The government maintained protection efforts. The government identified six victims, a decrease compared with 32 victims in 2021, however, similar to nine in 2020, and eight in 2019. Of these, four were sex trafficking victims and two were labor trafficking victims, which included four women, one man, and one boy. All victims were Armenians. The 2014 Law on Identification and Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation prescribed identification, referral, and assistance procedures for relevant actors. Police reported inspecting businesses involved in commercial sex, using checklists to screen individuals in commercial sex, and training officers on trafficking indicators; the government did not report the number of inspections, nor did it identify any victims through these efforts. The government, in cooperation with an NGO, developed screening indicators for the State Migration Service (SMS) to help identify victims in migration flows. In 2021, the government developed screening indicators for social workers and adopted procedures to identify child victims among children not enrolled in school. Experts continued to report officials did not proactively identify victims and instead relied on victims to self-identify. Observers continued to note first responders did not consistently screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators, particularly individuals in commercial sex and foreign migrant workers. The criminal procedural changes decreased police’s involvement in investigations, which likely exacerbated the lack of efforts to proactively identify victims. The government, in cooperation with an NGO, trained health and labor inspectors, social workers, and staff from SMS on victim identification.
The government provided temporary shelter, emergency medical services, and psychological aid to potential trafficking victims during the “pre-identification stage,” a stage where the government collected information on a potential victim within a maximum of 10 days. The VIC, which consists of representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), OPG, police, and NGOs, officially recognized victims based on information collected during the “pre-identification stage;” the VIC met three times. In 2021, NGOs reported one case involving 15 victims they assessed did not fully meet the definition of trafficking, while government representatives on the VIC reported it met the definition and overruled their assessment. The case involved an alleged perpetrator that threatened to hurt family members of individuals detained or missing in the 2020 hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh, unless the victims sent nude photos and videos. A judge convicted the offender under the trafficking article, but the case was under review by an appeals court. The government issued a circular with standardized indicators in October 2022 for the VIC to assess potential victims. Experts reported establishing standardized indicators was a positive step, but VIC civil society members were not consulted in the process, which resulted in some unrealistic indicators. The government also amended procedures to allow all governmental organizations and NGOs to refer potential victims to the VIC. Civil society reported the referral procedures functioned well in 2022, and they had positive cooperation with the government.
The government allocated approximately 28 million drams ($70,000) for victim protection efforts, including operation costs for an NGO-run shelter, a decrease compared with 40 million drams ($100,000) in 2021. The government issued a decree that provided minimum standards for victim assistance but did not solicit input from civil society on many of the standards. Experts reported the standards were reasonable, but some were not always applicable to trafficking victims. For example, minimum standards required a mandatory medical evaluation for victims upon arrival at the shelter, but some victims would not be ready to undergo such examinations. The government and local NGOs jointly provided legal, medical, and psycho-social support; housing; a one-time monetary compensation of 250,000 drams ($625); and access to social, educational, and employment projects. The government allowed legal guardians of child victims to also receive the one-time monetary compensation. The government maintained a cooperation agreement and partially funded one specialized NGO-run shelter to provide services to victims; the NGO-run shelter assisted six victims, including free health care for three victims and provided the one-time monetary compensation for two victims. The NGO-run shelter required adult victims to notify staff when they left shelters unescorted, but victims were free to leave if they no longer wanted assistance. In addition, the NGO-run shelter provided male victims with separate rooms or rented apartments, but there were no male victims in need of shelter in 2022 and 2021. The government provided assistance in job placement and vocational training classes for victims, but civil society continued to provide the bulk of reintegration and long-term support services without government funding. In addition, the government did not include trafficking victims in the list of vulnerable people eligible for state housing. The NGO-run shelter and childcare institutions had the capacity to accommodate child victims. The government allocated funds for repatriation in 2020 for the first time, although no victims required repatriation in 2022 and 2021. The government provided foreign victims the same services as Armenian victims. The law entitled foreign victims to a 30-day reflection period in which victims could recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. The law also entitled foreign victims to receive a permanent residence permit; no foreign victim required a permit in 2022 and 2021.
Due to a lack of consistent identification procedures, authorities may have detained and deported individuals in commercial sex and foreign migrant workers who were unidentified victims. According to experts, law enforcement officers in some remote areas may have lacked information and training to inform victims of their rights to protection or assistance. Victims hesitated to assist in prosecutions because of a lack of confidentiality in public testimonies, creating a fear of retaliation from traffickers and stigmatization from their families and communities. Authorities did not fully protect victims’ rights during court proceedings, and victims, including children, appeared in front of the traffickers in court, which may have caused re-traumatization. The government continued to lack a formal victim-witness assistance program. The Criminal Procedure Code and a 2016 decree mandated some victim-witness assistance measures, but none were used in 2022 and 2021. Prosecutors did not request restitution in criminal proceedings and recommended victims file civil suits for compensation; one victim filed a civil suit for compensation. In previous years, judges did not issue damages in civil suits, asserting that victims did not substantiate the financial damages they had suffered. The law allowed investigators to place defendants’ property in custody to fund potential civil claims, but this rarely occurred in practice.