya, Italy continued training operations with and assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard, as did other EU member states. However, many NGOs criticized this coordinated effort because it often resulted in the occupants of vessels identified in the Libyan search and rescue area being returned to Libyan shores; NGOs and international organizations cited severe security and human rights conditions inside Libya and Libyan detention centers and a heightened risk of trafficking for migrants forced to remain in Libya. For four months in 2020, the pandemic prompted the government to temporarily close its ports to NGO humanitarian ships carrying refugees and migrants from Libyan search and rescue waters, which temporarily prevented them from docking at Italian ports. NGOs coordinated with law enforcement and immigration officials at both the arrival points and the longer-term reception centers. The government observed standard UNHCR procedures to screen for trafficking victims among all asylum-seekers, although NGOs asserted authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified within the system and classified instead as asylum-seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation. NGOs continued to stress the need for longer time periods for screening of refugees and migrants at arrival ports to more accurately ascertain victim status, but they acknowledged conditions were not conducive to a stay there beyond one or two days.
In October 2020, the government adopted new decrees that largely revoked 2018 decrees affecting humanitarian protections, which had increased vulnerability to trafficking. The new decrees increased the availability of humanitarian protections for asylum-seekers who could face persecution if returned to their country of origin and introduced new services to facilitate reintegration of asylum-seekers. In May 2020, the government also adopted a decree allowing for the regularization of workers informally employed in the agricultural, fishing, home care, and domestic-work sectors. In 2020, 31,000 informal workers in agriculture and 177,000 in homecare requested work permits based on the new decree; of the permits the government reviewed, it accepted the vast majority. The law allowed for an initial three to six months of government assistance to all trafficking victims. After initial assistance, foreign victims were eligible to obtain temporary residency and work permits and had a path to permanent residency; additionally, foreign victims were eligible for six months of shelter benefits, renewable for an additional six months, if the victim obtained a job or enrolled in a training program. To adjust to pandemic-related restrictions on movement imposed by the government, the government extended the expiration dates of residence permits for asylum-seekers by several months in 2020. The government granted at least 108 residence permits in 2020, compared with 155 in 2019 and 270 in 2018 to trafficking victims. In 2020, 26,551 migrants submitted asylum applications compared with 31,136 in 2019; adding to an already existing backlog of nearly 140,000 applications. Of the applications the government processed, it granted asylum status or subsidiary protections in approximately one fourth of the applications. In some cases, the government housed victims and potential victims with irregular migrants, and such housing lacked adequate security against traffickers inside and outside the centers seeking to recruit victims or remove those already under their control.
In January 2020, the Ministry of Interior published specific guidelines for identifying and referring child victims mostly within the asylum system. While the government had a victim identification and referral mechanism for some forms of child trafficking, it remained without a separate national mechanism that included all forms of trafficking. In its 2019 report, GRETA recommended establishing a separate national referral mechanism specifically for the specialized needs of children. Children represented five percent of victims receiving assistance. NGOs estimated there were several thousand children in Italy who were victims of sex trafficking in 2020. Many unaccompanied Nigerian child victims misrepresented their age to gain placement in an adult reception center, giving them greater freedom to leave the center unnoticed with their trafficker. NGOs, however, welcomed increased scrutiny by authorities of these age-claims, and authorities more often sent victims into child protection if unable to confirm adult age-status. Foreign child victims automatically received a residence permit until age 18 and accommodations in a general children’s center or a designated center for trafficking victims who were also asylum-seekers. Children received counseling and were enrolled in public schools with the support of mentors.
Italian criminal law lacked a provision specifically prohibiting punishment of trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, but during the reporting period there were no reports of judges convicting trafficking victims forced to commit such crimes, and cooperation between NGOs and police to prevent victim penalization remained strong. Current law required proof of exploitation in a criminal action against the perpetrator, which left victims and potential victims at risk of prosecution and conviction when a court did not first convict the perpetrators. The government did not require victims to cooperate with law enforcement to obtain assistance and a residence permit, although NGOs and international organizations reported authorities did not consistently implement this policy and sometimes gave preference to those who cooperated. The government reported it often had difficulty prosecuting trafficking cases because victims were often unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement, and in a March 2021 document, NGOs urged the government to adopt a victim-centered approach. The government had a witness protection program but did not report whether any trafficking victims were able to access this protection during the reporting period; experts noted that increased utilization of witness protection programs could increase the willingness of victims to cooperate with law enforcement proceedings. The government offered a single payment of €1,500 ($1,840) to victims for compensation, although GRETA and NGOs noted the application procedure was overly complex, the amount insufficient, and very few victims ever received compensation. The government did not report granting compensation to any victims during the reporting period. GRETA further recommended the government increase the use of existing legal remedies to provide restitution to victims and more proactively seize assets and pursue forfeiture against perpetrators. The government did not award restitution from criminal cases or damages from civil suits to any trafficking victims during the reporting period.