The government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2020, the most recent year for which official data was available, the government- funded national victim registration center and the assistance coordinator registered 984 possible trafficking victims, compared with 1,334 in 2019. Of the 984 victims, 408 were victims of sex trafficking, 603 were victims of labor trafficking, including 154 subjected to forced criminality, and 38 were victims of uncategorized trafficking; these numbers reflect that several individuals were victims of multiple forms of trafficking. The majority of victims were women (547), and 68 victims were children. In 2020, the top five countries of origin of victims were Poland, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, and Hungary; the majority of victims were foreign nationals. Authorities in Bonaire identified two victims in 2021.
Authorities and first responders followed government-established identification and referral procedures; the government continued funding a website with identification and referral information for first responders and other professionals who may encounter a victim. The government supported an initiative by victim care organizations to develop best practices for prevention and protection of male victims of sexual exploitation. In January 2022, the national police reported an ongoing shortage of law enforcement officers, due in part to the increased workload of officers responding to protests, particularly those against government pandemic restrictions. Observers reported the shortage of officers and the government’s guidance for many employees to work from home to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 likely contributed to the lower number of victims identified in 2020. Observers noted that while officials received training on victim identification, effective victim screening was dependent on officers’ familiarity with trafficking; authorities’ contact with trafficking victims varied widely among regions. Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten relied heavily on the Netherlands for funding local anti-trafficking efforts. Observers assessed these funding levels as sporadic and insufficient. The Kingdom of the Netherlands funded a training on the anti-trafficking legal framework for border protection officials in Sint Maarten.
First responders, including law enforcement, were required to immediately refer potential victims to the NGO officially tasked and funded by the government to register victims and coordinate their care; other organizations and private citizens could also refer victims to the NGO. Upon registration, the NGO referred the victim to a shelter, if desired, and advised victims on available services. Observers continued to report the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which required non-law enforcement organizations to obtain consent from the victim before official registration unless a “justified interest” existed, continued to deter some victims from registering. Nevertheless, experts agreed it was not the GDPR itself that caused victims to fear stigmatization as a trafficking victim and withdraw from the victim process; rather, it was the strict interpretation of the regulation by many non-law-enforcement organizations out of fear of being non-compliant with EU privacy regulations. Observers noted that a November 2020 MJS manual with guidance to stakeholders on the GDPR failed to clarify how to report potential victims. Non-registered victims could access services from non-government funded NGOs. MJS provided awareness training to the Immigration and Naturalization Services to identify potential trafficking indicators among asylum-seekers. However, an NGO previously noted that some non-EU third country nationals seeking asylum had difficulty accessing victim care services.
Local governments funded an extensive network of care facilities for Dutch victims and foreign victims with legal residency status; the local shelters provided accommodation to trafficking victims and victims of other crimes. Victims without legal residency status were provided a three-month reflection period in one of three NGO-managed specialized trafficking shelters, during which time they could choose to press charges against their trafficker; victims were not allowed to work during this time. After the reflection period, victims who agreed to assist police could continue to stay in shelters. Observers expressed concern that the granting of a reflection period was at authorities’ discretion and there was no mechanism to appeal a decision. The government fully funded the three NGO-managed specialized shelters for victims without legal residency status; the government provided €1.5 million ($1.7 million) to these shelters in 2021, an increase from €1.44 million ($1.6 million) in 2020. In January 2022, the government decreased the number of spaces for victims in the three specialized shelters from 58 to 40 (30 for women, 10 for men) but allowed for a 10 percent increase above this capacity, if needed. Observers claimed that the government’s decision to reduce capacity based on decreased victim numbers in 2020 was misguided, as the reduction in victim numbers was likely due to challenges in identification caused by the pandemic. Both the NGO-managed shelters and local shelters provided medical and psychological care, schooling, language and skills training, and legal assistance; some also provided self-defense classes, and most had facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition to the general funding of local shelters, local governments allocated €2 million ($2.27 million) to fund specialized care for up to 36 trafficking victims who also had a psychological disorder, developmental limitations, or “substance abuse disease;” this care was provided across six local shelters. Shelters created separate quarantine locations for victims who tested positive for COVID-19, ensuring safe shelter for victims who needed to self-quarantine.
Child victims were placed in specialized shelters for children or in screened foster homes, or they were returned home when deemed safe. Children remained vulnerable in the protection system; civil society reported care workers were not sufficiently trained to identify child trafficking victims and the level of specialized services children received varied widely by municipality. In June 2021, the government initiated a regional pilot program establishing a coordinator to increase protection for child trafficking victims by increasing victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system and taking measures to avoid victims’ re- traumatization during criminal proceedings. The national rapporteur and civil society agreed the government was actively engaged in addressing the issue of children leaving Dutch asylum centers to unknown destinations, including through law enforcement cooperation via the EMPACT project; the government also established interagency working agreements delineating the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement and government agencies when responding to a case of a missing unaccompanied child.
Thirty-three of the country’s 35 health care regions had a trafficking victim coordinator, the same number as in 2020; the government funded an NGO to assist the two regions without a coordinator. The November 2021 prosecutorial directive instructed prosecutors to take several measures to prioritize victims’ privacy, safety, and health, including limiting the number of interviews and conducting interviews without delay; avoiding visual contact between the victim and suspect; and allowing victims not to testify as a witness during public trials. Although victims could request physical separation from a suspect during court proceedings, observers previously expressed concern that lengthy trials re-traumatized victims. Judges often awarded restitution to victims, and if the perpetrator did not pay the court-ordered amount within eight months, the government assumed responsibility for collecting the payment from the perpetrator. Courts ordered significant restitution awards in several cases in 2021, including a case in which a judge awarded €220,480 ($249,980) to a victim of sex trafficking. Victims could also claim compensation through the Violent Offenses Compensation Fund or by filing a civil suit. As of 2019, victims in the BES islands could also apply for compensation from the Violent Offenses Compensation Fund.
Non-EU victims without legal residency status, who were willing to press charges, were eligible for a short-term residence permit (B-8 permit), valid for a maximum of five years; the B-8 permit allowed non-EU victims to seek employment. If authorities decided to prosecute the suspected trafficker, the victim was eligible to receive permanent B-8 legal residency. The government did not report how many foreign victims applied for the permanent B-8 permit (333 applied in 2018, the most recent year data was available). According to civil society, foreign victims who obtained a B-8 permit but ultimately ceased cooperation with authorities lost their residence permits and consequently all government-sponsored support services. Moreover, some NGOs noted law enforcement could quickly drop a case if it did not immediately find sufficient potential evidence for a successful prosecution, leading to victims potentially being excluded from services. A victim could apply for asylum if their case closed without a conviction or they declined to assist in an investigation. The government did not report the number of potential victims who applied for asylum. A procedure also existed to grant victims residency, separate from B-8 eligibility, in cases where they were seriously threatened or had serious medical or psychological conditions. Authorities worked with civil society to repatriate foreign victims unable to acquire residence permits; the government did not report how many victims were repatriated (approximately 10 in 2020).
The government continued to implement a European Commission “Dublin” regulation of transferring asylum claimants to their original country of asylum registration, including claimants who had potentially been subjected to trafficking in another EU country. Civil society observed this policy led to the deportation of some victims who were in need of support. Authorities noted that when a “Dublin” asylum claimant was returned to a “Dublin” country of origin, Dutch law enforcement shared all investigation data with their counterparts in the country of origin to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of a case. The government extended immigration relief to victims facing deportation or repatriation to countries with a high rate of COVID-19 infections and to victims who could not return to their home countries due to travel restrictions; the government allowed identified victims to stay two to six weeks beyond the three-month reflection period in specialized shelters for trafficking victims or in asylum centers.