The government slightly increased protection efforts. Agenzjja Appogg, a government office within the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS) that provided national assistance to trafficking victims, identified 18 potential foreign trafficking victims. This compared with six in 2020 and 11 in 2019, though these identifications were still fewer than 24 in 2018, 30 in 2017, and 35 in 2016. Of the potential victims identified, 11 were victims of labor trafficking, (including four victims of domestic servitude and one victim of forced criminality), five were victims of sex trafficking, and two were victims of both sex and labor trafficking. Two potential victims were male, and 16 were female. Potential trafficking victims identified in 2021 were from approximately 13 countries, with the majority originating from the Philippines. While the government had a national victim identification and referral mechanism from 2014, gaps in victim identification remained, and the government did not report identifying any Maltese or child victims in 2021 and only one potential victim among asylum-seekers, despite the documented vulnerability of this population to trafficking. GRETA reported that many front-line officials remained unaware of the national victim identification and referral mechanism, and civil society highlighted a need to ensure wide dissemination of the mechanism to ensure uniform implementation. Trafficking victims could only be “officially” identified by the police vice squad, and the vice squad determination on whether someone was a victim of trafficking or not could not be challenged. In its 2021 report, GRETA noted that contrary to the national identification mechanism, civil society reported that official identification of victims was sometimes dependent on the possibility to institute criminal proceedings against the trafficker. The government funded an international organization to update its trafficking victim screening tool to improve victim identification. Victim identification among asylum-seekers was conducted by officials from the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security and Law Enforcement (MHSE), in partnership with civil society. In partnership with the EU and an international organization, the government formed a vulnerability assessment team where asylum-seekers were screened for trafficking indicators and vulnerabilities; however, in its 2021 report, GRETA noted the preliminary assessment conducted was limited to the identification of cases where vulnerability was immediately obvious, such as with unaccompanied children. With consent, potential trafficking victims were referred to victim protection services with a new referral form for asylum-seekers, which was adopted in March 2021 for both government and civil society use. Separately, the government reported that trained officials systematically screened undocumented migrants for trafficking indicators with updated guidelines at detention centers; however, they did not report identifying any victims among this population. The need for sufficient resources to streamline all procedures, create a systematic workflow, and build capacity at migrant detention centers may have affected the quality of victim screening. During the reporting period, police continued to screen for sex trafficking indicators among individuals in commercial sex. In its 2021 report, GRETA noted the lack of a multi-disciplinary approach to the identification process of trafficking victims and the need for additional personnel resources and training for the police vice squad.
The national Foundation for Social Welfare Services continued to coordinate effectively with the police, legal aid, and health services to provide quality care to victims and met virtually with stakeholders every two months. Government officials continued to work closely and collaboratively with NGOs. Agenzjja Appogg conducted several trafficking identification training sessions to frontline officials in 2021. The government provided €172,166 ($195,200) for victim care in 2021, including salaries for social workers and safe housing for victims; an increase compared with €102,229 ($115,910) in 2020. The government also provided €16,399 ($18,590) to an international organization to update its trafficking victim screening tool and provide victim assistance. To improve coordination of victim protection for children, in 2021, the Child Protection Agency was designated as the responsible agency for vulnerability assessment and interagency coordination for child victims. The national welfare agency continued to operate a 24-hour hotline for individuals in need of social services support and referral to care, including potential trafficking victims; operators had received training in trafficking victim identification. The government identified two potential adult trafficking victims through the hotline during the reporting period.
Police continued to utilize the national standard referral procedures to systematically refer victims to Agenzjja Appogg. Fourteen potential victims were referred to Agenzjja Appogg, where they received individual assistance plans and psychological assistance; at least six victims were provided with shelter, and social workers helped several victims with medical appointments and employment. Protection services to victims continued uninterrupted in 2021, and the government instituted several pandemic-related safety protocols, including requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test result prior to shelter admittance; victims were provided short-term emergency shelter until they could provide the required proof. The government had dedicated services available to both foreign and domestic trafficking victims, and once victims were referred to care, specialized social workers at FSWS assessed the long-term needs of each trafficking victim; assistance reportedly included shelter, food, psychological counseling, interpreters, and medical and legal aid appointments, as well as assistance with obtaining legal status and job searches. In 2021, the government opened a new safehouse, which sheltered three trafficking victims in 2021, and was staffed by social service workers during the day and security at night. The government also launched a Victim Support Agency in April 2021 for all victims of crime who cooperated with law enforcement, including trafficking victims; services included confidential emotional support and legal advice. The government did not report the number of trafficking victims that received services through this agency. GRETA’s 2021 report, noted that per the government’s 2014 Legal Aide law, legal assistance should have been available to all victims of crime; however, to date, all trafficking victims have been represented by NGO lawyers funded through projects instead of the established Legal Aid Agency. GRETA urged the government to increase their efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received legal assistance and free legal aid at an early stage. The government reported that victims could receive protection services regardless of their agreement to cooperate with law enforcement. While there was no time limit for victims to access some services, such as services from social workers, their stay in a shelter or safe housing could not exceed 180 days, with some exceptions. Victims had freedom of movement in government shelters, and both men and women had access to three shelters.
The government encouraged but did not require victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their alleged traffickers. Law enforcement endeavored to conduct discreet interviews with potential trafficking victims to protect their identities and ensure their safety. To avoid re-traumatization, the government provided victims with protective support, including the option to testify via video, accompaniment to court by a social worker, and victim support sessions before and after court hearings. The government had a witness protection program and reported providing services to one victim in 2021. The law provided victims a two-month reflection period to recover and contemplate cooperation with law enforcement. Foreign victims who decided to assist police in prosecuting trafficking cases were reportedly entitled to a renewable six-month temporary residence permit free of charge, police protection, legal assistance, and the right to obtain flexible work permits; the government did not report granting residence permits to any trafficking victim. The government could grant refugee status to victims as an alternative to removal to countries where they may face hardship or persecution, though the approval rate for all asylum applications was low at 8 percent, and the government did not report providing this status to any victims during the reporting period.
The government could grant a maximum of €23,300 ($26,420) of compensation to some victims from state funding; however, the government has never reported issuing compensation to any victims of trafficking to date; the few requests brought by NGO lawyers were ultimately denied. Legal aid was not available for victims seeking compensation from the government, and government compensation was not available for foreign trafficking victims without residency. Furthermore, GRETA reported that the law did not allow assets confiscated from traffickers to be used as compensation or restitution for victims. In its 2021 report, GRETA urged the government to adjust or remove the maximum limits for compensation and restitution; allow confiscated assets from traffickers to be awarded to victims; and ensure state compensation was available to all trafficking victims, regardless of their nationality or residence status. Additionally, prosecutors could file for restitution from traffickers in criminal cases; however, courts have never reported awarding restitution to any victims to date, and GRETA noted limited awareness of the possibility of restitution by lawyers and judicial authorities. Victims could also file a civil suit to receive a maximum of €10,000 ($11,340) in damages, but the government has never reported awarding damages to any trafficking victims to date. Victims could also receive back-payment of wages earned by filing a complaint through the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations; the government reported awarding back-payment three times in the past but did not report doing so during the reporting period. GRETA urged the government to review the eligibility criteria for state compensation and add the concept of trafficking survivor restitution to training programs for judges and prosecutors. The government did not have a legal provision on the non-punishment of victims to ensure that trafficking victims are not inappropriately penalized for unlawful crimes traffickers compelled them to commit, including immigration violations. GRETA recommended the enactment of such a provision and the dissemination of the non-punishment principal to not only judges, but all law enforcement to prevent victim penalization as early as possible.