The government maintained efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims and refer victims to protection services. Pandemic-related lockdowns inhibited the government’s ability to identify and assist trafficking victims during the reporting period. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the National Authority identified 907 trafficking victims; while this represented a decrease from the 1,313 victims it identified in the previous reporting period, it was an increase compared with 780 in 2019 and 285 in 2018. More than half of the identified victims were women and children, and 366 were foreign victims from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Uganda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Japan, and Philippines. The National Authority reported traffickers subjected 62 percent of identified victims to forced labor and 32 percent to sex trafficking; traffickers subjected 75 percent of identified child victims to sex trafficking compared to 59.2 percent in 2019. The government referred or directly provided assistance to all identified victims of trafficking. The Ministry of Health (MOH) provided healthcare to 93 trafficking victims, including both Tunisian and foreign victims, and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) provided psychological and socio-economic assistance to 71 victims. NGOs reported the government continued to collaborate with civil society organizations to provide assistance to the remaining victims in need. The government also assisted in the repatriation of 34 female Tunisian trafficking victims, who Tunisian authorities identified in Gulf countries in 2018 and 2019, and provided shelter, medical, and financial assistance to the victims upon their return to Tunisia.
The government continued implementing the national victim identification and referral mechanism approved in the previous reporting period, which streamlined all stages of the referral process from victim identification and assistance to civil and criminal proceedings. Judicial and border police continued to have practices in place to screen for potential trafficking victims among those who overstayed their legal residency or who were subject to expulsion after serving a prison sentence. The government also provided practical guides to security officers and judicial police on victim identification techniques. In addition, the MSA continued to train all labor inspectors to identify potential trafficking victims; there were 26 labor inspectors and 24 social workers in the MSA’s labor inspectorate that were trained as specialized points of contact for child trafficking victims. Despite these efforts, the national anti-trafficking commission and MOI special victims unit were the only government entities authorized to officially identify trafficking victims, thereby allowing victims access to state-run services and providing exemptions from exit visas for foreign victims. NGOs continued to report that the limited number of ministries who could legally identify trafficking victims slowed the process for victims to receive care. Moreover, insufficient interagency coordination and resources reportedly hindered the timely identification and referral to services for trafficking victims. In addition, civil society organizations reported the special victims unit did not have sufficient personnel or resources to provide adequate assistance to trafficking victims, nor did personnel have the cultural understanding or training to communicate with vulnerable migrants from the sub-Saharan African population, including potential trafficking victims. Civil society organizations also expressed concern that the government’s process to provide exemption from visa penalties for foreign trafficking victims was slow and cumbersome, thereby creating difficulties for civil society to assist victims in a timely manner. Civil society noted authorities’ current interpretation of the anti-trafficking law limited application of identification procedures; authorities may have punished some unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution or immigration violations.
The MSA continued to operate two centers in Sousse and Sfax that had designated areas available for victims of all forms of trafficking where victims could enter and exit freely and return on a regular basis for assistance seeking employment. The MSA—in collaboration with an international organization—continued to provide training for the centers’ staff on rehabilitation and care for trafficking victims. The MSA and National Authority continued to uphold an agreement, signed in January 2019, for the MSA to dedicate one room in all social care centers for victims of trafficking and violence. An MOH-operated hospital in Tunis continued to have a unit with trained personnel dedicated to caring for victims of violence, including sexual exploitation, which offered psycho-social support, medical documentation, and legal expertise; the government did not report if this unit assisted any trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government’s rehabilitation center for torture victims could also assist trafficking victims with psychological and therapeutic support. The government ran 79 youth centers around the country that provided psycho-educational services to at-risk children ages six to 18, including child trafficking victims, one of which was dedicated solely for abandoned or otherwise vulnerable children, including child trafficking victims; however, the government did not report if any child trafficking victims received assistance at this center during the reporting period. Civil society contacts reported there were overall limited services throughout the country for child trafficking victims, especially long-term, reintegration, and relocation services. Despite the centers and services provided by the MSA and MOH, the National Authority and civil society partners continued to report the country lacked sufficient shelters to support vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. Although the National Authority and NGOs partnered to reintegrate victims into society, the lack of resources, trained personnel, and sufficient shelter beds created challenges in doing so. Additionally, civil society organizations reported there were not adequate shelter or safe spaces available for male victims of trafficking and other forms of violence; there were only three government-run shelters that could accommodate male trafficking victims, but those shelters did not provide access to trained counselors, economic reintegration programs, or legal support. During the reporting period, the National Authority produced, in partnership with an international organization, victims’ rights cards listing government and non-government services available to trafficking victims; the National Authority intended these cards to complement the “passport of victims’ rights” cards launched in July 2020 that outlined victims’ rights in Tunisia. The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Under the anti-trafficking law, the government offered all identified foreign trafficking victims relief from deportation; during the reporting period, the government provided temporary relief from deportation for 56 foreign trafficking victims. Victims had the right to free legal aid to assist them in engaging in civil and criminal proceedings against their traffickers and provisions to protect victims’ privacy during court proceedings, such as recorded testimony and physical protection. The government allowed trafficking victims a 30-day reflection period, renewable once, while they decided whether to assist law enforcement; victim assistance was not dependent on assisting law enforcement. Prosecutors could seek restitution in trafficking cases; the government did not report whether courts issued restitution in trafficking cases during the reporting period. Trafficking victims could request legal aid to assist them in civil suits; the government did not report whether courts ordered defendants to pay compensation in the form of damages through civil suits during the reporting period.