The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government and NGOs identified 38 victims, a decrease compared with 61 victims in 2021. Among the victims, eight were victims of sex trafficking, 21 were victims of forced labor, two were victims of domestic servitude within forced marriages, and seven were victims of an unspecified type of trafficking; there were seven women, two men, 23 girls, and six boys; five victims were foreign nationals. The government updated two bylaws in 2021 which provided SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services, including a list of general indicators, but observers continued to report some first responders did not know or consistently use the guidelines and lacked the knowledge to accurately identify trafficking victims. The government, with financial and technical assistance from an NGO, created five additional mobile teams for a total of six that conducted outreach to vulnerable populations; mobile teams identified 26 potential victims (150 in 2021) and more than 200 vulnerable people, primarily children.
Law enforcement and social workers sometimes justified cases of potential forced child begging and forced child labor involving members of the Romani community as traditional cultural practices and customs and sometimes returned children to their families even when their parents were involved in their exploitation; no cases were reported in 2022, but in 2021, prosecutors returned 16 children to family members who were involved in their exploitation. In previous years, first responders, including Border Police, local police, and the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (SFA), lacked standard guidelines and trafficking indicators for irregular migration flows, interview questions and interpreters, as well as general capacity to screen the large influx of migrants and refugees. However, the government, in cooperation with international organizations and NGOs, continued to train border police and staff from the SFA on identifying victims within irregular migration flows. As a result, authorities identified five trafficking victims within the migrant population accommodated at temporary reception centers, compared with four in 2021 – the first time authorities identified any victims within irregular migration flows. First responders referred potential trafficking victims to law enforcement, which conducted interviews and had authority to officially recognize victims. However, observers reported that the interview and identification procedures lacked transparency and authorities often required victims to cooperate with investigations and prosecutions to receive assistance and support.
In 2021, the government did not disburse funds to NGO-run shelters due to the lack of a state budget stemming from an extended political crisis. In previous years, the government disbursed funds to NGOs based on the number of assisted victims. The government amended the 2022 funding requirements to compensate for the lack of funding in 2021 and allowed all allocated funds to be disbursed regardless of the number of assisted victims. Subsequently, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with seven NGO-run shelters to provide victim assistance and allocated 130,000 convertible marks ($71,040) to the NGO-run shelters through a victim protection fund administered by the State Anti-trafficking Coordinator. The government, in cooperation with NGO-run shelters, provided accommodation, psycho-social support, medical assistance, food and hygiene, and legal assistance. NGO-run shelters had the capacity to accommodate and provide assistance to approximately 200 victims and experts reported quality services; NGO-run shelters assisted 27 victims (56 in 2021). Centers for social welfare also operated seven drop-in centers for children, which provided academic tutoring, food, and laundry services; drop-in centers assisted 587 children (373 in 2021). However, drop-in centers lacked resources, capacity, and staff and could only provide basic food, workshops, and short-term accommodation for a small number of children. While access to care was not standardized and based on bylaws that were not legally binding, the government, in cooperation with an NGO, drafted guidelines and standards on providing assistance to victims, particularly children; the implementation of the guidelines has been pending adoption by the BiH Council of Ministers (COM) since 2021. NGO-run shelters allowed victims from BiH to leave voluntarily after informing the staff and law enforcement, but foreign victims required approval from law enforcement and SFA. NGO-run shelters appointed a guardian for each child victim and provided a separate and dedicated facility. One NGO-run shelter accommodated male trafficking victims but did not offer specialized services. NGO-run shelters reported developing a reintegration plan for each victim, including vocational training, but observers reported victims spent, at times, multiple years at shelters due to slow court proceedings and a lack of reintegration opportunities. The law provided repatriation assistance to BiH citizens identified abroad and foreigners identified in BiH; no victim required repatriation assistance (one in 2021). Foreign victims were eligible for a humanitarian visa allowing them to temporarily live and work in BiH, and victims were permitted a 30-day reflection period to determine whether they wanted to request a visa; no victims required a humanitarian visa (none in 2021).
The government penalized victims for unlawful acts that traffickers compelled them to commit due to inadequate identification efforts. Authorities penalized victims of sex trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality with misdemeanor charges for petty crimes; some victims owed 10,000 to 15,000 convertible marks ($5,470 to $8,200) after receiving multiple fines. The government reported that its SOPs incorporated non-penalization standards, but NGOs reported authorities still occasionally penalized victims due to a lack of familiarity with the SOPs exacerbated by frequent staff rotations and turnover. Sub-state laws against “enticement to prostitution” permitted law enforcement to treat children 14 years and older as juveniles willingly engaging in commercial sex instead of victims of rape or sex trafficking. The law provided witness protection and free legal aid, but lower courts did not possess necessary technical equipment to organize testimonies with adequate protection and confidentiality measures. Additionally, the government relied on NGOs to provide free legal aid but did not disburse funding to the NGOs despite an agreement to do so. The government also operated legal aid centers, but NGOs provided the bulk of the legal assistance to victims in practice. The government did not consistently conduct victim-centered investigations and prosecutions. For example, the government did not require prosecutors to have a certification on how to work with children, and child victims faced their traffickers in the waiting room before they were escorted to the court room, likely causing re-traumatization and/or creating opportunities to threaten and intimidate victims. In previous years, law enforcement often interrogated child victims without a psychologist or social worker present, did not consistently notify victims’ lawyers when conducting interviews, and some courts required victims to testify with no prior notification or preparation. Victims could obtain restitution through criminal proceedings or compensation through civil suits; in 2019, a district court awarded a victim 7,500 convertible marks ($4,100), but the victim has not received the restitution because seized properties and assets of the traffickers went toward the state budget rather than restitution. SPO issued mandatory instructions for prosecutors to request restitution claims for trafficking cases, but judges generally rejected restitution in criminal proceedings and encouraged victims to seek compensation by filing civil suits. Observers reported civil suits that required victims to submit new testimonies and medical examinations – causing re-traumatization – despite the government convicting their trafficker(s) in criminal proceedings.