The government maintained uneven protection efforts. In 2021, authorities reported pandemic-related restrictions and the increased use of private residences and online platforms continued to hinder their identification of sex trafficking victims, while workplace closures and further isolation made the identification of labor trafficking victims more difficult. The government identified 463 new victims in 2021, similar to 470 in 2020 but less than 657 in 2019. Of the victims identified, 255 were sex trafficking victims, and 192 were labor trafficking victims, which included 169 victims of forced labor, nine victims of forced criminality, seven victims of domestic servitude, and seven victims of forced begging. Sixteen of the 463 victims were exploited in trafficking abroad or in transit to Italy. The government also identified 201 persons at migration centers whom the government believed were likely to become victims of trafficking but had not yet been exploited in Italy. All newly identified victims were foreign nationals and undocumented migrants, and asylum-seekers continued to make up the majority of identified trafficking victims, with most victims originating in Nigeria and a smaller percentage from Pakistan and Morocco. NGOs reported gaps in authorities’ proactive victim identification efforts persisted during the reporting period. The government again did not identify any Italian nationals as victims and very few children (less than 1 percent despite prior year high estimates of such victims by civil society); experts raised concerns about this potential gap in victim identification. Furthermore, NGOs reported police forces in some provinces did not fully cooperate with civil society organizations focused on undocumented migrants, due to a lack of understanding or mutual distrust, which subsequently limited the ability of local authorities to identify victims among this population.
The government cooperated with NGOs and international organizations to provide shelter and services to victims. In 2021, the government provided victim assistance through 12 projects submitted by regional and local authorities and nine submitted by NGOs from across Italy and allocated €24 million ($27.21 million) to these projects; the same as in 2020 and 2019. NGOs reported high standards of assistance programs across regions, with occasional localized differences in quality. NGOs reported the Department of Equal Opportunity (DEO), which coordinated protection efforts, was not sufficiently funded or staffed to consistently monitor assistance programs nationally. In 2021, the DEO reported government-funded NGOs assisted 1,347 trafficking victims, including 907 sex trafficking victims, 406 labor trafficking victims (including 350 forced labor victims, 27 forced criminality victims, 15 forced begging victims, and 14 domestic servitude victims), and 34 victims exploited in trafficking abroad or in transit to Italy. This was a decrease compared with 1,444 trafficking victims assisted in 2020 and 1,877 assisted in 2019. The government also assisted 16 witnesses and 490 persons at migration centers whom the government believed were likely to become trafficking victims but had not yet been exploited in Italy. Statistics pertaining to the number of victims assisted by the government included victims assisted for the first time in 2021, as well as ongoing assistance to victims identified in prior years. While the government had a formal and comprehensive national identification and referral mechanism that addressed all forms of trafficking, it was implemented unevenly throughout Italy during the reporting period. Both NGOs and the government could identify trafficking victims. NGOs and the DEO recognized inconsistencies in the efficiency and effectiveness of the current referral process between regions and found that quality standards were lower in the south. In October 2021, the government approved its first national identification and referral mechanism specifically for labor trafficking and exploitation in agriculture, which included minimum standards, standard procedures, and available assistance for victims. Insufficient availability of interpretation services for lesser-known African dialects, with victims coming from as many as 15 different language groups, remained a significant challenge. Trustworthy interpreters were also difficult to secure, as reportedly many interpreters came from the same communities as the accused traffickers.
While the government had a victim identification and referral mechanism for some forms of child trafficking and children within the asylum system, it remained without a separate national mechanism that included all forms of trafficking. In its 2019 report, GRETA recommended establishing a separate NRM specifically for the specialized needs of children. NGOs estimated there were several thousand children in Italy who were victims of trafficking in 2021. Many unaccompanied Nigerian child victims misrepresented their age to gain placement in adult reception centers, giving them greater freedom to leave the center unnoticed with their trafficker. NGOs, however, welcomed increased scrutiny by authorities of these age-claims, and authorities more often sent victims into child protection if unable to confirm adult age-status. Foreign child victims automatically received a residence permit until age 18 and accommodations in a general children’s center or a designated center for trafficking victims who were also asylum-seekers. Children received counseling and were enrolled in public schools with the support of mentors. The government reported, by March 2022, approximately 300 unaccompanied children sought refuge in Italy after fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine; the government reported identifying all unaccompanied children as they crossed the border and subsequently provided them with accommodation and access to educational facilities.
The government reported observing standard UNHCR procedures to screen for trafficking victims among the approximately 67,500 asylum- seekers, unaccompanied children, and undocumented migrants that arrived by sea in 2021. Civil society coordinated with law enforcement and immigration officials at both the arrival points and the longer-term reception centers, and an international organization reported providing information on potential trafficking victims to local officials responsible for assigning migrants to migration centers and trafficking victims to shelters. However, NGOs continued to assert authorities did not properly identify many trafficking victims upon arrival, potentially leaving some victims unidentified within the system and classified them instead as asylum-seekers or undocumented migrants and therefore subject to deportation. NGOs continued to stress the need for more time to screen refugees and migrants at arrival ports to more accurately ascertain victim status, but they acknowledged conditions were not conducive to a stay at the ports beyond one or two days. During the reporting period, regional committees continued to utilize national guidelines for asylum-seekers to adjudicate asylum applications to identify trafficking victims among applicants; however, inconsistencies in implementation persisted. In 2021, the number of asylum applications doubled to approximately 56,000, with 42,000 pending at the end of the reporting period. The government processed 53,000 applications during the year, including applications from previous years, and granted asylum status or subsidiary protections to roughly 56 percent of the applicants.
The law allowed for an initial three to six months of government assistance to all trafficking victims. After initial assistance, foreign victims were eligible to obtain temporary residency and work permits and had a path to permanent residency; additionally, foreign victims were eligible for six months of shelter benefits, renewable for an additional six months only if the victim obtained a job or enrolled in a training program. However, in some cases, the government housed victims and potential victims with undocumented migrants, and such housing lacked adequate security against traffickers seeking to recruit victims or remove those already under their control. Between January and June 2021, the MOI reported identifying 493 potential trafficking victims and providing them with either a temporary residence permit, refugee status, or subsidiary and special protection. This compared with 108 temporary residence permits in 2020 and 155 permits in 2019. The government reported that foreign and Italian nationals were entitled to the same benefits and that the law entitled all crime victims to free legal assistance. Italian criminal law lacked a provision specifically prohibiting punishment of trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, but rather prosecutors and judges had discretion on whether to prosecute a trafficking victim based on the principle of the “state of necessity.” Current law required proof of exploitation in a criminal action against the perpetrator, which left victims and potential victims at risk of prosecution and conviction when a court did not first convict the perpetrators. Experts and GRETA urged the government to adopt a legal provision explicitly preventing inappropriate penalization of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, which would also prevent unfair application of the principle of the “state of necessity.” During the reporting period, NGOs reported several instances where authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. NGOs reported a case in which Nigerian trafficking victims in migration centers were forced to commit drug-related crimes but initially remained unidentified as trafficking victims; however, once authorities recognized them as victims, prosecutors continued to pursue the case, and courts ultimately convicted the trafficking victims, but with reduced sentences. The government did not require victims to cooperate with law enforcement to obtain assistance like shelter, medical care, or a residence permit, although NGOs and international organizations reported authorities did not consistently implement this policy and sometimes gave preference to those who cooperated. The government reported it often had difficulty prosecuting trafficking cases because victims were often unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement, and in a March 2021 document, NGOs urged the government to adopt a victim-centered approach. The government had a witness protection program but did not report whether any trafficking victims were able to access this protection during the reporting period.
The government continued to lack comprehensive statistics on restitution and damages awarded to victims and did not require prosecutors to systematically request restitution during criminal trials. The government could offer a single payment of €1,500 ($1,700) to victims for compensation, although GRETA and NGOs noted the application was overly complex, the amount insufficient, and very few victims ever received compensation. The government did not report granting compensation to any victims during the reporting period. GRETA further recommended the government increase the use of existing legal remedies to provide restitution to victims and more proactively seize assets and pursue forfeiture against perpetrators. The government did not award restitution from criminal cases or damages from civil suits to any trafficking victims.