The government increased victim identification and protection efforts, although the government remained dependent on NGOs to provide most victim services. The government did not formally adopt draft procedures for the identification and referral of victims to NGO services; in practice, officials continued to identify and refer trafficking victims to care on an ad hoc basis. In November 2020, the government convened international organizations and NGOs via virtual fora to develop a plan to finalize adoption of the draft victim identification procedures. While the government established steps towards adoption, it did not finalize a timeline due to the caretaker status of the government. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) requested an international organization’s assistance to develop a digital tool to better identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including migrant workers. The government identified at least 156 trafficking victims and referred all of them to NGO protection services during the reporting period. The number of victims identified and referred to services in 2020 represented a substantial increase from the 63 victims the government identified in 2019. The government reported a DGS-operated hotline received 211 calls but did not report if it identified any victims through hotline calls or referred any cases for investigation. Through the Ministry of Labor’s (MOL) complaints office and 24-hour hotline, it received 300 complaints but did not report further details.
The government did not directly provide protection services to trafficking victims but continued to work in partnership with NGOs to provide essential victim services. Government officials noted the pandemic limited NGOs’ ability to assist victims due to movement restrictions and social distancing measures that reduced the number of new victims entering shelters and made service provision difficult. NGO-run victim care facilities in Lebanon were dedicated only to female and child trafficking victims; there were no services available or government resources dedicated to male trafficking victims, even though trafficking of men in the construction sector reportedly continued. An NGO reported referring male victims to their embassy or consulate for accommodation during the reporting period. Pursuant to a longstanding memorandum of understanding, renewed during the reporting period, between the government and an NGO, DGS referred female victims to an NGO-run safe house and provided security for the location; the government did not allow victims to work while receiving assistance at the safe house. In response to pandemic-related mitigation measures, the NGO updated the safe house to include single-occupant rooms for quarantine purposes. In 2020, the safe house assisted 145 trafficking victims. Victim services were not time-limited or conditional upon victims’ cooperation with law enforcement. MOSA also continued to coordinate and fund the provision of protection services to child trafficking victims through contractual agreements with NGOs. Foreign embassies that provided shelter to nationals when NGO shelters were full reported providing accommodation to an increased number of their nationals, including domestic servitude victims, due to the economic crisis; for example, the Philippines embassy regularly housed 140 migrant domestic workers in a space meant for 30. DGS expanded a December 2019 amnesty program through June 2021 to waive most overstay fines and provided plane tickets for an unspecified number of migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims; although the program still required out-of-status migrants to pay one year’s worth of fees—between 300,000 lira ($200) and 400,000 lira ($270)—DGS waived all fees when NGOs or foreign embassies requested. For the second consecutive year, MOSA coordinated with an international organization to provide technical support for the development of an implementation decree to create a victim assistance fund; the decree remained in draft form at the end of the reporting period. In September 2020, the caretaker Minister of Labor attempted to introduce an amendment to the draft labor law extending legal protections to foreign and domestic workers; however, the State Shura Council determined a minister in caretaker status could not submit an amendment to a law.
The government continued to arrest, detain, and/or deport unidentified victims for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit, such as domestic workers who fled abusive employers, out-of-status or irregular migrant workers, women holding artiste visas, and persons in commercial sex. NGOs reported some foreign victims, including migrant domestic workers, sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to fear of reprisal or deportation. Under the sponsorship system, foreign workers—including foreign trafficking victims—who left their place of employment without permission from their employer forfeited their legal status, thereby increasing the risk of arrest, detention, and deportation. In February 2021, DGS adopted new administrative procedures for employers to inform DGS about domestic workers that have left the workplace; the new procedures replaced previously used employer complaint systems that automatically launched prosecutions of migrant workers who left their workplace. In addition, DGS prohibited the use of certain language in official reports implying domestic workers violated employment conditions such as “fled” or “ran away,” replacing them with the phrasing “left the workplace.” Authorities could subject foreign workers without valid residence and work permits to detention for one to two months—or longer in some instances—followed by deportation; due to the pandemic, authorities did not exercise this authority during the reporting period. Furthermore, authorities could immediately deport women holding artiste visas upon arrest for prostitution violations; however, DGS reported it did not deport any artiste visa holders during the reporting period and voluntarily repatriated 53 artiste visa holders, five of which were repatriated following trafficking investigations. During the reporting period, DGS extended all residency permits for all migrant workers until June 2021 to mitigate increased vulnerabilities resulting from the pandemic. DGS continued to operate a 750-person detention center where authorities detained foreign domestic workers for violating the terms of their work contracts or visas. For the last several years, DGS allowed an NGO to operate a permanent office inside the detention center that allowed staff unhindered access to detainees to provide medical and psycho-social services. However, due to a decrease in government funding to the NGO over the past two reporting periods, the NGO was unable to continue providing health services to detainees—including trafficking victims—and was only able to provide social and legal services. DGS also continued to permit the NGO to interview detainees to identify trafficking victims among the detention center population, although interviews were limited due to pandemic-related mitigation measures; NGOs identified 16 trafficking victims in the detention center during the reporting period, compared with 49 victims the NGO identified in 2019. In response to the pandemic, DGS announced only detainees with pending judicial action would be held at the detention center and other detainees would be released with the option of temporary residency or repatriation assistance. DGS reported that as of September 2020, DGS had released and repatriated 600 of the 700 detainees that had been at the center at the start of the reporting period. The NGO continued to report high levels of professionalism, sensitivity, and awareness among DGS officials and investigators, which allowed the NGO to more effectively identify victims among detainees.
Victims could file civil suits to obtain compensation; the government did not report whether courts awarded compensation to victims through civil suits during the reporting period. Investigative judges could exclude the identity of a victim from official reports if there was a concern that providing information about the crime could result in a threat to the life or safety of the victim or their family; the government did not report whether this provision was used during the reporting period. In addition, victims could provide testimony via video or written statement, but the government did not report whether this was used during the reporting period. Victims were also allowed to reside in Lebanon during an investigation of a trafficking case upon a judge’s decision, but the government did not report that any judges issued such a decision during the reporting period. NGOs continued to report foreign victims preferred quick administrative settlements followed by repatriation rather than long criminal prosecutions because of the lack of protection services or resettlement options during the criminal proceedings. An international organization reported pandemic-related lockdowns and airport closures further encouraged victims to return home rather than remaining in Lebanon under severe lockdown measures and poor economic conditions. Therefore, authorities faced challenges pursuing potential cases of trafficking when victims chose voluntary repatriation rather than facing an often-lengthy trial process because they were not present in the country to testify against their traffickers. The government did not provide temporary or permanent residency status or other relief from deportation for foreign trafficking victims who faced retribution or hardship in the countries to which they would be deported.