The government decreased protection efforts. In 2020, the government continued to delay development of a comprehensive countrywide statistical system on trafficking, including victim identification and assistance data, which originally commenced in 2017. At the time of commencement, KOM and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) decided to withhold the number of identified and assisted victims until after the government had set up a more formal and reliable system. Subsequently, for the fourth consecutive year, the government did not report an official number of victims identified or assisted, rather it estimated identifying 100 victims in 2020, the same number as in 2019 (the last reported official statistic was 262 victims identified and assisted in 2016). A government-funded NGO reported identifying 116 potential victims in 2020, compared with 118 in 2019. Restrictions imposed during the pandemic, such as lockdowns and border closures, reduced the government’s ability to identify and refer potential victims to NGOs and other actors who provided assistance, which experts noted underscored the need for an NRM. NGOs reported the pandemic intensified the shift toward online commercial sex and made identifying and assisting sex trafficking victims more difficult. Furthermore, experts noted deficiencies in identifying labor trafficking victims citing the government’s lack of understanding of the demand in certain sectors for forced labor. Although the government had neither formal identification procedures nor an NRM, authorities utilized informal guidelines to identify and refer potential victims. The MOJ and KOM continued to develop an NRM and established a working group to facilitate the process, which began in 2018. The working group’s initial proposal received wide criticism from various stakeholders expressing concern the proposed NRM would reduce the reflection period for victims from six months to 45 days, which could result in fewer victims assisting authorities in investigations and authorities deporting more victims while they were still recovering from their abuse. Consequently, the development of the NRM stalled.
The government provided victim assistance through municipal crisis centers and government-funded NGOs, including Re-establishment, Organizing safe places to stay, Security, Assistance (ROSA), the largest project exclusively assisting trafficking victims in Norway. These NGOs provided foreign and domestic victims with shelter, legal aid, stipends for food, psychological care, medical assistance, fitness facilities, and Norwegian-language classes. NGOs reported social distancing regulations due to the pandemic dissuaded victims from seeking assistance, particularly sex trafficking victims, for fear that violating those regulations would result in deportation or imprisonment. Additionally, civil society reported when authorities investigated and prosecuted a trafficking crime as another crime, victims were unable to access assistance granted to trafficking victims under Norwegian law. In 2020, ROSA reported assisting 46 victims (39 in 2019), and the government estimated assisting 100 victims. Parliament allocated 35 million kroner ($4.1 million) to NGOs specifically for assistance services, an increase from 30 million kroner ($3.52 million) allocated in both 2019 and 2018. Oslo’s Labor and Social Affairs Department established Human Trafficking Support Oslo to assist and support adult victims, including foreign victims in a reflection period, and hired 23 employees to support victims in the capital region. Human Trafficking Support Oslo received 4 million kroner ($468,930) from the government in 2020. The Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs maintained a coordinating unit for service and assistance to child trafficking victims and received 5 million kroner ($586,170) from the government in 2020. The unit worked to improve procedures to identify child victims, provide training and capacity building activities, and support coordination between government authorities. There were no reported cases of identified child victims in 2020 despite authorities investigating five trafficking cases involving 13 child victims. Municipal child welfare services assisted zero child victims, a decrease from three in 2019 and eight in 2018. Authorities placed identified child victims in state-run institutions, such as orphanages, for up to six months. According to officials, authorities did not consistently identify child victims and maintain statistics. To assist with the identification and investigation of trafficking cases involving children, the government developed procedures for cooperation among police, immigration authorities, and child welfare authorities.
A 2020 provision to the immigration law permitted residency to victims who testified in a criminal case regardless of whether it was prosecuted as a trafficking case or another crime. Victims under a reflection period received legal assistance through an appointed lawyer funded by the government, access to health care services, lodging, and other necessary support. In 2020, authorities granted a six-month reflection period to 16 victims and limited residence permits of up to 12 months to three victims, compared with five and 14 in 2019. Authorities granted six possible victims residence permits due to compelling humanitarian considerations (six in 2019). Observers raised concerns that police focused more on an individual’s lack of residence permit or immigration documentation than screening them for trafficking indicators, resulting in the deportation of potential victims. In January 2021, police deported more than 10 individuals in commercial sex for violating pandemic-related infection control measures. Civil society criticized the National Police Immigration Service for deporting the individuals before screening for trafficking indicators. Furthermore, the continued closure of the Storskog border crossing with Russia to anyone seeking protection prevented the screening of trafficking victims along the northern border. During the reporting period, an amendment to the law entered into force allowing trafficking victims from countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) candidacy for full financial reintegration support to their country of origin. However, NGOs expressed concern that ineligibility for financial support to victims from outside the EEA, such as asylum-seekers who received rejected asylum applications, exposed them to the risk of re-victimization.
Victims benefited from state compensation through the Compensation for Victims of Violent Crimes Act. During the reporting period, the government proposed amendments to the Act, which, according to civil society, would make restitution contingent on a conviction and, if a case did not result in a conviction, require victims to file a civil suit against their alleged trafficker to receive compensation—a costly, self-funded process most victims could not afford. Civil society claimed the requirement contradicted Norway’s obligations under international law and conventions, such as the European Council’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. The amendment also would restrict access to free legal aid until after victims filed an official report with the police. Under the existing law, victims could access free legal aid in the early stages of their case when considering reporting the crime to the police. Civil society expressed grave concern regarding the government’s consideration of these amendments.