The Government of Georgia 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 Georgia remained on Tier 1. These efforts included providing comprehensive victim assistance, including robust pandemic mitigation efforts at government-run shelters. The government increased the number of labor inspectors, developed guidelines for labor inspectors to screen for indicators of forced labor, and updated a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to conduct joint inspections with law enforcement. The government created a new mobile group and crisis center in the Adjara region for identifying potential victims among vulnerable children and amended the criminal code to allow the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) to assign victim-witness coordinators to trafficking victims. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it convicted fewer traffickers and identified the lowest number of victims since 2016. Police conducted some ad hoc raids on commercial sex establishments without a clear strategy on victim identification, and authorities continued to lack the knowledge to investigate and collect evidence in complex cases involving financial crimes, organized crime, and digital evidence. Law enforcement required victims to remain in country through the end of the trial, likely hindering victim cooperation from foreign victims wanting to repatriate, and judges have never awarded restitution in criminal cases. The government did not adequately publicize public assessments or information on its efforts and did not establish a work permit system for migrant workers.
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under Articles 143-1 and 143-2 of the criminal code.
Increase efforts to identify victims proactively, particularly individuals in commercial sex, child laborers and/or children experiencing homelessness, and Georgian and foreign victims in vulnerable labor sectors.
Increase resources to plan intelligence and evidence-led law enforcement operations with victim-centered approaches.
Encourage victims’ participation in investigations and prosecutions through victim-centered court procedures, including remote testimony or funding for travel and other expenses for victims to attend court hearings.
Implement procedures to improve the Permanent Group’s ability to identify victims consistently and accurately.
Improve law enforcement’s capacity to investigate complex cases, including advanced training on money laundering, organized crime, and digital evidence.
Further incorporate the Labor Inspectorate into anti-trafficking efforts and increase its capacity and training to identify victims.
Improve measures to order restitution for victims, including training prosecutors and judges on asset seizure, and legal assistance.
Establish procedures to license and monitor recruitment agencies and create a work permit system for foreign migrant workers to prevent recruitment fees and other trafficking vulnerabilities.
Increase the capacity and knowledge of civil society to identify and refer trafficking victims.
Increase awareness-raising campaigns about the existence of trafficking, legal recourse, and available protection services to vulnerable groups.
Develop guidelines and procedures for victim-witness coordinators and other victim assistance providers to strengthen coordination.
Increase transparency of the inter-ministerial trafficking coordination council and regularly publish information on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Articles 143-1 and 143-2 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and prescribed penalties ranging from seven to 12 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and eight to 12 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement investigated 18 new cases, compared with 13 in 2020. Law enforcement also continued to investigate five cases from previous reporting periods. The government initiated the prosecution of five defendants and continued to prosecute five defendants from the previous reporting period, compared with the government initiating prosecution of eight defendants in 2020. Courts convicted five traffickers for forced labor, compared with 26 traffickers for child sex trafficking in 2020—stemming from a law enforcement operation in 2019—and three traffickers in 2019. Judges issued sentences from eight years’ imprisonment to 15 years’ imprisonment to three traffickers and sentenced two traffickers from one year and four months’ to one year and six months’ imprisonment with a 20,000 lari ($6,500) fine. The criminal code criminalized “abuse of services of a victim of human trafficking” but authorities had never investigated a suspect, particularly due to the difficulty in proving a suspect reasonably knew or suspected a person was a trafficking victim.
The government maintained several specialized trafficking units, including the Anti-Trafficking and Illegal Migration Unit within the Central Criminal Police Department (CCPD) and six mobile units under MOIA. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) maintained five specialized prosecutors dedicated to trafficking cases and operated a task force with MOIA in the Adjara region with specialized investigators and prosecutors. Mobile units and the task force proactively investigated trafficking and inspected hotels, bars, bathhouses, nightclubs, casinos, and other high-risk businesses; mobile units and the task force inspected 130 businesses (67 in 2020) which resulted in six criminal investigations, including two forced labor cases. CCPD updated an MOU between mobile units and labor inspectors to conduct joint inspections to identify forced labor. The Tbilisi City Court maintained seven specialized judges and the Tbilisi Court of Appeals maintained seven specialized judges assigned to handle “crimes against human beings,” which included trafficking, but the remaining 27 courts did not have specialized judges. In response to the pandemic, courts continued a small number of remote hearings and PGO equipped all offices with appropriate technical equipment and software. Despite several convictions of labor traffickers, observers reported the government lacked the knowledge and capacity to investigate forced labor; and authorities continued to require training on corroborating victim testimonies and evidence collection in complex cases involving financial crimes, organized crime, and digital evidence. Police raided some commercial sex establishments randomly rather than conducting intelligence-led operations and observers reported a lack of transparency following police raids, including information on what happened to the individuals in commercial sex. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. All police cadets received basic training on trafficking issues and the government, with financial and technical support from international organizations, trained investigators, mobile unit members, border patrol, prosecutors, labor inspectors, and witness and victim coordinators on various anti-trafficking issues. The government submitted one mutual legal assistance request to Russia and received two mutual legal assistance requests from Kazakhstan.
The government slightly increased protection efforts. The government identified four victims, compared with seven victims in 2020. All were victims of forced labor with two adult male victims, one boy, and one girl. First responders used standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, including the proper treatment of victims, screening for indicators, and victim-centered interview practices. The government also developed new guidelines and screening indicators for labor inspectors on identifying victims of forced labor. Mobile units and the task force screened 444 individuals in commercial sex, begging, or employed in vulnerable sectors for trafficking indicators (467 individuals in 2020). Authorities interviewed an additional two individuals deemed “high-risk” due to work at businesses that violated labor standards (two in 2020). Authorities screened 624 Georgian nationals deported from other countries for trafficking indicators at the international airport and border crossings (1,177 in 2020). The Agency for State Care (ASC) also operated seven mobile groups responsible for identifying potential victims among vulnerable children who were homeless or used the streets as a source of livelihood, including a new mobile group created in November 2021 in the Adjara region; mobile groups assisted 245 children. While the government reported fewer inspections and interviews because of business and border closures in response to the pandemic, observers reported a lack of government capacity to identify forced labor victims, and alleged that victim identification efforts, particularly raids on commercial sex establishments, were proven ineffective by the low number of identified victims. Observers reported most identification efforts were led by the government as civil society mostly did not work in anti-trafficking due to a lack of grants and programs.
A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) provided SOPs for official identification and referral of victims to services. Law enforcement officially recognized victims who participated in investigations and the Permanent Group assessed and officially recognized victims who declined to participate in investigations; both recognitions granted victims access to the same protection and assistance services. The Permanent Group, composed of a five-member board of NGO and international organization representatives, was required by statute to convene and assess a potential victim within 48 hours. Law enforcement officially recognized four victims (seven in 2020) and the Permanent Group did not recognize any victims (three victims in 2020). GRETA, OSCE, and other experts reported the threshold to obtain official victim status through the Permanent Group was high and shifted the burden of proof to victims. Nonetheless, an international organization reported the work of the Permanent Group improved after the government amended its procedures in 2019.
ASC-run crisis centers in five cities and NGOs provided initial psychological care, medical assistance, legal support, and temporary shelter for potential victims awaiting official victim status. Additionally, ASC operated anti-trafficking shelters in Tbilisi and Batumi and other victim assistance programs for official victims. The government allocated 400,000 lari ($130,080) to the government-run anti-trafficking shelters, compared with 760,746 lari ($247,400) in 2020. ASC-run shelters provided medical aid, psycho-social support, legal assistance, childcare services, reintegration support, and a one-time financial payment of 1,000 lari ($325) to victims; five received support and two received 1,000 lari ($325) in cash assistance. In April 2021, the government amended the law to remove a clause that denied victims the 1,000 lari ($325) cash assistance if they received restitution. Child victims received the same specialized assistance, in addition to custodial care, education, and family reintegration programs. ASC-run shelters were staffed by a nurse and psychologist and offered separate areas for men, women, and children. Victims can initially stay at the shelter for three months, which authorities may extend upon the victim’s request; the government-run shelters accommodated nine victims (nine in 2020). Shelter staff chaperoned victims when leaving the shelter, but victims could request to leave the shelter unchaperoned. ASC-run shelters provided personal protective equipment, disinfectants, and COVID-19 tests, and adopted social distancing measures, including a space for victims to quarantine for 14 days before moving to the shelter. ASC-run shelters also organized an epidemiologist to train staff members on victim assistance during the pandemic and created an online platform to offer virtual legal and psychological assistance. In previous years, experts reported an inability to assess the quality of services at ASC-run shelters due to a lack of independent evaluations of the operations and conditions, but experts reported that ASC-run shelters focused more on victims of domestic violence due to the low number of identified trafficking victims. ASC also operated six shelters and seven crisis centers for vulnerable children who were homeless or used the streets as a source of livelihood, including a new crisis center established in Batumi in October 2021.
The government provided equal services for Georgian citizen and foreign national victims and granted foreign victims renewable one-year residence permits with the ability to seek legal employment; no victims required residence permits (five in 2020). The government could provide repatriation assistance to Georgian victims returning to Georgia and foreign victims wishing to leave Georgia; no victims required repatriation assistance in 2021 or 2020. The law required closed-door sessions for court proceedings and allowed victims to leave the country pending trial; however, experts reported in practice, law enforcement required victims to remain in country through the end of the trial, likely hindering victim cooperation, particularly from foreign victims wanting to repatriate, due to slow court proceedings. Nine victims assisted law enforcement in 2021 (six in 2020). PGO’s victim-witness coordinators supported victims during proceedings, including legal and logistical assistance, and measures to prevent re-traumatization. Additionally, the government amended the criminal code in June 2021 to allow investigators to assign MOIA’s victim-witness coordinators to victims from the onset of an investigation; PGO and MOIA victim-witness coordinators assisted eight victims and ten witnesses (12 victims and six witnesses in 2020). However, an international organization reported the lack of standardized interactions between MOIA and PGO victim-witness coordinators, ASC, and other interlocutors likely created coordination issues. The law allowed recorded testimony or testimony by other technological means; seven witnesses testified remotely (one victim and three witnesses in 2020). The law also allowed the possibility of placing a victim into the state’s witness protection program; no victims required the use of witness protection in 2021 or 2020. Victims could obtain restitution through criminal proceedings or compensation through civil suits; however, judges have never awarded restitution in criminal cases and only awarded compensation in civil suits to three victims to date. Observers highlighted the failure to freeze and seize criminal assets as an obstacle to pursuing restitution from traffickers.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The Inter-Agency Council on Combatting Trafficking in Persons (TIP Council) composed of representatives from various ministries, the international community, and civil society, worked and met virtually, and monitored the implementation of the 2021-2022 National Action Plan. The TIP Council published information and statistics on anti-trafficking efforts on the Ministry of Justice’s website; however, observers continued to report the TIP Council did not provide public assessments of government efforts and lacked transparency. PGO managed a working group on forced labor, which met once in both 2021 and 2020. While the government organized a mock court competition for students and awareness campaigns targeting students and the public, an international organization continued to report Georgian authorities were reluctant to implement large-scale awareness campaigns in major cities due to the negative impact they believed it would have on the tourism industry. MOIA continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline and the State Fund also operated an anti-trafficking hotline; the MOIA hotline received 22 calls related to trafficking (46 in 2020) and the State Fund hotline received 24 calls (32 in 2020).
The Law on Labor Safety entered into force in September 2019 and expanded occupational safety and health standards and regulations, including unannounced inspections. In January 2021, the government established the Labor Inspection Service with 60 labor inspectors, including a special unit for forced labor and labor exploitation, and increased the number of inspectors to 78 by the end of 2021. Labor inspectors inspected 140 businesses (120 in 2020) and referred one case of alleged forced labor to CCPD (none in 2020). The government did not have a work permit system for migrant workers nor did it license and monitor recruitment agencies. The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons, Labor, and Health and Social Affairs required intermediary companies in Georgia, assisting Georgian citizens in finding employment abroad, to submit annual reports and register activities. The government issued intermediary companies that did not register an activity a fine of 1,000 lari ($325) and a fine of 300 lari ($98) for failing to submit an annual report; 11 companies were fined (five in 2020). Due to the pandemic, the government chartered flights to help return stranded Georgian migrant workers and extended the right to legal stay for all foreign migrants legally in Georgia until July 30, 2021. The government did not reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Georgia, and traffickers exploit victims from Georgia abroad. Traffickers recruit victims with false promises of well-paying jobs in tea processing plants, hospitals, salons, restaurants, and hotels. Traffickers exploit women and girls from Georgia in sex trafficking within the country, and in Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Georgia is also a transit country for women from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan exploited in Turkey. Traffickers exploit women from Central Asia, particularly Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, in sex trafficking in the tourist areas of the Adjara region and larger cities like Tbilisi and Batumi in saunas, brothels, bars, strip clubs, casinos, and hotels. Georgian men and women are exploited in forced labor within Georgia and in Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, and UAE. Georgian, Romani, and Kurdish children are subjected to forced begging and sometimes coerced into criminality in Georgia. Traffickers adapt operations to the impacts of the pandemic and shift recruitment and advertisement tactics to online means, such as communicating through chats, and establishing websites and advertisements for escort services. Additionally, traffickers exploit victims in private apartments rather than public facilities, such as brothels and strip clubs due to pandemic mitigation measures. People’s Republic of China (PRC) national women in commercial sex and Southeast Asian women working in massage parlors are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Georgian, Romani, and Kurdish children, in addition to children of Armenian refugees and children of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who were homeless or used the streets as a source of livelihood are vulnerable to trafficking, particularly forced begging.
RUSSIA-OCCUPIED REGIONS OF ABKHAZIA AND SOUTH OSSETIA
Russia-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside of Georgian government control and de facto authorities were supported by Russian forces. Russia and Abkhaz de facto authorities limited the ability of international organizations to operate in Abkhazia, although international organizations had greater ability to operate there than in South Ossetia. As a result, no information was available about the presence of trafficking and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian de facto authorities’ efforts to combat trafficking. However, NGOs consider IDPs from these occupied territories particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Separately, some observers report anecdotal evidence of migrants being subjected to forced labor and DPRK workers in Abkhazia may have been forced to work by the DPRK government.