The government maintained protection efforts. Tajikistan continued to operate under an NRM that included formal written procedures outlining some screening, referral, and assistance protocols, but these were generally insufficient to guide interagency anti-trafficking work. In 2018, the government established a working group to append the NRM with SOPs for victim identification; for the third consecutive year, authorities did not take action to adopt these guidelines. Authorities identified 24 trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with 53 in 2019, and referred 15 to protection services (unreported in 2019). The government did not provide additional information on the victims’ nationalities, genders, ages, locations, or types of exploitation. Article 30 of the trafficking law mandated the creation of governmental and private institutions to directly aid victims with food and shelter in addition to social, legal, and reintegration assistance; despite these provisions, an international organization continued to fund most victim protection services. A 2014 victim protection law ostensibly formalized the roles of agencies tasked with providing services and established standards for service delivery among government and NGO providers. However, absent standardized and promulgated victim identification procedures, roles and responsibilities among key stakeholder ministries remained unclear. In practice, observers noted official victim status designation required a complex application procedure that may have prevented some victims from accessing care. The government’s Trafficking in Persons Center continued to train law enforcement and other government employees on screening for trafficking indicators, and some government officials benefited from additional training sessions on victim support provided by an international organization. Gaps remained in the implementation of victim protection law; Tajikistani law enforcement agencies did not develop procedures to grant legal status to victims, forcing some victims to pay for legal and medical services otherwise provided by the government. Civil society observers noted Tajikistan’s diplomatic presence in key labor migrant destination countries—most notably in Russia—were poorly equipped to identify and assist Tajikistani trafficking victims and other vulnerable migrants stranded due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
In January 2021, the Ministry of Health assumed managerial control over the country’s sole dedicated trafficking shelter, which formerly was run by an NGO. The government provided 253,670 Tajikistani somoni ($22,400) for the shelter’s operating costs, medical assistance for victims, legal consultations, and partial funding of staff salaries in 2020; this allocation was renewed to the amount of 250,000 somoni ($22,080) in 2021, an increase compared with 242,000 somoni ($21,370) in 2019. The shelter assisted 28 victims in 2020, compared with 20 in 2019; all residents were female. The government did not report if the shelter could accommodate male victims. Neither the government nor NGOs provided residential shelter services outside of Dushanbe, and there were no options for longer-term victim support. Insufficient human and financial resources reportedly constrained delivery of psycho-social care and funding for victim reintegration services, respectively.
Despite provisions in the 2014 law outlining security measures for trafficking victims, the government did not keep victims’ personal information confidential or provide protection for victim witnesses or their advocates. Foreign victims agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies had the legal right to request temporary residency, subject to a one-year extension upon completion of criminal proceedings against their traffickers; no such cases were reported in 2020 (no cases in 2019). Beyond residency, the 2014 victim protection law did not link other benefits to victims’ participation in trials, and protection services were available regardless of legal status or prior consent to participate in subsequently identified trafficking crimes.
In February 2021, the government announced plans to repatriate hundreds of Tajikistani women and children from camps in Syria, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, in continuation of a 2019 process that was subsequently suspended in 2020 as a pandemic mitigation measure. However, the government did not report if it had initiated any of these repatriations at the close of the reporting period. The government kept 84 children returned from Iraq in 2019 in state custody, allegedly as a public health precaution; international organizations were only able to assess the living conditions of 25 of these children, and the government did not report previously conducting or planning to implement victim screening or referral procedures among them or forthcoming adult returnees. At the government’s request, an international organization assisted in the return of more than 200 Tajikistani nationals formerly stranded elsewhere in Central Asia due to pandemic-related border closures. This figure represented a small fraction of the 10,000 migrant workers estimated to have returned to Tajikistan as a result of the pandemic in 2020, and authorities reportedly did not have sufficient resources to screen any of these returnees for trafficking indicators or refer them to protection services.
Amendments to Tajikistan’s administrative code in 2019 increased the penalties for individuals engaged in commercial sex to include fines and a maximum detention period of 15 days; absent robust identification practices, authorities may have penalized some unidentified victims for unlawful acts their traffickers forced them to commit. Officials sometimes temporarily detained sex trafficking victims with their traffickers but later released and referred them to protective care. In previous years, law enforcement officials routinely deported foreign migrant workers without adequate screening for potential trafficking indicators; with the closure of international borders as a pandemic mitigation measure, no information was available on such deportations in 2020. Law enforcement officers did not attempt to identify sex trafficking victims proactively during raids on businesses suspected of engaging in commercial sex, nor within sectors known for forced labor.