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Austria (Tier 1)

The Government of Austria fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Austria remained on Tier 1. These efforts included establishing comprehensive guidelines on victim identification and referral procedures for a wide range of stakeholders, including health and social service providers, and asylum and immigration authorities. Moreover, the government provided assistance to more victims and provided funding to an NGO to launch a mentorship program for trafficking survivors. Finally, the government adopted a new national action plan (NAP) and created an awareness campaign for those fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine. Although the government meets the minimum standards, the government prosecuted fewer traffickers, and gaps remained in the identification of victims among vulnerable populations, including children and asylum-seekers. The government did not maintain a standardized law enforcement database on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Thoroughly investigate and prosecute alleged traffickers and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms, consistent with those imposed for other serious crimes such as rape.
  • Increase efforts to identify victims among vulnerable groups—including children, asylum-seekers, and individuals in commercial sex—and ensure all victims have access to services.
  • Strengthen the protection system for children, including by ensuring each unaccompanied child is quickly appointed a guardian, to prevent trafficking among this vulnerable population.
  • Increase efforts to identify victims of labor trafficking, such as by expanding training to help front-line responders recognize indicators of labor trafficking, including subtle means of fraud or coercion.
  • Strengthen efforts to guarantee effective access to compensation for victims, including by enforcing court compensation orders.
  • Uniformly apply the non-punishment provision for unlawful acts traffickers compel victims to commit and codify in law the non-punishment of victims.
  • Standardize the government law enforcement database on investigations, prosecution, convictions, and sentencing to include all cases of trafficking and disaggregate information on convictions and sentencing where defendants have committed multiple crimes.
  • Appoint an independent national anti- trafficking rapporteur.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 104a of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of six months to five years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities also prosecuted sex trafficking under Article 217, which criminalized all transnational prostitution and prescribed penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment when a trafficker induced a foreign national to engage in prostitution by force, fraud, or coercion. The government conducted 61 investigations involving at least 94 suspects under Article 104a, compared with 61 investigations involving at least 102 suspects in 2020. The government initiated prosecutions under Article 104a against three defendants and continued seven ongoing prosecutions, compared with 13 total prosecutions in 2020. Courts convicted five traffickers under Article 104a, compared with four in 2020. The government prosecuted 16 defendants and convicted seven under Article 217, but it did not specify how many involved trafficking crimes. In contrast to the Austrian court register, the government statistics agency classified multi-offense convictions by the crime that carried the most severe punishment; some trafficking crimes may have been recorded as other offenses. The most recent data on prison sentences published by the government statistics agency was from 2020, when courts sentenced three traffickers under Article 104a to terms of imprisonment ranging from two to three years. Additionally, under Article 217, courts convicted three traffickers to sentences ranging from fully suspended to three years’ imprisonment. Despite the lack of comprehensive data for 2021, individual case reports provided some sentencing information. In April 2021, a court convicted two traffickers to seven and eight years’ imprisonment on sex trafficking charges for forcing a relative into commercial sex, and in October 2021, a court convicted a trafficker to three years’ imprisonment for exploiting foreign workers for labor at an iron forging company.

The Federal Crime Office’s (FCO) human trafficking and smuggling service led the government’s efforts to investigate trafficking crimes and coordinated joint investigations with foreign law enforcement when necessary. In December 2021, the FCO human trafficking and smuggling service launched a restructuring process to include in its mandate social security fraud and illegal gambling cases, in an effort to enhance coordination of cases involving all of these often interrelated crimes. Many public prosecutors’ offices had specialized anti-trafficking divisions, and some courts had specialized judges. Although the judicial system was fully functioning, courts had occasional difficulties securing witness testimonies due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. An international organization expressed concern that authorities were sometimes confused about whether to charge a suspected trafficker under Article 104a or Article 217, as the transnational prostitution statute pre-dated the trafficking law but still applied to trafficking crimes. The international organization noted this confusion could lead to gaps in data collection, including with respect to data on victim identification. The government continued to jointly investigate cases with other government or law enforcement entities. In June 2021, Austrian law enforcement arrested seven suspected traffickers and identified 22 victims during Europol-led police operations focused on labor exploitation.

The government, assisted by an NGO, provided specialized training to authorities, including law enforcement, border control, labor inspectors, and diplomatic, consular, and judicial personnel. Law enforcement officials received mandatory training on trafficking as part of their basic training and had opportunities for additional training and seminars throughout their careers. The FCO conducted a training for finance police, customs, and revenue authorities focused on traffickers’ exploitation of victims to fraudulently collect government social security funds. The FCO continued efforts to train law enforcement on digital methods of combating trafficking in response to a rising trend in traffickers’ use of social media and online recruitment. National and provincial authorities cooperated with authorities from other countries, including neighboring EU countries, to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. In 2021, the government requested mutual legal assistance in 28 cases and executed 16 requests for mutual legal assistance from foreign officials, whereas in 2020 there were 50 cases and 16 executed requests. Authorities reported no new cases of forced labor in foreign diplomatic households; the government did not report the status of an ongoing case from 2019. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.

PROTECTION

The government increased protection efforts. The government’s victim identification statistics were the same as the number of victims that received services during the year. One government-funded NGO reported it provided services to 334 female victims and their children in 2021 (314 in 2020), of whom police referred 75 victims (24 men and 51 women). Some of these victims may have been children, as the organization provided assistance to women and girls ages 15 years and older. Another NGO, which provided government-funded services for male victims, reported assisting 61 victims in 2021 (62 in 2020). While the majority of victims were foreign nationals, the government identified 42 Austrian victims in 2021, an increase compared with 13 in 2020. Although identification statistics did not disaggregate labor and sex trafficking cases, the majority of identified victims were exploited in sex trafficking. Experts noted, however, that the relatively low number of identified forced labor cases with foreign national victims could be attributed to authorities’ failure to recognize labor trafficking indicators rather than to low prevalence. The 2021-2023 NAP established comprehensive guidelines on victim identification and referral procedures for a wide range of stakeholders including health and social service providers, and asylum and immigration authorities. Authorities used guidelines and checklists to screen potential victims for indicators of trafficking and referred identified victims to NGOs for assistance. The government maintained a separate national referral mechanism to identify and refer child trafficking victims. Law enforcement agencies intensified efforts to monitor social media platforms to identify sex trafficking victims. Pandemic lockdowns between November 2020 and May 2021 and between November and December 2021 hampered victim identification efforts, particularly the identification of trafficking victims in the legal commercial sex industry, as the industry moved increasingly online and underground.

The government allocated €1.47 million ($1.67 million) to specialized anti-trafficking NGOs to provide shelter, services, and legal support to victims in 2021, compared with €1.43 million ($1.62 million) in 2020. Government funding accounted for the bulk of support for these organizations. Government-funded NGOs provided shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, and German language classes to adult victims, including specialized services for victims with disabilities. Foreign victims had the same access to services as domestic victims. One government-funded NGO reported it increased tailored assistance for women with disabilities and transgender women and girls, offered victims the option of private accommodations, and launched a mentorship program for survivors. The city of Vienna funded a government-run center for unaccompanied migrant children, including child trafficking victims, offering legal, medical, psychological, social, and language assistance; the center reported it did not provide assistance to any child trafficking victims in 2021. The government’s anti-trafficking task force published annual guidelines on child victim identification and continued distributing brochures on children’s rights. An NGO reported that out of 5,770 unaccompanied children who applied for asylum in 2021, 4,489 (78 percent) went missing; observers noted these missing children were highly vulnerable to trafficking and recommended the government assign a guardian to unaccompanied children immediately upon identification. In January 2022, the Ministry of Interior submitted for inter-ministerial review a comprehensive concept for a national center for child trafficking victims. The government provided training to NGOs working with migrants and asylum-seekers to help them identify trafficking victims among these groups. The government funded NGOs to provide training on victim identification for law enforcement, labor inspectors, detention and asylum center authorities, border control, revenue officials, and military, diplomatic, and consular personnel. The FCO created online consultation hours for police officers with trafficking specialists to further improve law enforcement identification efforts and developed short videos for police officers describing the crime of trafficking and distinguishing it from human smuggling.

The law provided for the protection of victims’ rights during criminal proceedings. NGOs were permitted to accompany victims to hearings and interviews. Courts provided trauma-informed methods for presenting evidence and testimony when victims needed protection from traffickers during the investigation and prosecution phases. Victim protection procedures granted victims a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers; some NGOs reported concerns about inconsistencies in the reflection period and noted victims were not always informed of this right. Victims’ access to services was not dependent on their willingness to participate in the criminal process. Ministry of Justice (MOJ)-funded NGOs provided psycho-social and legal assistance during criminal proceedings to approximately 110 trafficking victims in 2021, compared with 150 in 2020. The provision of legal aid was constrained by gaps in the identification of victims; experts noted cases in which victims were not properly identified and therefore unable to access specialized legal assistance. Foreign trafficking victims from outside the EU had the right to temporary residency, with possible annual extensions, which allowed access to employment; victims from EU member states did not require residence permits. The government granted nine residence permits and extended 13 permits to trafficking victims in 2021, compared with seven new permits and 18 extensions in 2020. Victims who chose to return to their country of origin received repatriation assistance from government-funded NGOs.

Victims could file civil suits against traffickers for damages and compensation, even in the absence of a criminal prosecution, and could still pursue civil suits in the event of an acquittal in a criminal case. Courts could award restitution upon criminal conviction; in 2021, courts awarded restitution to nine victims in trafficking cases, compared with eight in 2020. Experts expressed concern that access to compensation and restitution remained rare in trafficking cases; furthermore, compensation awards were unevenly enforced, as it was the victim’s responsibility to enforce the order through a claim with legal authorities. NGOs also documented cases where compensation was stalled by the return of the victim to their home country. The government continued to include the topic of victim compensation in its trainings and seminars for prosecutors and judges, and the MOJ increased its cooperation with the Ministry of Finance to improve law enforcement’s access to financial information; prosecutors can use the information to obtain judicial orders needed for seizing assets, which can be awarded to victims as compensation in judicial criminal proceedings. Authorities forgave administrative fines for illegal commercial sex or immigration violations if the individual was found to be a victim of trafficking. However, authorities may have detained unidentified victims due to gaps in victim identification. Observers noted courts did not consistently apply the non-punishment provision for identified victims and cited the lack of a specific legal provision on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking. Experts noted gaps in the government’s referral process for suspected cases of exploitation among asylum-seekers; some migrants who showed signs of trafficking may have been sent to other countries in the EU without receiving services due to the government’s enforcement of EU regulations on asylum-seekers.

PREVENTION

The government modestly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. A national anti-trafficking task force led the government’s efforts and included representatives from federal ministries, provincial governments, NGOs, business and labor interest groups, and civil society. The task force met four times and included working groups to address issues of particular concern, including child trafficking, labor exploitation, and non-punishment of victims. The working group on labor exploitation created informational material for foreign childcare workers to increase their knowledge of their rights. The government adopted the 2021- 2023 NAP in July 2021. Civil society representatives who were not official members of the task force were periodically invited to attend task force meetings, and regional human rights coordinators covering anti-trafficking issues were regularly represented on the task force. The government did not publish its finalized implementation report assessing its progress in combating trafficking under its 2018-2020 NAP. A senior foreign ministry official headed the task force and served as the national anti-trafficking coordinator; Austria did not have an independent anti-trafficking rapporteur to evaluate the effectiveness of government efforts.

The government organized and funded public awareness events and programs, including a hybrid virtual and in-person conference for approximately several hundred participants from civil society, international organizations, and members of the diplomatic and consular corps; the conference highlighted traffickers’ use of illicit financial flows and stressed the importance of providing fair compensation to victims. In March 2022, the government initiated a prevention campaign targeting refugees fleeing Ukraine; the government created posters in English and Ukrainian with the trafficking hotline number to distribute at rail and bus stations and reception centers. The government also continued its program to raise awareness in schools, subsidized anti-trafficking publications and television programming, and funded outreach activities to individuals in commercial sex. In December 2021, a government-funded NGO launched online awareness-raising activities targeting potential foreign childcare workers. The government and government-funded NGOs continued outreach activities to migrant workers, including undocumented workers and trained labor inspectors on trafficking indicators. Authorities required a quality certificate for agencies employing nursing care personnel to prevent them from engaging in labor exploitation. Observers noted the labor inspectorate’s mandate was limited to addressing health and safety conditions, which they claimed hindered inspectors’ ability to respond to other exploitative work conditions; however, Austrian authorities stated human trafficking and labor exploitation are now required components of inspectors’ basic training and inspectors were required to report suspected cases to police. Austrian embassies and consulates in source countries informed visa applicants of the potential dangers of trafficking. The FCO operated a 24-hour trafficking hotline with interpretation available in multiple languages. The hotline received 650 calls and emails in 2021; the government reported these calls led to numerous investigations and the identification and referral of victims.

The foreign ministry continued efforts to prevent trafficking among employees of foreign diplomatic households by holding events to inform them of their rights and by requiring them to obtain identification cards in person. The government continued partnering with neighboring governments and regional organizations to combat transnational trafficking; the FCO continued programs with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Nigeria to combat cross-border trafficking and improve and expand joint investigations and, in January 2022, established an exchange program with Romanian police to increase coordination on human smuggling and trafficking cases, with a focus on cases involving Romanian citizens forced into begging. The government provided funding for projects to combat trafficking in a range of countries in the EU and Africa, as well as Cambodia and Nicaragua, and signed an agreement with Israel on combating cybercrime, including combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. The government maintained efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by continuing to distribute awareness materials to the public on the possibility of sex trafficking in commercial sex. The government also continued efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens by training law enforcement and raising awareness among travel agencies and the broader public. The government continued to enforce public procurement guidelines for the elimination of labor trafficking in the purchase of goods and services. In June 2021, the government completed a project to analyze the use of tools and initiatives to counter trafficking in international supply chains; the government used the results for training purposes and as part of new procurement guidelines. The 2021-2023 NAP prioritized combating forced labor in supply chains.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit predominantly foreign victims in Austria, although traffickers also exploit domestic victims. Traffickers exploit women and girls from Austria, Eastern Europe (especially Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia), Southeast Asia, the PRC, Nigeria, and South America in sex trafficking. More than 95 percent of identified victims are foreign women subjected to sex trafficking, and approximately 65 percent of trafficking victims come from EU member states. An increasing number of men, transgender, and transsexual persons are identified as sex trafficking victims. Traffickers exploit women from Nigeria and the PRC in sex trafficking in massage parlors and brothels; many of the Nigerian victims arrive in Austria as asylum-seekers. Traffickers use the lack of protections and stigmas of the commercial sex industry to exploit Austrian women in sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is concentrated in urban areas but also occurs in smaller towns. Traffickers working in well-developed networks recruit sex trafficking victims with fraudulent offers of employment in restaurants and domestic service or by posing as potential romantic partners. Traffickers increasingly use online recruitment and advertisements to lure victims, a phenomenon accelerated by the pandemic. Most traffickers are Austrian men or men from the same country as their victim; many are members of international organized crime groups. Observers note labor trafficking is increasing. Traffickers exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the PRC in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, transportation, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrant workers are especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploit children, persons with physical and intellectual disabilities, and Roma in forced begging. Children, especially Romani girls, are also exploited in forced criminality. Traffickers use Austria as a transit point to move victims to other European countries. Unaccompanied children, many of whom go missing each year, are vulnerable to trafficking. As of March 2022, more than 175,000 refugees from Ukraine, predominantly women and children, have crossed the Austrian border seeking sanctuary; approximately 10,000 of these refugees have remained in Austria and are vulnerable to trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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