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ITALY: Tier 2

The Government of Italy does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Italy remained on Tier 2. These efforts included increasing funding for labor trafficking prevention and awareness campaigns compared with the prior year. The government also trained more law enforcement officials and adopted new decrees that largely revoked 2018 decrees affecting humanitarian protections for asylum-seekers that had increased vulnerability to trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government reported fewer trafficking investigations and prosecutions compared with the prior year and reported partial sentencing data. The government identified and assisted fewer victims and decreased labor inspections. The national victim identification and referral mechanism was implemented unevenly throughout the country and was not always consistently effective. The government did not adopt a new national action plan, appoint a national rapporteur, or award restitution to any victims.

Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases and convict and sentence traffickers with adequate sentences. • Increase proactive victim identification by improving and consistently implementing the national identification referral mechanism across the country, including for Italian nationals and vulnerable populations such as foreign migrants, Cuban medical professionals, and children. • Intensify efforts to effectively screen for labor trafficking through increased inspections and improved training of labor inspectors to spot trafficking indicators and refer victim for services. • Strengthen interagency coordination and partnership with civil society. • Adopt a national action plan. • Continue to increase migrant worker protections by consistently enforcing strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment agencies and labor brokers, including investigating and prosecuting for labor trafficking. • Ensure labor trafficking is investigated and prosecuted as a trafficking offense and not pursued as an administrative labor code violation or other lesser crime. • Consolidate data among different ministries, and make public a database on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions, including sentencing data. • Implement a licensing and accreditation process for massage parlors. • Continue to increase international cooperation with source and transit countries, especially Nigeria, Tunisia, and Libya, on information sharing and countering trafficking rings. • Improve security standards in and around reception centers to limit contact between traffickers and victims or potential victims. • Continue to strengthen international law enforcement cooperation to prevent and investigate child sex tourism. • Amend the law on the non-punishment of victims to ensure that trafficking victims could not be inappropriately penalized for acts traffickers compelled them to commit. • Appoint a national rapporteur to provide an independent review of government efforts. • Increase efforts to order restitution for victims.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 601 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of eight to 20 years’ imprisonment, which increased by one third to one half if the offense involved a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Additional penal code provisions were utilized to prosecute trafficking crimes. Article 600 criminalized placing or holding a person in conditions of slavery or servitude, and Article 602 criminalized the sale and purchase of slaves – both prescribed the same penalties as Article 601. Additionally, Article 600-bis criminalized offenses relating to child sex trafficking and prescribed punishments of six to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of €15,000 ($18,400) to €150,000 ($184,050).

Courts were closed for approximately four months due to the pandemic, which postponed criminal proceedings, and pandemic-related restrictions limited the ability for law enforcement to pursue trafficking investigations. In 2020, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) reported investigating 254 persons under Articles 600, 601, and 602, a decrease compared with 323 in 2019. The government also reported investigating 116 suspects in 2020 under Article 600-bis for child sex trafficking, compared with 166 suspects in 2019. The government reported prosecuting 106 suspects under articles 600, 601, and 602, a significant decrease compared with 202 in 2019. In 2020, trial and appellate courts reported convicting 175 traffickers under articles 600, 601, and 602, compared with 170 as originally reported in 2019. The government did not report comprehensive sentencing data for 2020, or in any prior year, but reported that the average sentence for convicted traffickers was 8.2 years in 2020, an increase compared with 6.6 years in 2019. In 2020, authorities extradited 36 suspects from abroad who were accused of crimes under Articles 600, 601, and 602, as well as other crimes such as sexual intercourse with children, abetting illegal immigration, illicit labor mediation and exploitation of prostitution; this compared with 26 in 2019. The government also extradited 26 persons accused of the same crimes to foreign countries; this compared with 24 in 2019.

The government did not maintain a consolidated database on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing of traffickers, or of their victims, a deficiency noted by the Council of Europe’s expert group (GRETA). Specialized anti-mafia units of prosecutors and judiciary police handled trafficking prosecutions. Whenever investigators found clear evidence of trafficking, they referred the case to an anti-mafia unit, which relaunched the investigation and consequently extended the timeframe for prosecution and trial. To avoid this delay, non-specialized investigators and prosecutors sometimes charged perpetrators with crimes other than trafficking. Anti-mafia units continued to prioritize investigations of criminal networks over individual cases, citing limits on available resources. Lack of a sufficient number of interpreters, especially for West African dialects, continued to limit law enforcement arrests and investigations, as well as diminish the benefits of investigators’ wiretapping capability. Italian prosecutors and police continued to cite insufficient cooperation in investigations from officials in source and transit countries; with many cases being transnational, this hindered prosecutions and convictions.

Law enforcement agencies received training on victim identification and investigation of trafficking crimes within their standard curriculum. In 2020, the MOI provided anti-trafficking training to more than 1,500 law enforcement officers and, in collaboration with an international organization, trained 60 members of asylum committees and social workers on victim identification and referral, as well as an additional 67 caseworkers. This was a significant increase compared with 763 officials trained in 2019. In 2020, the government cooperated in an international law enforcement operation with Spain and Romania, which resulted in the arrest of 16 suspects and the identification of 13 victims. In 2020, the government continued to provide funding to an international organization for an anti-trafficking project across Africa, part of which focused on improving international judicial cooperation between Italy and Nigeria. Through the program, the government continued to support a liaison magistrate exchange with Nigeria, which included joint-investigations, case coordination, legal assistance, and information-sharing between the government and Nigeria. The program also organized a 2020 visit to Nigeria by an Italian NGO to strengthen cooperation between Italian and Nigerian NGOs working on human trafficking and to improve assistance to returning Nigerian victims. The government formalized a bilateral agreement with Nigeria in October 2020 on extradition, mutual legal assistance, and transfer of convicted persons, though it did not report utilizing this agreement. Trafficking networks and gangs continued to grow more sophisticated, organized, and violent, particularly Nigerian gangs linked to the Black Axe, Supreme Viking Confraternity, and the Eiye syndicate. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

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.

The government increased prevention efforts. The DEO, as coordinator of the interagency steering committee on trafficking, was responsible for drafting the national anti-trafficking action plan, coordinating programs for prevention and victim assistance, and submitting a biannual anti-trafficking report. The government remained without a national rapporteur to provide independent analysis of government efforts to combat human trafficking; in a March 2021 document submitted to the government, several NGOs urged the government to establish such a body. The interagency steering committee continued to meet virtually and work on updating the 2016-2018 national action plan; however, the government did not adopt a new plan during the reporting period. NGOs urged the government to strengthen interagency coordination and partnership with civil society and adopt a victim-centered approach. During the reporting period, the inter-ministerial working group on labor exploitation, which focused on the agricultural sector and illicit labor brokers and aimed to prevent exploitation and offer legal alternatives to illegal employment, continued to meet, expanded its membership to include representatives from the south, and established a subgroup on victim protection and assistance. In 2020, the working group successfully obtained €95 million ($116.56 million) in funding for its previously proposed national three-year plan, from 2020-2022, to combat labor exploitation in agriculture, which included several programs that ranged from victim protection and reintegration services to awareness raising and training. As part of its three-year plan, the government continued to contribute trained cultural mediators to communicate and raise awareness among refugees, migrants, and victims. In 2020, mediators conducted outreach to 3,600 workers in migrant communities on labor exploitation and available protections. Under the plan, the government also funded local awareness campaigns on labor exploitation, including trafficking, but did not report any national-level awareness campaigns on sex trafficking. In 2020, the labor ministry released a cell phone application in five languages, to connect agricultural workers with potential employers with the goal of increasing transparency and reducing the need for illicit labor brokers and subsequently decreasing the risk of exploitation. In 2020, the government provided €250,000 ($306,750) to a program in Niger to raise awareness and strengthen judicial cooperation on human trafficking and other crimes. The government also contributed €1 million ($1.23 million) for a trafficking awareness campaign in Nigeria in 2020.

The law required businesses to submit reports on their actions to minimize the risk of forced labor and prohibited the purchase of products made with forced labor. Part of the government’s three-year plan included creating ethical agricultural supply chains, with a particular focus on the harvesting of tomatoes. In 2020, the government continued efforts to investigate labor brokers for illicit labor mediation by arresting 67 suspects, prosecuting 271 suspects, and convicting 109 criminals; compared with arresting 113 suspects, prosecuting 313 suspects, and convicting 131 criminals in 2019. While illicit labor mediation does not meet the threshold for labor trafficking, law enforcement efforts in this sector helped reduce the demand for forced labor. In 2020, the government reported inspecting 83,421 sites, including 5,372 agricultural sites, and identified 17,788 unregistered workers. This represented a significant decrease compared with the inspection of 128,376 sites in 2019, including 5,950 agricultural sites, and the identification of more than 41,000 unregistered workers. Unions expressed concern that the pandemic hampered labor inspections, which decreased by nearly half in the harvesting season from 2019 to 2020. Furthermore, fraudulent labor recruitment and passport retention remained concerns during the reporting period. Experts estimated that in 2020, as many as 180,000 agricultural workers, especially seasonal workers, were at risk of labor trafficking in Italy. Employers in the agricultural sector sometimes submitted falsified forms pertaining to their workers, which impeded labor inspections and the potential identification of trafficking victims. Although illegal, employers or labor recruiters sometimes charged a placement fee to employees, which increased their risk of trafficking. The government had a licensing and accreditation system for labor brokers and labor recruitment agencies. There was a lack of regulation, including a licensing or accreditation system, and oversight on massage parlors, which remained places of high concern for sex trafficking. The government did not report the extent to which it screened or identified potential trafficking cases during its inspections. The government did not effectively regulate labor recruitment agencies or illicit labor brokers during the reporting period. While authorities seized several farms and arrested many suspects for crimes that could potentially reach the threshold for labor trafficking, the government did not report investigating or prosecuting any agencies or companies for labor trafficking, including for fraudulent labor recruitment, but instead arrested suspects for other related crimes. GRETA recommended the government intensify efforts to more effectively screen for trafficking victims through increased labor inspections, expanded training of inspectors, and in monitoring of recruitment practices including in agriculture, domestic labor, hospitality and food service.

The DEO continued to operate its 24-hour hotline for victims of human trafficking, which reported receiving more calls in 2020 (5,510 calls), compared with 2019 (3,711 calls), but fewer relevant calls. Of the relevant calls, 73 percent pertained to sexual exploitation, 25 percent pertained to labor exploitation, and two percent pertained to forced begging. The national government did not coordinate efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex, although some local governments imposed fines on purchasers. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens through the initiation of two investigations into child sex tourism in 2020.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign, and to a lesser degree domestic, victims in Italy. Victims originate primarily from Nigeria and other African countries, China, Pakistan, Romania, Bulgaria, and include ethnic Roma. The pandemic exacerbates vulnerabilities for trafficking victims, including through increasing isolation of migrant and seasonal workers as well as sex trafficking victims, which complicates their identification by officials and NGOs. In 2020, sex traffickers left thousands of Nigerian women and children trafficking survivors destitute and without basic needs, such as food, during the national lockdowns; many anti-trafficking NGOs raised concerns that travel restrictions and limited social and public services make it more difficult for trafficking victims to escape and return home. Traffickers, often part of Chinese criminal networks, systematically exploit Chinese women in sex trafficking in apartments, beauty centers, clubs, and massage parlors, as well as labor trafficking in a variety of Chinese owned businesses. Massage parlors are sometimes used as fronts for the purchase of commercial sex, raising concerns about sex trafficking. Of an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 individuals involved in commercial sex on the streets, NGOs reported approximately 60 percent (or 24,000 to 27,000) are trafficking victims or at risk of trafficking and between five and eight percent are children (or approximately 2,000 to 3,200 of 40,000). The majority of sex trafficking victims are from Nigeria, although more recently their numbers have decreased. The government and civil society maintain that Nigerian women and unaccompanied children remain extremely vulnerable to trafficking because of the continued operation of organized Nigerian trafficking networks. Several Nigerian trafficking networks have expanded operations across Italy and reportedly receive protection from Italian crime syndicates. International organizations estimated up to 75 percent of the Nigerian women and unaccompanied children who arrived in 2018 were trafficking victims. Traffickers subject Nigerian women and girls to sex trafficking through debt-based coercion and voodoo rituals. Authorities report traffickers encourage Nigerian victims to claim asylum to obtain legal residency and facilitate their continued exploitation. Traffickers sometimes exploit migrant women in sex trafficking in and around migration centers. The Government of France reports receiving Nigerian victims who were exploited in trafficking while awaiting legal residency in Italy. Italian citizens will sometimes engage in child sex tourism abroad. Traffickers frequently target unaccompanied children, who are especially vulnerable to trafficking; children are exploited in child sex trafficking, forced to commit crimes or beg, and forced to work in shops, bars, restaurants, and bakeries. Ethnic Roma children are at risk for trafficking, including forced begging and child sex trafficking. Unlike the downward trend in prior years, authorities state the number of seaborne unaccompanied children increased in 2020 to 4,631 identified, compared with 1,680 in 2019, 3,534 in 2018, and 15,731 in 2017.

Labor traffickers operate in agriculture, predominantly in southern Italy, construction, household labor, hospitality, and restaurants. Traffickers use fraudulent recruitment, passport retention, and debt-based coercion to control trafficking victims; traffickers also extort payments from the victim’s family in the source country. Cuban medical professionals working in Italy during the pandemic may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Italy has an estimated 1.5 million unregistered workers and 3.7 million irregular workers who are at risk for labor trafficking. Specifically for the agricultural sector, experts estimated that as many as 180,000 workers, particularly seasonal workers, are at risk for forced labor in Italy. Employers in the agricultural sector will sometimes submit falsified forms pertaining to their workers, which impedes labor inspections and the potential identification of trafficking victims. Italy has approximately 517,000 irregular migrants in 2020, many of whom are at risk for trafficking. Italy received 34,154 irregular arrivals by sea in 2020, a significant increase compared with 11,471 in 2019, many through Libya, where victims reported experiencing extortion, torture, and rape by militias or traffickers while awaiting passage to Italy. In 2017, government officials, including intelligence officials, met with a notorious alleged human trafficker to discuss controls on refugee and migrant flows from Libya, where the alleged trafficker requested funds from Italian authorities to manage the reception of migrants in Libya. Irregular migrants that arrived by sea mostly originate from Tunisia and Bangladesh. In 2019, of the roughly 31,000 persons requesting asylum, authorities estimate up to 30 percent were at risk for sex trafficking or forced labor while waiting for adjudication of their petitions. Traffickers target migrant centers to recruit and later exploit asylum-seekers, sometimes claiming to be family members to gain access to the centers. Asylum-seekers may legally work beginning two months after filing their applications, although many seek illegal employment immediately in informal sectors, increasing their risk for trafficking. Many also attempt passage to other European countries; under the European Commission’s Dublin Regulation, countries have six months to repatriate victims to the EU country of their arrival but must accept their asylum claim if they fail to transfer them in due time. This regulation likely increased the number of asylum-seekers or trafficking victims forced to remain in Italy or return to Italy from another country.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future