The government increased victim protection efforts. The government officially identified 95 victims, compared with 94 in 2020; 94 were adult female sex trafficking victims and one was an adult male victim of forced labor; none were foreign victims. The government lacked proactive identification efforts for Azerbaijani victims of internal trafficking, and as a result, most officially identified victims were Azerbaijani victims identified in destination countries or foreign victims exploited in Azerbaijan. Officials identified one Azerbaijani victim of internal trafficking (eight in 2020). The government did not report information on children and parents “involved in begging for the purpose of helping their parents” in 2021 or 2020, but observers reported police declined to investigate potential forced child begging cases and returned most children to their parents without investigating the role of the family in the children’s exploitation, leaving these children vulnerable to further harm. The government had SOPs for victim identification and amended a law to formally expand victim identification efforts to include the SMS. The government trained law enforcement, social workers, psychologists, and shelter staff on victim identification. However, first responders, including law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel, were either unaware of the procedures or did not consistently follow or understand them, and observers continued to report the lack of screening of vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, including women, children, LGBTQI+ persons in commercial sex, and foreign migrant workers. Additionally, the government lacked policies tailored to children, such as interview questions, indicators, and referral procedures. SOPs required first responders to refer potential victims within 24 hours to ATD, which officially identified victims based on an investigation. NGOs and the government provided support services to some potential victims; however, individuals without official recognition did not receive the one-time government-provided allowance and did not have the ability to bring a civil claim against the alleged traffickers. Civil society referred 15 potential victims to ATD in 2021; however, only one of the potential victims was determined by ATD to be a trafficking victim.
The government allocated 124,700 manat ($73,350) for victim assistance, compared with 119,000 manat ($70,000) for victim assistance in 2020. The government also allocated 124,700 manat ($73,350) to the MIA-run shelter, compared with 113,346 manat ($66,670) in 2020. The State Support Agency to NGOs allocated 151,500 manat ($89,120) to fund 11 NGO projects but diverted approximately 32,500 manat ($19,120) toward pandemic mitigation efforts, compared with 172,000 manat ($101,180) for 19 NGO projects in 2020. This included 19,200 manat ($11,290) for operational costs for two NGO-run shelters, a decrease compared with 30,000 manat ($17,650) in 2020. However, MIA funded repairs and improved roads for one NGO-run shelter and allocated 30,000 manat ($17,650) for the other NGO-run shelter to buy land to build a new shelter. Government funding overall was still inadequate for NGO-run shelters, which remained severely underfunded, and restrictive legislation governing foreign grants limited NGOs’ ability to receive funding from external donors. Many NGO-run shelter staff who provided support services worked on a voluntary basis. The MIA operated a shelter for trafficking victims, which provided accommodation, financial assistance, legal assistance, and medical and psycho-social support. The MIA-run shelter had separate areas for women, men, and children but limited freedom of movement and required victims to submit an application to leave the shelter. The MIA-run shelter also accommodated potential victims for up to one month, but longer stays required victims to cooperate with law enforcement; 90 officially recognized victims and one potential victim received support at the shelter (80 officially recognized victims and one potential victim in 2020). The MIA-run shelter provided the only accommodation for male victims. The government provided a resettlement allowance of 700 manat ($410) for officially recognized victims; all officially identified victims received the resettlement allowance. Victim Assistance Centers (VACs) in Baku and Goychay provided legal, psychological, medical, and employment assistance to officially recognized and potential victims; VACs assisted 52 officially recognized victims and 18 potential victims (32 officially recognized victims in 2020). The government also assisted in enrolling 28 officially recognized victims in vocational courses, supported 11 with finding employment, and reunited 56 with their families. Observers reported low pay for VAC employees led to high staff turnover and decreased service quality due to inexperienced staff assisting victims. In previous years, the government awarded some contracts to organizations with no experience and jeopardized victim safety and assistance quality. The government referred 89 victims to NGO-run shelters (80 in 2020). SMS assisted two foreign national victims to obtain a temporary residence permit (none in 2020).
Observers reported law enforcement’s attitude toward victims improved, but authorities may have penalized sex trafficking victims with administrative fines for alleged “prostitution” crimes due to an absence of screening efforts. In previous years, an international organization referred foreign migrant workers who displayed indicators of trafficking, but ATD did not recognize any as a victim, and authorities subsequently deported some. Authorities did not use victim-witness protection measures for trafficking victims. In previous years, GRETA and other international organizations reported prosecutors believed such measures were unnecessary for trafficking victims and noted the lack of licensed attorneys providing legal assistance to victims due to low pay. However, the government reported a licensed attorney provided legal assistance to 30 officially recognized victims in 2021. Children testified without a child psychologist or attorney to communicate legal terminology in a child-friendly manner, which may have caused further trauma to these children. The government amended a law to include measures to assess and prevent revictimization of foreign victims. Judges did not issue restitution in criminal cases, and no cases were filed for compensation in civil suits. The government reported confiscating property, cash, securities, and other assets from traffickers and transferring it to a victim assistance fund; 16 officially recognized victims and five potential victims received financial assistance from the fund.