The government minimally decreased protection efforts. Police and social workers identified six trafficking victims in 2020 (compared with 11 in 2019, 24 in 2018, 30 in 2017, and 35 in 2016). While the government’s identification of victims steadily decreased over several years, NGOs noted that pandemic-related restrictions in 2020 may have made it more difficult for the government to identify trafficking victims. Of the victims identified, five were victims of labor trafficking, including two victims of domestic servitude and three Maltese child victims of forced criminality, and one was a combination of both sex and labor trafficking. The foreign trafficking victims were all from the Philippines, and all six victims were female. Police continued to utilize standard operating procedures to systematically refer victims to Agenzjja Appogg, a government office within the national Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS) that provided national assistance to trafficking victims; police referred all three victims they identified to Agenzjja Appogg. The other three victims were referred to care by an NGO, through self-referral, or by Agenzjja Appogg itself. There was no victim identification screening mechanism, though Agenzjja Appogg began drafting this tool during the reporting period. FSWS continued to coordinate effectively with the police, legal aid, and health services to provide quality care to victims. Government officials continued to work closely and collaboratively with NGOs during the reporting period. The national welfare agency continued to operate a 24-hour hotline for individuals in need of social services, including potential trafficking victims. Services to victims continued uninterrupted in 2020, though some services switched to a virtual platform due to pandemic-related restrictions. The government had dedicated services available to both foreign and domestic trafficking victims and once victims were referred to care, specialized social workers at FSWS assessed the long-term needs of each trafficking victim; assistance included shelter, food, psychological counseling, interpreters, and medical and legal aid appointments, as well as assistance with obtaining legal status and job searches. At least one trafficking victim received shelter in safe housing in 2020. Victims could receive protection services regardless of their agreement to cooperate with law enforcement but could only receive residence permits if they cooperated. While there was no time limit for victims to access some services, such as services from social workers, their stay in a shelter or safe housing could not exceed 180 days, with some exceptions. Victims had freedom of movement in government shelters, and both men and women had access to two shelters.
Per a May 2020 memorandum of understanding, the government cooperated with the Government of Libya to reduce the number of irregular migrants entering Malta from Libya and reportedly prevented at least 7,000 irregular migrants from arriving at Maltese ports. NGOs criticized this coordinated effort, however, because it often resulted in the occupants of vessels rescued in the Libyan search and rescue area being returned to Libyan shores; NGOs cited severe security and human rights conditions inside Libya and Libyan detention centers and a heightened risk of trafficking for irregular migrants forced to remain in Libya. Despite government efforts to the contrary, approximately 2,300 irregular migrants arrived in Malta in 2020, a decrease compared to 3,100 in 2019, and were placed in one of four government-run detention centers. Though trained officials systematically screened for trafficking indicators, they did not report identifying any trafficking victims at detention centers; NGOs and officials had limited access to detention centers due to the pandemic, which may have resulted in some trafficking victims remaining unidentified within the law enforcement system. However, insufficient resources at migrant detention centers might have affected the quality of victim screening. During the reporting period, police continued to screen for sex trafficking indicators among individuals in commercial sex. In 2020, the government spent €120,088 ($147,350) on victim care, including salaries for social workers and safe housing for victims; this amount was an increase compared with €83,400 ($102,340) in 2019.
The government encouraged but did not require victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their alleged traffickers. The government provided victims with protective support, including the option to testify via video and accompaniment by a social worker, although courts did not consistently offer these protections. The government had a witness protection program but did not report whether any victims utilized this service during the reporting period. The law provided victims a two-month reflection period to recover and contemplate cooperation with law enforcement, but the government did not report whether it provided this to any victims during the reporting period. Foreign victims who decided to assist police in prosecuting trafficking cases were entitled to a renewable six-month temporary residence permit free of charge, police protection, legal assistance, and the right to obtain flexible work permits; the government reported granting a residence permit to at least one trafficking victim during the reporting period. The government could grant refugee status to victims as an alternative to removal to countries where they may face hardship or persecution, but it did not report providing this status to any victims during the reporting period. The government could grant compensation to victims from state funding; however, the government did not report issuing compensation to any victims during the reporting period. Additionally, prosecutors could file for restitution from traffickers in criminal cases; however, the government did not award restitution to any victims during the reporting period. Victims could also file a civil suit to receive damages, for which the government could provide free legal assistance, but the government did not report any victims receiving damages during the reporting period.