The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 48 victims (36 in 2019). Of these, 21 were victims of sex trafficking, 14 of forced labor (including two of forced begging), four of forced criminality, and nine of multiple types of exploitation; 17 were children; five were foreign victims; and the majority were female. First responders referred 130 potential victims to CPTV (135 in 2019); law enforcement referred 59 potential victims, social welfare organizations referred 43 potential victims, and NGOs and international organizations referred 18 potential victims; four potential victims self-identified; and private citizens and other institutions referred six potential victims. The government maintained standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the identification, referral, and support of trafficking victims, including standardized indicators and guidelines to identify victims in migrant flows, schools, and high-risk sectors. However, the SOPs did not provide clear roles and responsibilities for civil society, and implementation remained weak with a lack of proactive identification efforts, including screening of migrant flows and individuals in commercial sex. In previous years, some first responders, particularly Centers for Social Work (CSW), justified cases of potential forced child begging and forced labor involving Roma as traditional cultural practices and customs. CPTV assessed and officially recognized adult victims referred by first responders and developed a protection and assistance plan for each victim. CSW assessed and officially recognized child victims. In 2019, GRETA and other experts reported CPTV lacked the staff to review cases in a timely manner and resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. Experts continued to report the lack of transparency regarding the official victim assessment and CPTV’s inability to assess potential victims consistently. For example, CPTV did not provide official victim status to some potential victims, who were later determined by civil society as trafficking victims, a trend that re-victimized some victims. Civil society reported government spending was suspended during the COVID-19 state of emergency from March 2020 to May 2020, which halted direct assistance and referral procedures.
The government allocated 23 million dinars ($240,080) to CPTV and the URC, compared with 3 million dinars ($31,320) for only CPTV in 2019. The government could not provide information on funds allocated to all victim protection efforts in 2019 and 2020 and did not provide funding to NGOs despite relying heavily, and at times solely, on their victim support and reintegration services. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, educational, medical, financial, and reintegration support; all potential victims in 2020 (121 in 2019) and all official victims in 2020 (184 in 2019) received some form of government assistance. The government reported providing equal protection to foreign and domestic victims, but foreign victims faced obstacles in accessing support, according to experts, who noted some local communities limit shelter accommodation to Serbian nationals. Although the government required victims to be referred only to licensed service providers, licenses were difficult to obtain because the government lacked official standards and criteria to approve licenses. The government opened the URC in February 2019, managed by CPTV and designed to provide safe shelter and services with the capacity to accommodate six victims; however, the URC closed in September 2020 due to staff testing positive for COVID-19 and its inability to obtain a license. Of the two major NGOs that work on trafficking issues, one was licensed to provide housing and victim assistance, and the other was licensed to administer an SOS hotline. In 2019, CPTV reported difficulties in fulfilling their expanded responsibilities from a coordinating body to one that also provided direct assistance at the URC due to a continued lack of capacity and staff, including technical staff and skills to provide support to victims, and a lack of resources to afford basic office equipment, food, hygiene products, and shelter renovations. Civil society reported CPTV relied on its scare resources to support the URC with food, toiletries, and access to vehicles.
CSW operated shelters for domestic violence victims that also accommodated female trafficking victims. GRETA visited a CSW-run shelter in Sremska Mitrovica in January 2018 and reported “good living conditions,” but these shelters generally lacked the specialized programs and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims. Additionally, after the closure of the URC, only one NGO operated a specialized shelter for trafficking victims. The government maintained a drop-in shelter for street children, and CSW returned child victims to their families, referred them to foster care, or placed them in one of the two Centers for Children without Parental Care; 17 potential child victims were accommodated in general shelters (31 in 2019), seven were accommodated in shelters for asylum seekers and migrants (11 in 2019), and 21 were placed in foster families (25 in 2019). The government did not provide specialized accommodation for male victims. An NGO rented accommodation for male victims as needed, and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV maintained a protocol with the National Employment Service (NES) to assist victims in finding employment; CPTV did not refer any victim to NES for assistance in 2020 (two in 2019). The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits (TPR) renewable up to one year and allowed potential foreign victims to stay for three months; authorities granted one victim a TPR and assisted two victims in obtaining documents to apply for a TPR (no victims received a TPR in 2019, but two victims renewed their TPRs). The government repatriated 10 victims to Serbia, compared with repatriating two victims to Serbia and one victim to Albania in 2019. Observers reported the lack of a standardized database to collect information on trafficking victims created obstacles in managing cases and monitoring access and quality of support services.
Authorities continued to penalize victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit; authorities penalized at least eight victims of sex trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality with imprisonment, probation, and fines (at least four in 2019). Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations, but once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims to cooperate with investigations and testify during prosecution, including children; 68 victims, 36 adults and 32 children, participated in court proceedings (103 in 2019). In previous years, observers reported Serbian authorities threatened some victims with prosecution for non-cooperation. Judges did not grant witness protection to trafficking victims or adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings. The law designated officially recognized victims as a “particularly vulnerable group” eligible for special assistance and procedural consideration, but judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” or “protective witness status” to trafficking victims, including children; these statuses allowed witnesses to testify without the defendant present, testify via video link, and access witness protection. Judges granted “especially vulnerable witness status” to 20 victims (none in 2019) but did not grant “protective witness status” to any victims in 2020 (none in 2019). Observers reported an absence of victim confidentiality measures; one example included the MOI publishing information on a trafficker who was the victim’s father, and as a result, media organizations easily identified the victim. Similarly, law enforcement leaked victims’ personal information to media organizations that published the information and details of their exploitation, which resulted in the victims experiencing threats and intimidation. Victims also frequently appeared in front of their traffickers during trial and, in previous years, did not receive notification when authorities released their traffickers from custody. Police escorted victims to and from court, but, in 2019, police did not consistently conduct “safety assessments” of official victims and often sent victims home to potentially exploitative family members. In 2020, CPTV did not hire legal representation for victims due to lack of funds, compared with spending 547,054 dinars ($5,710) on legal representation in 2019. Judges did not issue restitution in criminal cases and continued to encourage victims to seek compensation solely by filing civil suits. Civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face their trafficker multiple times; only one victim has received compensation to date.