The government maintained protection efforts. Multiple actors within the government and civil society were empowered to identify and refer trafficking victims. Police and immigration officials used written guidelines for identification and referral, which, in 2021, the National Police Board updated, conducted mandatory training on, and incorporated into a special course for law enforcement on identifying trafficking victims. The national assistance system was the main channel for identifying victims via referrals and, through it, the government provided both direct care and funding for third-party care. The assistance system admitted 243 trafficking victims (28 children), compared with 247 (10 children) in 2020. The assistance system reported 28 percent of new recipients were sex trafficking victims, 43 percent were labor trafficking victims, and the remaining 29 percent were victims of forced marriage or other crimes classified as trafficking under Finnish law. Finnish law required police to pursue cases specifically as trafficking crimes in order for victims to receive services through the assistance system; emergency care was available regardless. In cases where victimization occurred outside of Finland and the conditions of the relevant jurisdiction made law enforcement cooperation unlikely, police did not open a criminal investigation. The government did not provide guidance to assistance system personnel regarding referrals of victims who were exploited within Finland and did not wish to contact the police.
Residence status of an individual affected the scope of assistance received by trafficking victims. Overall, victim assistance was good, although there were large variations in quality between services offered through the national assistance system, which encompassed various Finnish Immigration Services (FIS) programs, and services offered through municipalities. A 2021 Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare report examined the disparity in the provision of services between foreign nationals, who received housing and welfare services from the national assistance system, and Finnish citizens, who received benefits from municipal social health and welfare programs. While observers broadly agreed with some of the study’s findings, they raised concerns about how municipal social welfare service boards would be able to meet the needs of trafficking victims and provide assistance uniformly. Observers noted the national assistance system had the expertise and capabilities to provide services that municipalities lacked, and municipalities often did not understand how services would be reimbursed. Observers also noted municipalities experienced difficulties with victim service provision because they functioned under the general framework of social welfare and did not have sufficient resources to deal with crime-related issues such as trafficking or victims of trafficking. Since the national assistance system was able to provide more suitable assistance than municipalities, the standard of service, in some incidences, deteriorated as an individual’s residence status changed. Helsinki’s head of adult social work noted the legislation concerning benefits for victims was unclear and originally intended to assist undocumented victims and not citizens of Finland. As a result, municipal social services referred few victims, which experts attributed to a lack of experience in identifying victims and a poor understanding of the referral process. Subsequently, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health tasked a working group to examine changes to victim referral processes and establish of a national referral mechanism as proposed in the NAP. Furthermore, according to some anti-trafficking advocates, the placement of the assistance system within immigration services could misrepresent trafficking as a crime requiring migration and reduce the focus on trafficking committed within Finland. The working group considered the transfer of the victim assistance system to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to address this concern and to weaken the link between the provision of assistance to victims and their participation in the justice process, which acted as an obstacle to victims’ willingness to come forward, but efforts stalled due to non- consensus among members of the working group and concerns about the lack of trafficking-related expertise outside the assistance system.
Once victims were referred to the assistance system, consultants evaluated the case and decided on the victim’s course of care, which could include transportation to a safe house; psychological, medical, and legal assistance; or shelter. There was one government-funded shelter specifically for trafficking victims, though it accepted only women and their children; there were no shelters dedicated to male victims. Care providers sheltered most trafficking victims in private accommodations. The Joutseno Reception Center was both an FIS agency and the name of a physical center that could temporarily house up to 300 trafficking victims, when necessary, and provide social and health services. Social welfare, immigration, labor, and medical personnel staffed the center and provided assistance to victims. As an agency, the center developed, coordinated, and maintained assistance for all trafficking victims nationally, including children, and helped place victims in housing across the country. Authorities placed unaccompanied foreign child trafficking victims in a migrant reception center specifically for children, and Finnish child trafficking victims, who could not return to their families, in foster care. Child services assigned Finnish child victims a guardian to serve as a legal representative. In 2021, the government incorporated specific information on the exploitation of children, including trafficking, into an online learning program for professionals who came across potential child victims. The government spent €1 million ($1.13 million) on trafficking victim assistance and protection, approximately the same as in 2020. In addition, the government allocated €240,000 ($272,110) to NGOs for victim support services, approximately the same amount as in 2020. During the reporting period, the government in partnership with NGOs, the private sector, and other organizations implemented a pilot project to provide training and full-time jobs to trafficking victims residing in Finland. The project aimed to improve working life skills and competence of trafficking victims, develop employment services offered to victims, and increase the involvement of the private sector in combating trafficking.
FIS conditioned eligibility to receive a specialized residence permit on the victim’s cooperation with police to commence a criminal investigation. Delayed investigations and police failure to submit the appropriate paperwork requesting victims to remain in the country, left victims susceptible to deportation. Finnish law allowed foreign victims a six-month reflection period during which they could receive care and services while considering whether to assist law enforcement, and the law allowed legal residents a recovery period of up to three months. According to the assistance system, the government granted 16 victims a reflection period in 2021. Victims could receive renewable temporary residence permits, which were valid for six to 12 months and allowed victims to seek employment. Authorities provided residence permits to 13 victims and renewed 15 permits in 2021. To promote the detection of work-related exploitation and trafficking, in 2021, the government amended the Aliens Act, broadening the rights of exploited employees to apply for an extended residence permit or for a certificate of expanded right to work and change employers; however, eligibility depended on employees already holding a residence permit in Finland that included the right to work. Finnish police were not prohibited from prosecuting victims who, as a result of their trafficking, committed acts that violated national law. Observers continued to point out that the non-punishment provision existed in theory, but in practice, the detaining or prosecuting of trafficking victims for committing unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit continued to be a problem, particularly with police treating users of illegal drugs, potential victims who had been forced into criminality, and foreign nationals in commercial sex as perpetrators of crimes. The government identified several such victims in Finnish prisons and noted foreign-born children committing theft as a group particularly misunderstood by law enforcement. Subsequently, the government tasked the Ministry of Justice to provide training and relevant information to authorities to ensure victims were not penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.