The government maintained protection efforts. Police, labor, and immigration officials had standard operating procedures for identifying victims, and the government had a victim referral process among government officials, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies. The government reported identifying 23 potential trafficking victims (16 sex and seven labor trafficking victims), compared with 62 potential victims (18 sex trafficking victims and 44 labor trafficking victims) in 2019. Three of the 23 potential trafficking victims were referred to NGOs for assistance; several others were referred to the Ministry of Social and Family Development for counselling and other services. The government reported providing assistance to 24 potential trafficking victims in 2020, including 16 who received shelter services. All police officers received basic training and refresher courses on victim identification; however, several NGOs continued to report officials failed to recognize key indicators of trafficking when interviewing potential victims, particularly in cases involving psychological coercion or debt bondage, and among migrant workers. NGOs continued to voice concern that police did not consistently screen for trafficking indicators when police raided unlicensed brothels; as a result, the government may have prosecuted or punished unidentified sex trafficking victims for immigration violations or public solicitation, which traffickers likely compelled them to commit. Several NGOs reported a number of the cases they encountered exhibited trafficking indicators and that authorities may have penalized or deported numerous unidentified labor trafficking victims.
During the pandemic, NGOs reported frontline officers who were deployed to migrant worker dormitories were primarily focused on pandemic-mitigation efforts and did not proactively screen for trafficking indicators; as a result some victims may have remained unidentified. In 2020, public health experts and NGOs reported limited living space allocated in migrant worker dormitories and subsequent poor hygiene standards exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 among migrant workers, resulting in the majority of confirmed cases. In June 2020, the government announced it would build new dormitories for migrant workers to improve living standards; in addition, the government reported working with NGOs to provide food, reusable masks, medical assistance, and personal products to migrant workers. However, during the reporting period, the government instituted regulations that allowed employers to limit the movement of migrant workers. NGOs reported migrant workers’ freedom of movement was restricted and limited to a greater extent than the general population, which may have hindered unidentified trafficking victims from seeking help, and reported instances of wrongful confinement of migrant workers by employers.
The government guaranteed food, shelter, psycho-social services, and other basic assistance to trafficking victims under the PHTA and used administrative discretion to provide additional support measures, customized according to victims’ needs, including interpreters, medical services, temporary work permits, and resettlement assistance. The government reported that services were provided to victims on an individual basis based on assessments conducted by NGOs. Some victims likely did not receive all services necessary for rehabilitation as some services are provided on a case-by-case decision, and some victims may not be identified as such due to the lack of a formal policy mandating the provision of these services to all victims. The government reported spending approximately 156,000 SGD ($118,000) to provide care and support services for trafficking victims, an increase from 108,000 SGD ($81,690) the previous year. The government continued to fully fund shelters for the cost of caring for trafficking victims. The government had four shelters with a total capacity of 220 places for female trafficking victims and their children (these shelters also served victims of domestic violence, abuse, and other crimes). During the pandemic, the total capacity was reduced due to safe distancing measures; the Ministry of Social and Family Development opened an additional temporary shelter to ensure sufficient capacity. MOM funded two shelters, with a total capacity of 68 individuals, for male foreign workers, one of which was specifically designated for use by male trafficking victims. The government provided partial funding and oversight to 21 homes serving vulnerable children. The government opened an additional temporary shelter during the pandemic to ensure sufficient capacity due to pandemic-related restrictions within the other shelters.
Authorities permitted freedom of movement outside of the shelter for most shelter residents but restricted movement for residents deemed to be under physical threat. Several other NGOs and two foreign government embassies also provided shelter to trafficking victims and others who had experienced labor exploitation. The government issued special immigration passes that allowed foreign victims to remain in the country for the duration of the investigation and legal proceedings. However, an NGO reported that contrary to current policy, which would allow a foreign victim to apply for new employment and a work permit after the proceedings are over, authorities most likely required foreign victims to leave the country in practice. The government allocated funding for NGOs to provide victims with trauma recovery and safe resettlement services including counseling, medical care, skill development, legal support, employment, and assistance with resettlement in the victim’s home country. In 2020, an NGO continued to support 11 foreign labor trafficking victims referred by the government in an earlier reporting period. The government reported that five victims continued to utilize short-term work permits, available for the duration of their legal process, compared with seven victims in the previous reporting period. In a prior reporting period, the High Court stipulated that in criminal cases of abuse of foreign domestic workers, courts should consider compensation for pain and suffering as well as restitution for wages. NGOs continued to offer victims of trafficking pro bono legal assistance to pursue civil court claims for damages; the government reported no victims sought restitution in 2020.