The government slightly increased victim protection efforts. The government identified 19 victims, compared with 17 victims in 2020. Of these, six were victims of sex trafficking, five of forced labor, seven of forced criminality, and one victim of all three types of exploitation; there were four women, five men, five girls, and five boys; and four were foreign victims from Nepal. The government maintained standard operating procedures (SOPs) for screening and identifying victims and a protocol on identification, assistance, and protection of victims. Civil society representatives and government officials reported the MOI accurately and consistently identified victims and noted good cooperation. However, civil society, media, and the Council of Europe continued to report a lack of government efforts to adequately screen undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children.
A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) provided SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services. According to the NRM, first responders carried out the preliminary identification of potential victims and contacted one of four regional mobile teams, consisting of social workers from a Center for Social Work and NGO representatives, who travelled to assess potential adult victims in person and coordinated victim care and placement. For child victims, first responders contacted the Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family and Social Policy (MLPSFSP), who dispatched a mobile team of specialized social workers. MOI cooperated with mobile teams to officially identify victims and included specialized police officers for potential child victims. While in previous years, NGOs participating in the mobile team for adults had not been reimbursed for expenses related to the use of their private vehicles for official travel, officials reported the mobile team functioned well and the OHRRNM reimbursed costs in 2021. In previous years, sources reported difficulties in recruiting new mobile team members due to annual budgets that allocated inconsistent funding and said a one-day training for new team members was inadequate to learn the complex process of identifying victims; however, OHRRNM provided 130,000 kunas ($20,160) to host a three-day training for new mobile unit volunteers in 2021.
The government and NGOs provided protection and assistance to victims, including shelter, medical assistance, legal assistance, psycho-social support, rehabilitation, reintegration services, and, during the pandemic, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests; six adults and 10 children received assistance (three adults and five children in 2020). The government funded two NGO-run shelters based on the number of assisted victims and allocated 257,741 kunas ($39,960) to the NGO-run shelter for adults, compared with 216,593 kunas ($33,580) in 2020. It allocated 162,331 kunas ($25,170) for the NGO-run shelter for children, compared with 441,692 kunas ($68,480) in 2020. Additionally, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children (CMEC) provided a range of educational and psycho-social services for unaccompanied or exploited children, including child trafficking victims; these shelters accommodated four adults and no children (two adults and three children in 2020). The government-funded NGO-run shelter for adults allowed freedom of movement and provided separate accommodation for men and women, where they could stay for up to one year with the possibility of an extension. The government-funded NGO-run shelter for children had the capacity to accommodate five child victims and could enroll children into school, including distance learning. The government continued its efforts to implement foster care for the custody of children instead of using state child care institutions. MLPSFSP organized three foster families for five child victims (none in 2020) and appointed special caregivers for three children (three children in 2020). MDFYSP organized trainings for foster families and special caregivers and required them to maintain a license, but officials reported a shortage in the number of foster families and special caregivers to fully support the increasing number of child victims. The Croatian Employment Bureau (HZZ) maintained special coordinators in regional and branch offices, who coordinated roundtables and presentations to encourage employers to hire trafficking victims; HZZ assisted one victim in securing employment in 2021 (none in 2020).
The government did not report penalizing victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of consistent screening efforts for trafficking indicators in irregular migration flows, authorities likely detained and deported some unidentified victims among undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. Foreign victims had access to the same services as domestic victims, but foreign victims without work permits at the time of their exploitation could not receive compensation for lost wages. Foreign victims could receive a temporary residence permit after a 60-day reflection period for adults and 90 days for children; the government issued four victims residence permits (one in 2020). Seven out of the 15 county courts had Victim and Witness Support Offices (VWSO) that provided assistance during criminal proceedings, including requests to testify via video link, referrals to specialized institutions, legal and logistical assistance, and measures to prevent re-traumatization. The government also funded a civil society network to provide legal and psychological assistance and logistical support in the eight county courts without VWSOs. While observers reported courts with VWSOs offered assistance consistently, the other eight county courts assisted by civil society did not have the capacity or resources to provide victim-centered approaches. Civil society reported the judiciary was not always familiar with legal protections available for trafficking victims and some judges lacked sensitivity and an understanding of the impact of psychological trauma, and they required victims to provide statements or testimonies multiple times, causing re-traumatization. For example, judges allowed victims to testify remotely but required victims to do so at the courthouse, which forced victims to travel from a different city. Children could provide testimonies to specialized professionals in child interview rooms, but observers reported, in 2019, a judge required a child to testify in court for seven hours. The law provided witness protection, but the government reported no victims required witness protection in 2021 or 2020. Authorities reported difficulties in encouraging victims to cooperate with investigations, particularly sex trafficking cases or cases involving potential foreign victims due to fear of retaliation, stigma, re-traumatization, or logistical challenges. The law entitled victims to restitution in criminal cases, but judges most often rejected claims for restitution and directed victims to file civil suits to request compensation. Experts reported the lack of indemnification guidelines, training for judges, bureaucratic procedures, and inadequate mechanisms perpetuated the absence of restitution in criminal sentences. Judges in civil courts were sometimes better positioned to assess emotional pain, but civil suits were expensive, lengthy, and required victims to re-testify about their exploitation, causing re-traumatization. Judges did not award restitution in 2021, but compensation awarded in 2020 to a victim for 143,650 kunas ($22,270) became final in 2021.