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Denmark (Tier 2)

The Government of Denmark does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Denmark remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases, approving six additional investigator positions within the police to investigate forced labor and sexual exploitation, and establishing a new national unit with specialized police and prosecutors to investigate economic and organized crime, including trafficking. Additionally, authorities identified significantly more male labor trafficking victims and provided services to all identified victims. Furthermore, for the first time in four years, the government granted trafficking victims temporary residence permits and extended the 30-day reflection period to up to eight months because of the pandemic, allowing victims to remain in Denmark to recover and receive government assistance. The government also adopted a new three-year national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking, allocated significant funding toward the proposed initiatives, and updated guidance on responsible business conduct with a focus on human and labor rights in supply chains. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to focus on the undocumented status of some foreign victims rather than screening for trafficking indicators. Moreover, the government did not adequately encourage victims’ assistance with investigations, and its practice to move toward repatriating victims inhibited successful prosecutions and left victims vulnerable to re-trafficking and reluctant to come forward and work with police. Additionally, the criminal code lacked a non-punishment provision, resulting in authorities prosecuting some victims, including children, for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Finally, the government lacked clear procedures for identifying child victims, especially among unaccompanied children who continued to be exploited in commercial sex, forced labor, and petty criminality while living in asylum centers and often went missing from those centers.

  • Significantly increase efforts to convict suspected traffickers.
  • Proactively screen all vulnerable individuals, such as migrant workers, asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children, for trafficking indicators and stay deportation of potential victims prior to identification and assistance.
  • Develop clear procedures for identifying child trafficking victims and train relevant workers to recognize indicators.
  • Bolster efforts to safeguard unaccompanied children from going missing from asylum centers and against trafficking by developing a specialized framework for assisting children.
  • Amend the law to include a non-punishment provision ensuring trafficking victims, including children, are not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the trafficking statute.
  • Grant and renew residence permits to asylum-seekers.
  • Increase incentives for all victims to cooperate in the prosecution of traffickers, including by granting longer-term residency, work permits, and reparation.
  • Amend the law to prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees.
  • Increase the number of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges who specialize in trafficking cases.
  • Expand efforts to expeditiously transfer potential trafficking victims from police or immigration custody to crisis centers or care providers.

The government marginally increased law enforcement efforts. Section 262(a) of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. At the end of the reporting period, the government passed a new provision to the criminal code, Section 262(b), which criminalized the exploitation of a person in labor under manifestly unreasonable conditions and prescribed penalties of up to six years’ imprisonment. Observers were optimistic the provision could be used to more easily prosecute trafficking cases and for its potential impact on convicting traffickers. However, observers noted the provision only addressed labor trafficking victims, and even though exploitation for commercial sex was already punishable under another section of the criminal code, observers recommended the government include sex trafficking victims, particularly those in commercial sex who typically represent the majority of identified victims in Denmark, in the new provision to ensure broad protection for all victims.

In 2021, authorities investigated 15 trafficking cases (10 sex trafficking, four labor trafficking, one unspecified), an increase from six in 2020. Officials prosecuted three suspects for sex trafficking, compared with two suspects for labor trafficking in 2020. Courts did not convict any traffickers for the third consecutive year but convicted one individual, who was involved in a trafficking crime, for “pimping.” The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking crimes. Danish authorities cooperated with their foreign counterparts on two extraditions and multiple trafficking-related investigations. Authorities of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden facilitated international policing efforts and information-sharing, including on trafficking-related issues, through Nordic liaison officers stationed at 20 Nordic embassies and consulates around the world. The Danish Tax Agency (DTA) assessed the risk of trafficking in tax-related criminal cases, and in cases involving trafficking, DTA participated in police inspections and provided police and prosecutors with information on citizens’ and companies’ tax and value added tax payments. Local police in collaboration with regional departments investigated trafficking cases. However, overextended police officers managed multiple responsibilities, redirecting a significant amount of their attention and time from trafficking and limiting the number of officers available to conduct investigations. For instance, the Copenhagen Police’s homicide division maintained responsibility for anti-trafficking investigations as one of its many responsibilities, despite Copenhagen being the primary location for trafficking crimes, and an investigation unit within the National Police worked on trafficking investigations among other crimes, such as human smuggling. In an effort to address staffing issues, in 2021, the government approved hiring six additional police officers by 2023 to investigate forced labor and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, the government established a new national unit in January 2022 with specialized police and prosecutors investigating economic and organized crime, including trafficking. The unit would also support police districts in their efforts to combat trafficking. The National Police continued to allocate approximately 18 million Danish krone (DKK) ($2.75 million) through 26 full-time staff to combat and investigate trafficking cases throughout 2021. The National Police maintained trafficking coordinators in each of the country’s 12 districts. According to regional experts, however, the level of expertise varied by district and there were no specialized police investigators outside of the National Centre of Investigation, which had no jurisdiction but assisted local and regional police in trafficking investigations. Additionally, there were no specialized prosecutors or judges in the country. Reports indicated limited resources, an overreliance on victim testimony, and a high burden of proof led to cases being investigated and prosecuted under non-trafficking statutes, such as “pimping.” Experts continued to express concern with the low number of prosecutions and convictions over the previous years. Several NGOs criticized police, prosecutors, and judges for their lack of sensitivity, particularly during criminal proceedings, which sometimes led to the dismissal of trafficking cases. The government’s Center against Human Trafficking (CMM)—which coordinated interagency engagement on trafficking issues, collected and disseminated data, and developed nationwide social services for victims—trained judges, prosecutors, police, and frontline personnel throughout the year on various topics, such as identifying trafficking victims and referral procedures.

The government marginally increased efforts to protect trafficking victims. In 2021, authorities identified 68 trafficking victims (26 sex trafficking, 31 labor trafficking, 11 other or unspecified), compared with 64 in 2020. Of these victims, 34 were female, 33 were male, and one identified as transgender. The vast majority of identified victims were adult foreign nationals; five were children (11 in 2020). Previously, the government’s perspective that trafficking was a sex-based phenomenon with primarily female victims limited the number of identified adult male victims in forced labor; however, in 2022, labor trafficking victims outnumbered sex trafficking victims, and men represented nearly half of all identified victims. Experts noted the trend toward online advertisement of commercial sex made identifying sex trafficking victims more difficult. For years, NGOs reported the identification process was complicated and involved multiple government and law enforcement agencies, requiring several interviews of victims, who at times remained in detention before referral to NGOs. In an effort to streamline the process, in January 2022, the Department for Gender Equality assigned CMM and the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) as the only authorities with responsibility to formally identify trafficking victims—an initiative outlined in the new NAP to ensure uniform case management and data protection. Several NGOs worried the new process was not victim-centered, lacked continuity, and limited their role working with victims as they could no longer conduct interviews to formally identify trafficking victims. In March 2022, CMM hosted a workshop for NGOs to discuss the new process and ways to share information. CMM was responsible for formal identification of victims of Danish or EU origin or who were documented migrants, and the DIS was responsible for formal identification of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. DIS screened potential victims during the asylum interview; however, according to NGOs, the DIS interview was often too brief to make an accurate identification. CMM, DIS, and the courts assessed whether a victim was eligible for assistance, which was not conditional on cooperation with law enforcement or whether there was an ongoing investigation.

In 2021, all 68 identified trafficking victims received some form of government assistance (64 in 2020). As a standard practice during reflection periods, CMM assigned a contact person to identified victims to inform them of relevant services and coordinate assistance. As part of the new NAP and to ensure safety and quality services, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Senior Citizens approved accommodations for trafficking victims and conducted inspections of shelters for adequate services. Victims under DIS’ care received accommodations in asylum centers, shelters, or safe houses based on their individual needs. Asylum centers provided health care services, social services, educational activities, and vocational training for trafficking victims throughout the duration of their stay. CMM and the Ministry of Immigration and Integration’s Return Agency offered financial and legal counseling and reintegration assistance. CMM also offered educational activities, health care, and psychological care through private clinics and received 10.8 million DKK ($1.65 million) from the government. A government-funded NGO provided two shelters for female trafficking victims and received 19 million DKK ($2.9 million) for operational expenses over the course of four years. There was no specialized shelter for male victims, but accommodation was available if necessary. Municipal child protection authorities assisted child victims and placed them in municipal accommodation or in residential care institutions. The Danish Red Cross assisted unaccompanied children in facilities partially funded by the government and screened all unaccompanied children in asylum centers for trafficking indicators. Observers continued to express concern over the disappearance of unaccompanied children from asylum centers and reports of unaccompanied children, particularly Moroccan boys living in asylum centers, being forced into commercial sex, forced labor, and petty criminality. Regional experts reported shortcomings, such as a lack of clear procedures, in the identification of child victims, especially among unaccompanied children, and recommended developing a specialized framework for identifying and assisting children and providing safe accommodations.

Stricter immigration policies and guidelines increased vulnerability among asylum-seekers and refugees, particularly those the government returned to their country of origin who could face retribution or hardship. The Aliens Act allowed the government to grant residence permits to refugees and family members, including trafficking victims, for temporary stay only, and to revoke residence permits if the need for protection no longer existed, contrary to Denmark’s international obligations. For the first time in four years, the government granted two trafficking victims temporary residence permits. Regional experts reported it was “nearly impossible” for victims to receive a residence permit, noting since 2015 the government had granted only six new residence permits. Experts also reported the difficulty for victims to receive work permits. NGOs contended authorities primarily treated victims as undocumented immigrants subject to arrest or deportation, especially if victims were previously detained by law enforcement. Officials had the authority to detain potential victims for 72 hours and could extend this period when they needed more time to determine victim status or immigration status or to identify traffickers. As part of procedure, the government granted identified, undocumented trafficking victims a 30-day reflection period to stay in Denmark and receive support and assistance—regardless of their cooperation with police—with the potential to extend another 90 days. The government required victims who accepted the subsequent 90 days extended departure deadline to leave voluntarily within 120 days. As a result of the pandemic and related movement restrictions, the government extended the 30-day reflection period up to eight months. Nonetheless, regional anti-trafficking experts, including the Council of Europe, contended this period did not refer to a period of reflection and recovery necessary to determine whether victims would cooperate in the investigation of their cases; rather, it was a period of time the victims had to cooperate in their repatriation. The Return Agency processed voluntary returns of foreigners who received rejected residency requests, including trafficking victims, to their country of origin. Predictably, some victims chose not to participate in a voluntary return because they viewed it as preparation for deportation. Additionally, traffickers’ use of debt-based coercion and victims’ lack of protection in their home countries served as significant deterrents from accepting the return. The government allowed victims who assisted in the prosecution of a trafficker to remain in Denmark for the duration of the investigation or court proceedings. However, NGOs reported the threat of deportation prevented victims from coming forward and led some identified victims to leave shelters before the conclusion of police investigations or court proceedings in order to evade deportation. Additionally, observers noted that many victims saw no benefit to being identified and that there was little to no incentive for victims to serve as witnesses since there were limited long-term residency options, the compensation process remained complex, and above all else, the government prioritized returning victims to their countries of origin. In 2021, NGOs reported multiple instances when DIS officials responded to trafficking reports, which typically fall within the National Police’s jurisdiction, to intimidate and ultimately repatriate foreign nationals, including trafficking victims, to their home countries.

While the government provided guidelines on not imposing penalties upon trafficking victims, Danish law lacked a non-punishment provision ensuring victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Observers noted incidents in which authorities prosecuted victims, including children, for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. Courts issued reduced sentences in cases where evidence was found proving victims were compelled to commit crimes by their traffickers. In 2021, authorities charged 11 victims for criminal activities who served time in prison before being deported. For victims who testified in court, the government did not offer witness protection but assigned a contact person, typically a police officer, to provide guidance and information about the case. Danish law entitled trafficking victims to request restitution from traffickers as part of criminal proceedings, as well as file civil suits for financial compensation.

The government increased prevention efforts. During the reporting period, the government adopted a new four-year NAP to combat trafficking and allocated 118.2 million DKK ($18 million)—a significant increase from 63 million DKK ($9.61 million) for the duration of its previous three-year NAP—to the proposed initiatives, including strengthening victim services. The Department for Gender Equality led an inter-ministerial working group that coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and implementation of the NAP. In September 2021, the working group conducted interviews with several government-funded NGOs and anti-trafficking stakeholders and, subsequently, published an in-depth analysis of the identification process, services offered during the recovery and reflection period, outreach work, and the coordination, information-sharing, and monitoring of government efforts. Separately, CMM published an annual report on government anti-trafficking efforts and statistics. As one of the NAP’s new initiatives, the government allocated 1 million DKK ($152,530) to the Danish Institute of Human Rights to conduct a study in 2024-2025 analyzing Denmark’s efforts to protect trafficking victims in the context of international conventions. Through another NAP initiative, starting in January 2022, CMM transferred outreach responsibilities to NGOs and subsequently allocated 30 million DKK ($4.58 million) to NGOs to expand and strengthen their outreach work to potential trafficking victims. Since many potential victims did not speak Danish and struggled to access and understand information on assistance, CMM provided translated health guidelines and information on the pandemic through its mobile health clinics, which focused primarily on raising awareness among individuals in commercial sex. In 2021, CMM relaunched an anti-trafficking awareness campaign that challenged trafficking stereotypes and documented various forms of exploitation through photography exhibits to educate the general public. CMM operated a hotline for reporting trafficking cases in Danish and English; in 2021, the hotline identified 32 victims. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States’ taskforce on trafficking, Denmark continued to participate in a regional project to support stakeholders in combating and disrupting labor trafficking by analyzing and consolidating information, improving assistance to victims, and increasing the prosecution of traffickers. As part of the project, in 2021, researchers from a Danish university conducted two studies—the first on the challenges in prosecuting labor traffickers and the second on exploitation among migrant workers in Denmark. CMM provided guidelines to companies and employers on identifying trafficking risks and preventing forced labor in businesses and supply chains. Additionally, the Mediation and Complaints-Handling Institution for Responsible Business Conduct updated its guidance on responsible business conduct with a focus on human and labor rights in supply chains. A group of governmental and law enforcement agencies cooperated on issues related to forced labor, including coordinating and executing multi-agency inspections and control operations in which CMM participated. Danish law did not prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees.

In response to the inflow of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, CMM distributed information to arriving refugees on available resources for potential trafficking victims at Danish borders, employment centers, and asylum centers throughout the country. The government also distributed information in English and Ukrainian on refugees’ labor rights and working conditions in Demark and provided frontline personnel with guidelines on identifying trafficking indicators. In addition, CMM participated in an anti-trafficking working group with the Danish National Cyber Crime Center to address the risk of online trafficking recruitment in connection with refugee flows. Furthermore, the government passed a special law providing temporary residence permits for arriving Ukrainian refugees, giving them access to the labor, education, and health care systems for at least two years. As of April 2022, 20,832 Ukrainians applied for a temporary residence permit, and 3,683 Ukrainians applied for asylum. Despite Ukrainian refugees threatening Denmark’s stringent hardline migration policy, the government remained focused on receiving and integrating Ukrainian refugees and providing counseling and support.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Denmark, and to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Denmark abroad. Vulnerable groups include undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers, young men, unaccompanied children, individuals in commercial sex, and members of the LGBTQI+ community, particularly those with non-traditional gender identities. NGOs express concern immigration policies exacerbate the risk to trafficking among asylum-seekers. Reports indicate victims without EU citizenship or residency experience increased vulnerability throughout the pandemic due to domestic lockdowns and international border closures. The most prevalent changes to demographics during the reporting period include the increased number of identified male trafficking victims and labor trafficking cases. Reports note a rise in exploitation in the private delivery industry, such as messengers and food delivery drivers, who work under conditions that violate Danish labor laws. Traffickers exploit migrants, typically men who come to Denmark from Africa and Southeast Asia, in labor trafficking, specifically trucking, construction, agriculture, domestic service, restaurants, hotels, and factories, through debt-based coercion, withheld wages, abuse, and threats of deportation. According to NGOs, traffickers exploit unaccompanied children, particularly Moroccan boys, in sex trafficking and forced labor, including drug trafficking, theft, and other forms of forced criminality. Vietnamese men are vulnerable to forced criminal activity, such as cannabis cultivation. Traffickers exploit men, women, and children from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia in forced labor and sex trafficking in Denmark. The majority of women exploited in commercial sex originate from Nigeria and Thailand. Reports indicate an increasing number of sex trafficking victims coming from African countries, Eastern Europe, and South America. NGOs report an increasing trend toward online advertised commercial sex rather than in established locations. Thousands of Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and seeking sanctuary in Denmark, are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

The Kingdom of Denmark includes the semi-autonomous territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Danish National Police are responsible for law enforcement services in all regions governed by the Kingdom of Denmark, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Danish Prosecution Service meets regularly with prosecutors, including representatives from both territories, to discuss potential trafficking issues, such as working with victims who are participating in criminal proceedings. In 2021, there were no reports of trafficking cases or identified trafficking victims in Greenland or the Faroe Islands.

U.S. Department of State

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