The government increased victim protection efforts. The government identified 48 victims, compared with seven victims in 2020; 40 were victims of forced labor, two of sex trafficking, two were victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, and four were victims of forced labor through forced marriage. Of these, 36 were men, six were women, five were girls, and one was a boy; 39 were victims from Taiwan and one from Russia. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) maintained mobile teams composed of social workers, law enforcement officers, NGO staff, and psychologists in five regions to detect and identify vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. In August 2021, the government reactivated the mobile teams after allocating the teams’ resources to pandemic response efforts in 2020. From August 2021 to January 2022, mobile teams assisted 260 vulnerable people (362 children who were homeless or used the streets as a source of livelihood in 2020), including 68 potential trafficking victims (six potential victims in 2020). Mobile teams identified the majority of potential victims every year, and experts viewed the teams as a best practice in proactive identification and cooperation between civil society and government; however, the government did not dedicate specific funding to the mobile teams causing the sustainability of the mobile teams to remain in doubt. MLSP continued to dispatch social workers to screen vulnerable populations at border crossings and transit centers, and MLSP social workers and police continued to identify potential forced labor victims among predominately Romani children engaged in begging and street vending. Police, in cooperation with labor inspectors, conducted 32 inspections and identified two trafficking victims and one potential victim. Government and civil society actors continued to raise concerns that some government agencies lacked coordination mechanisms to ensure proactive identification efforts. For example, local police did not consistently screen for indicators during raids in casinos, nightclubs, and bars. Similarly, some border agents did not consistently screen for trafficking indicators at border crossings, and reports continued to document some police abuse of migrants and authorities conducting illegal pushbacks to Greece. The government maintained SOPs for the identification and referral of victims, and the Office of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) within MLSP remained responsible for coordinating the identification and referral procedures. First responders referred potential victims to the Anti-Trafficking Unit and/or the NRM, which had authority to officially identify victims. NRM officials and social workers participated in interviews with potential victims, but law enforcement did not consistently include NRM officials and social workers at the outset of identifying potential trafficking cases.
The government allocated 1.2 million denars ($22,180) to the MOI for protection and security of trafficking victims, particularly those staying at the shelter for trafficking victims, a decrease compared with 1.76 million denars ($32,390) in 2020. However, in 2021 the government also allocated 480,000 denars (8,850) to MLSP for social services, NGO activities, mobile teams, and other types of victim protection efforts—funds the government previously diverted in 2020 to pandemic response efforts. The government also provided 465,984 denars ($8,590) for direct victim assistance at the shelter for trafficking victims, compared with 810,000 denars ($14,940) in 2020; however, this covered only a small percentage of the shelter’s operating expenses, and the shelter relied heavily on funding from the international community to continue operations. The government and NGOs provided potential and officially recognized victims with protection and assistance, including food, clothing, medical assistance, psycho-social support, legal assistance, and reintegration services. In 2021, 10 official and potential victims received support (14 in 2020), including medical assistance for three victims with COVID-19. MLSP assigned a guardian from a social welfare center to victims while they were at the shelter, and MLSP-run social service centers maintained one social worker at each of the 30 centers that offer assistance to trafficking victims, including psycho-social support, reintegration assistance, education, and job placement; social service centers helped five victims enroll into school and assisted five families of victims with food and hygiene. The government did not provide specialized assistance for adult male victims. The government donated personal protective equipment and disinfectants to the shelter and accommodated victims in temporary housing while awaiting COVID-19 test results. The shelter for trafficking victims accommodated female and child victims with the capacity to house six victims, but the government did not have additional capacity to accommodate victims if the shelter was full, and it lacked longer-term housing options. The government placed identified Romani child victims in daycare centers and warned or fined their parents; in cases where courts deemed parents unfit to care for their children, the state placed the children in orphanages. In 2018, the government amended legislation to accommodate domestic and foreign potential trafficking victims at the shelter; however, the transit center continued to accommodate most foreign potential victims. The shelter allowed victims freedom of movement, but the transit center did not permit foreign potential victims to leave without a temporary residence permit. In 2021, the shelter housed four victims and three potential victims (five victims in 2020), and the transit center housed 39 foreign victims (none in 2020).
Due to a lack of consistent screening efforts, authorities likely arrested, detained, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims. For example, local police detained individuals in commercial sex without screening for trafficking indicators or notifying the task force, according to experts and government officials, who also reported local police deported foreign potential victims before their two-month reflection period expired. The law permitted foreign victims a two-month reflection period to decide whether to testify against their traffickers, followed by a six-month temporary residence permit, regardless of whether they testify; no foreign victims requested residence permits in 2021. The law provided witness protection, legal aid, and 24-hour police protection; no victims required witness protection services in 2021 and 2020. In practice, courts required victims, who were voluntarily cooperating with proceedings, to remain in North Macedonia until they testified in court. However, prosecutors, with the consent of the defense, had authority to make exceptions and allow a victim to leave the country prior to testifying in court, upon giving testimony before a prosecutor, and in some cases, before a pre-trial procedure judge; two child victims testified against their alleged traffickers before a prosecutor (six victims in 2020). Prosecutors protected the identities of the two child victims and recorded the testimony in private to prevent the need to testify multiple times. Courts rarely issued restitution as part of criminal sentences, but a judge issued restitution to one victim for 400,000 denars ($7,380). While victims can claim compensation through civil proceedings, the complexity of the process often dissuaded victims from pursuing action. The government and civil society continued efforts to develop a victim compensation fund, which would allow authorities to allocate compensation to victims from seized criminal assets.