The government marginally maintained victim protection efforts. NGOs identified 131 victims, compared with 162 victims in 2019. Authorities and frontline professionals utilized the existing national referral mechanism to identify and refer victims. In 2020, as a result of the pandemic and tightened migration policy, the Migration Agency reported a substantial reduction in the number of asylum applications submitted, receiving approximately 13,000 applications (492 from unaccompanied children), compared with 21,000 (902) in 2019, marking the lowest recorded number in the last 20 years, and allowing authorities to process and screen more efficiently applicants for trafficking indicators. The agency identified 366 potential trafficking victims among asylum-seekers, compared with 481 in 2019. Of the 366 potential victims, 48 were children—a decrease of nearly 50 percent from 92 in 2019. Experts noted many unaccompanied children were either trafficking victims or at risk of becoming victims, particularly of sexual exploitation or forced criminality. Experts also noted the police did not proactively identify potential victims among unaccompanied children and expressed concern that the number of reported cases misrepresented the real scale of child trafficking in Sweden.
Municipalities, in collaboration with NGOs and other government agencies, were the primary providers of victim services, including medical and psychological care, shelter, and social assistance. Assistance opportunities to victims and their families through municipalities were conditional on victims cooperating with authorities. Municipalities funded assistance and appropriate services, and the government subsequently reimbursed the expenses. However, statistics on the costs incurred by the municipalities were unavailable. Although the country lacked shelters dedicated solely to trafficking victims, some municipalities ran shelters offering services to sex trafficking victims. Adult female trafficking victims could receive services at women’s shelters for victims of domestic and honor-related violence. Authorities referred child victims to social services officials, who placed child victims in foster care or group housing. There was no protected housing available to male trafficking victims. The Gender Equality Agency, which managed anti-trafficking efforts for the government, led a network of approximately 40 NGO-run safe houses. NGOs reported insufficient funding and the pandemic hindered the ability to assist victims. Furthermore, social distancing protocols to contain the spread of the pandemic contributed to victims staying at shelters for longer periods than anticipated, thereby unintentionally preventing other victims from receiving shelter, when care shelters had reached maximum capacity. In 2020, the Gender Equality Agency delayed funding the NSP, a civil society platform representing 20 NGOs that provided assistance to victims and that ceased operations in 2019 due to lack of funding. Experts expressed concern the temporary cessation of the NSP’s operation meant Sweden no longer fulfilled its international commitments regarding assistance to victims because the NSP offered the only effective unconditional assistance provided to victims. The program focused on victims who in their current state did not have a right to assistance through the formal system. Ultimately, the government allocated 1.5 million krona ($183,550) to the NSP, and it resumed operations in the middle of the reporting period. However, NGOs considered the amount allocated inadequate to comply with obligations and demand. In previous years, funding for the program fluctuated—zero in 2019; 800,000 krona ($97,900) in 2018; zero in 2017; and 500,000 krona ($61,180) in 2016. NGOs criticized the Gender Equality Agency for poor coordination on anti-trafficking efforts.
The Aliens Act entitled foreign victims to a 30-day reflection period to contemplate cooperation with law enforcement, during which they were eligible for assistance and emergency financial aid; however, only an investigating police officer or prosecutor could file an application for residence permits, limiting availability to victims already in contact with law enforcement. In an effort to ensure availability of adequate assistance and opportunity for recovery to all foreign victims regardless of their cooperation with authorities, the government started an evaluation of the application process for residence permits to determine whether additional government actors should be allowed to apply on behalf of victims. Foreign victims who cooperated with authorities received temporary residence permits, which allowed them to seek employment. Sixty trafficking victims received permits in 2020 (44 in 2019).