The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified seven victims (six victims in 2020); five were victims of sex trafficking and two were victims of forced labor, including one of forced begging (four victims of sex trafficking, one of forced labor, and one of forced begging in 2019). Of these, six victims were girls, and one was an adult male (four girls and two women in 2019); none were foreign victims (one foreign victim from Bosnia and Herzegovina and two from Kosovo in 2019). The government, in cooperation with NGOs, also identified six potential victims (124 potential victims in 2019); of these, there were five adults and one child (39 adults and 85 children in 2019); five were female and one male (91 females and 33 males in 2019); and the boy was a foreign potential victim (29 were foreign potential victims in 2019). Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) maintained mobile teams comprised of social workers, law enforcement officers, NGO workers, and psychologists in five regions for vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims; mobile teams assisted 362 street children (mobile teams identified 86 potential victims and assisted 316 individuals in 2019). Mobile teams identify the majority of potential victims every year, and experts viewed the teams as a best practice in proactive identification and cooperation between civil society and government; however, sustainability of the mobile teams remained in doubt with their international organization-provided funding ending in 2020, and the government reallocating promised resources to pandemic responses. In addition to funding constraints, the pandemic mitigation efforts limited mobile teams’ ability to proactively identify potential victims. MLSP continued to dispatch social workers to screen vulnerable populations at border crossings and transit centers, and MLSP social workers and police continued to identify potential forced labor victims among predominately Romani children engaged in street begging and street vending. The government placed identified child victims in daycare centers and warned or fined their parents; in cases where courts deemed parents unfit to care for their children, the state placed the children in orphanages. Government and civil society actors raised concerns about the low number of identified victims, and experts reported most government agencies lacked proactive identification efforts. For example, border agents did not consistently screen for trafficking indicators at border crossings, and reports documented police abuse and authorities conducting illegal pushbacks to Greece. Police did not consistently screen for indicators during raids in casinos, nightclubs, and bars. The government maintained SOPs for the identification and referral of victims, and the Office of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) within MLSP remained responsible for coordinating the identification and referral procedures. First responders referred potential victims to the Anti-Trafficking Unit and/or the NRM, which were authorized to officially identify victims. NRM officials and social workers participated in interviews with potential victims, but law enforcement did not consistently include NRM officials and social workers at the outset of identifying potential trafficking cases.
The government allocated 1.76 million denars ($35,040) to the MOI for protection and security of trafficking victims, particularly those staying at the shelter for trafficking victims, compared to 2.21 million denars ($44,120) in 2019. While the government planned to allocate 1.5 million denars ($29,920) to MLSP for social services, NGO activities, mobile teams, and other types of victim protection efforts (2.7 million denars ($53,860) in 2019), it diverted all funding to pandemic response efforts. The government still provided 810,000 denars ($16,160) for direct victim assistance at the shelter for trafficking victims, compared to 1.2 million denars ($23,940) in 2019; however, this covered only a small percentage of the shelter’s operating expenses, and the shelter relied heavily on funding from the international community to continue operations. The government and NGOs provided potential and officially recognized victims with protection and assistance, including food, clothing, medical assistance, psycho-social support, rehabilitation, and reintegration services. However, foreign potential victims required official recognition to receive support at the shelter for trafficking victims. MLSP assigned a guardian from a social welfare center to victims while they were at the shelter, and MLSP-run social service centers maintained one social worker at each of the 30 centers dedicated to providing assistance to trafficking victims, including psycho-social support, reintegration assistance, education, and job placement. The government and NGOs provided assistance to 14 official and potential victims (89 in 2019), including basic necessities to five (89 in 2019), counselling and medical assistance to seven (30 in 2019), legal assistance to four (seven in 2019), and vocational training for four (three in 2019). The government did not provide specialized assistance for adult male victims. The shelter for trafficking victims accommodated female and child victims with the capacity to house five victims, but the government did not have additional capacity to accommodate victims if the shelter was full. In 2018, the government amended legislation to accommodate domestic and foreign potential trafficking victims at the shelter; however, the transit center continued to accommodate most foreign potential victims. The shelter allowed victims freedom of movement, but the transit center did not permit foreign potential victims to leave without a temporary residence permit. Observers reported poor living conditions at the transit center. During 2020, the shelter housed five victims (five in 2019), and the transit center did not house any victims (one foreign victim in 2019). The law permitted foreign victims a two-month reflection period to decide whether to testify against their traffickers, followed by a six-month temporary residence permit, regardless of whether they testify; no foreign victims requested residence permits in 2019 and 2020.
Inadequate identification efforts and corruption put potential victims at risk of being penalized for crimes they were compelled to commit. Observers reported local police deported foreign potential victims before their two-month reflection period expired. Additionally, local police detained and deported individuals in commercial sex without screening for trafficking indicators or notifying the task force, according to experts and government officials. The government, in cooperation with an international organization, trained 19 judges on non-punishment of trafficking victims. Victims voluntarily cooperating in court proceedings generally cannot leave North Macedonia before testifying in court; however, prosecutors, with the consent of the defense, can make exceptions and allow a victim to leave the country prior to testifying in court, upon giving testimony before a prosecutor, and in some cases, before a pre-trial procedure judge. Six victims gave statements against their alleged traffickers (eight in 2019). The government reported no victims required witness protection services in 2019 and 2020. Judges did not issue restitution as part of criminal sentences, and while victims can claim compensation through civil proceedings, the complexity of the process often dissuades victims from pursuing action. One trafficking victim was successfully compensated in 2020. The government and civil society continued efforts to develop a victim compensation fund which allowed authorities to allocate compensation to victims from seized criminal assets.