The government minimally maintained protection efforts. In 2021, the government continued to delay development of a comprehensive countrywide statistical system on trafficking, including victim identification and assistance data, which originally commenced in 2017. Since then, KOM and the MOJ have decided to withhold the number of identified and assisted victims until after a more formal and reliable system is in place. Subsequently, for the fifth consecutive year, the government did not report an official number of victims identified or assisted but noted identifying one potential child trafficking victim (the last reported official statistic was 262 victims identified and assisted in 2016). NGOs reported identifying 82 potential adult victims in 2021; the majority were foreign nationals. Although the government had neither an NRM nor formal identification procedures, authorities utilized informal guidelines to identify and refer potential victims. Despite these guidelines, authorities and NGOs sometimes operated under different criteria for identification and registered potential victims multiple times, leading to inaccurate and duplicative statistics. The government also implemented pandemic-mitigating restrictions, such as lockdowns and border closures, which reduced its ability to identify and refer potential victims to NGOs and other actors that provided assistance; experts noted this impact underscored the need for an NRM. NGOs reported the pandemic intensified the shift toward online commercial sex and made identifying and assisting sex trafficking victims more difficult. Furthermore, experts noted deficiencies in identifying labor trafficking victims, citing the government’s lack of understanding of the demand in certain sectors for forced labor. Experts raised concerns authorities did not screen for trafficking indicators during investigations, further raising concerns authorities did not implement the non-punishment provision and instead penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Experts reported police did not always view criminals as potential victims. In 2021, an NGO identified one trafficking victim in prison, whom authorities released as a result of the NGO’s efforts. During the reporting period, the MOJ and KOM continued to develop an NRM and maintained a working group to facilitate the process, which began in 2018. The working group’s initial proposal received wide criticism from various stakeholders expressing concern the proposed NRM would reduce the reflection period for victims from six months to 45 days, which could result in fewer victims assisting authorities in investigations and authorities deporting more victims while they were still recovering from their abuse. In 2021, the working group submitted a new proposal to the MOJ recommending different NRM models for strategic and operational collaboration, highlighting the pros and cons of implementing each model, and identifying areas of further assessment.
The government provided victim assistance through municipal crisis centers and government-funded NGOs. These NGOs provided foreign and domestic victims with financial, legal, and medical assistance; shelter; psychological care; and Norwegian language classes. In 2021, NGOs reported assisting 82 victims who received accommodation and follow-up support, such as counseling. Parliament allocated 35 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) ($3.99 million) to NGOs specifically for assistance services, the same amount as in 2020. NGOs reported social distancing regulations due to the pandemic dissuaded victims from seeking assistance, particularly sex trafficking victims, for fear that violating those regulations would result in deportation or imprisonment. Civil society reported that when authorities investigated and prosecuted a trafficking crime as another crime, victims were unable to access assistance granted to trafficking victims under Norwegian law. Oslo’s Labor and Social Affairs Department maintained Human Trafficking Support Oslo to assist and support adult victims, including foreign victims in a reflection period and allocated 3 million NOK ($341,760) in 2021, compared with 4 million NOK ($455,680) in 2020. The Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs maintained a coordinating unit for service and assistance to child trafficking victims. The unit worked to improve procedures to identify child victims, provide training and capacity building activities, and support coordination between government authorities. Child Welfare Service was responsible for providing child trafficking victims with assistance; in 2021, it assisted one child victim, compared with zero in 2020. Authorities placed identified child victims in state-run institutions, such as orphanages, or foster care for up to six months. According to officials, authorities did not consistently identify child victims and maintain statistics. An NGO expressed concern statistics did not accurately reflect the number of child trafficking victims. To assist with the identification and investigation of trafficking cases involving children, the government maintained procedures for cooperation among police, immigration authorities, and child welfare authorities. An NGO that provided assistance to individuals in commercial sex ran a program offering training and work experience to trafficking victims through internships.
Victims under a reflection period received legal assistance, health care services, shelter, and other necessary support. In 2021, authorities granted a six-month reflection period to eight victims and limited residence permits of up to 12 months to eight victims, compared with 16 and three in 2020. Authorities granted two possible victims residence permits due to compelling humanitarian considerations (six in 2020) and one permit based on protection status. Observers raised concerns police focused more on an individual’s lack of residence permit or immigration documentation than screening them for trafficking indicators, resulting in the deportation of potential victims. Despite the Directorate of Immigration maintaining written guidelines for the identification and referral of potential victims, a 2021 inspection report criticized authorities for failing to screen immigrants during deportation proceedings and for deporting potential witnesses of trafficking crimes. A public prosecutor also criticized the police for showing more concern with fulfilling deportation quotas than investigating trafficking cases. Furthermore, the continued pandemic-related closure of the Storskog border crossing with Russia in 2021 to anyone seeking protection prevented the screening of trafficking victims along the northern border. The border crossing closed again in 2022 in line with sanctions responding to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine. Sixteen centers provided victims participating in criminal proceedings with guidance and support, including legal advice and assistance applying for compensation. The law entitled trafficking victims to financial compensation from traffickers. In 2021, traffickers paid five victims compensation, totaling 446,000 NOK ($50,810). The law allowed trafficking victims from countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) candidacy for full financial reintegration support to their country of origin. However, NGOs expressed concern that ineligibility for financial support to victims from outside the EEA, such as asylum- seekers who received rejected asylum applications, exposed them to the risk of re-victimization.