The government maintained victim protection efforts. In 2021, the GEA regional coordinators identified 481 potential victims (244 sex trafficking, 189 labor trafficking, 47 unspecified, one forced military service), an increase from 320 in 2020 and 404 in 2019. Of the 481 potential victims, 53 were children, and one was a Swedish citizen. Separately, the Migration Agency maintained statistics on identified victims; double counting likely occurred across agencies. In 2021, the Migration Agency identified 261 potential trafficking victims among asylum-seekers, a decrease from 366 in 2020. Of the 261 potential victims, 21 were children—a significant decrease (more than 50 percent) from 48 in 2020. Experts noted the police did not proactively identify potential victims among unaccompanied children and expressed concern that the number of reported cases misrepresented the real scale of child trafficking in Sweden. Authorities and frontline professionals utilized the existing NRM to identify victims and refer them to protection services. However, only authorities involved in legal investigations, such as police, could officially identify trafficking victims. NGOs asserted the police needed further training on identifying potential victims and on the subsequent implementation of victim protection services. In 2021, the GEA funded and collaborated with an organization to digitize the NRM, develop a manual with relevant information for authorities and frontline professionals, and improve processes to identify victims and apprehend traffickers by outlining responsibilities of each authority throughout the various phases of the case process and training frontline professionals on recognizing trafficking indicators and responding accordingly.
Municipalities, in collaboration with NGOs and other government agencies, were the primary providers of victim services, including medical and psychological care, shelter, and social assistance. While undocumented migrants, who made up the vast majority of identified victims, could obtain emergency medical care, additional assistance opportunities to victims and their families through municipalities were conditional on victims cooperating with authorities. Municipalities funded assistance and appropriate services, and the government subsequently reimbursed the expenses. However, statistics on the costs incurred by the municipalities were unavailable. Although the country lacked shelters dedicated solely to trafficking victims, some municipalities ran shelters offering services to sex trafficking victims. Adult female trafficking victims could receive services at women’s shelters for victims of domestic and honor-related violence. Authorities referred child victims to social services officials, who placed them in foster care or group housing. There was no separate dedicated protected housing available solely for male trafficking victims, but male trafficking victims were eligible for group protected housing. The GEA led a network of approximately 40 NGO-run safe houses. NGOs reported insufficient funding and the pandemic hindered the ability to assist victims. Furthermore, social distancing protocols to contain the spread of the pandemic contributed to victims staying at shelters for longer periods than anticipated, thereby unintentionally preventing other victims from receiving accommodation when shelters had reached maximum capacity. In 2021, the government allocated 13 million Swedish krona (SEK) ($1.44 million) to strengthen the GEA’s efforts to combat trafficking, including for regional coordinators, an international organization’s return program, and the national support program (NSP)—a civil society platform representing 20 NGOs that provided assistance to victims. The NSP offered the only effective unconditional assistance provided to victims and complemented the support services offered under the NRM. The program focused on victims who in their current state did not have a right to assistance through the formal system and provided a 30-day reflection period to encourage victims to report crimes to police. Over the years, funding for the NSP fluctuated—2.04 million SEK ($226,040) in 2021, 2.1 million SEK ($232,690) in 2020; zero in 2019; 800,000 SEK ($88,640) in 2018; and zero in 2017. NGOs criticized the government for providing inadequate funds to the NSP to comply with obligations and demand.
The Aliens Act entitled foreign victims to a 30-day reflection period to contemplate cooperation with law enforcement, during which they were eligible for assistance and emergency financial aid; however, only an investigating police officer or prosecutor could file an application for residence permits, limiting availability to victims already in contact with law enforcement. In an effort to ensure availability of adequate assistance and opportunity for recovery to all foreign victims regardless of their cooperation with authorities, the government proposed allowing additional government actors, including municipal social services, to apply for residence permits on behalf of victims. Pending parliament’s approval, the government projected implementation in 2023. Foreign victims who cooperated with authorities received temporary residence permits, which allowed them to seek employment; 63 trafficking victims received permits in 2021 (60 in 2020). The government assigned a legal representative to provide victims with support and assistance throughout criminal proceedings. However, legal aid was only available to individuals whose annual income did not exceed 260,000 SEK ($28,810) and did not already have insurance that covered the dispute in question. Swedish law entitled trafficking victims to request restitution from traffickers as part of criminal proceedings as well as file civil suits for financial compensation. In 2021, six victims received 469,704 SEK ($52,040) in restitution, compared with 10 victims who received 773,505 SEK ($85,710) in 2020.
In response to the inflow of refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the government established protocols to screen for potential trafficking victims on public transportation and developed a manual for border police including information on temporary residency, victim assistance, recognizing trafficking indicators, and identifying potential victims. Additionally, the police and the national rapporteur produced pamphlets in English and Ukrainian with information on recognizing and reporting suspicious individuals and criminal behavior to the police. Authorities distributed the pamphlets at all border crossings, ferries, airports, and train stations. Furthermore, the GEA provided 4 million SEK ($443,210) for mitigating trafficking risks among those fleeing Ukraine. In April 2022, NGOs and police identified sex trafficking victims among Ukrainian women, who upon arriving in Sweden were exploited in commercial sex. Authorities initiated a preliminary investigation into one potential sex trafficking case and filed four additional reports for potential trafficking-related crimes. The Migration Agency expressed concern about potential trafficking cases among a small number of Ukrainian children, who arrived in Sweden with guardians other than their parents; in some cases, the guardian certificates could not be confirmed. The agency also expressed concern about some women arriving alone and women with children, who left their agency-assigned accommodation without providing any contact details or information. According to the agency, nearly 25,000 Ukrainian citizens applied for temporary protection as of March 2022; the Migration Agency approved more than 10,000 temporary residence permits for Ukrainians, including 120 unaccompanied children, and processed the remaining 15,000 applicants. To meet the immediate needs for incoming refugees, the government converted sports halls and vacant hotels into temporary housing and provided 2,000 SEK ($222) per month to Ukrainian refugees along with the right to employment and education. Children could receive full medical care, while adults could access medical care for urgent needs.