The Government of Kosovo does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Kosovo remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting more defendants and convicting more traffickers. The government developed indicators for health workers to identify potential victims and translated pamphlets into Ukrainian and Russian that informed victims of their rights and available services. Anti-trafficking coordinating bodies consistently met, and the government drafted and adopted the Anti-trafficking National Strategy for 2022-2026 and a NAP for implementation between 2022 and 2024. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Judges continued to issue lenient sentences for the majority of convicted traffickers, which were below the minimum penalty prescribed under the trafficking law. The criminal code classified forced begging of children by their parents as parental neglect or abuse rather than trafficking and, because of inadequate identification procedures for forced begging, authorities likely inappropriately deported some unidentified trafficking victims without referring them to appropriate services. The government decreased funds to NGO-run shelters, and hotline operators lacked the capacity to understand and respond to trafficking-related calls, particularly for potential child forced begging cases.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. Article 165 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine for offenses involving adult victims and five to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine for offenses involving child victims. These punishments were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Police investigated 16 new cases with 39 suspects, compared with 17 new cases with 43 suspects in 2021. Of these, 14 cases with 37 suspects were for sex trafficking and two cases with two suspects were for labor trafficking. Police continued to investigate one case with 19 suspects from previous years. Authorities prosecuted 50 new cases with 79 defendants, an increase compared with 35 new cases with 60 defendants. Of these, 43 cases with 67 defendants were for sex trafficking, four cases with seven defendants were for labor trafficking, and three cases with five defendants for unspecified forms of trafficking. Authorities continued to prosecute 30 cases with 45 defendants from previous years. Courts convicted 14 traffickers, an increase compared with seven traffickers in 2021; six for sex trafficking and eight for unspecified forms of trafficking. Judges continued to issue sentences below the minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. While a judge sentenced one trafficker to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine, eleven traffickers received sentences between one and three years’ imprisonment with a fine, and two traffickers received only a fine. Sentences below minimum penalties and of fines alone undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, weakened deterrence, created potential security and safety concerns for victims, and was not equal to the seriousness of the crime. Courts did not reduce the overall backlog of trafficking cases; 57 cases remained open from previous years, compared with 70 in 2021. Police also investigated 16 additional suspects for “utilizing sexual services from a trafficking victim,” compared with seven suspects in 2021. The Prosecution prosecuted 138 and convicted 20 perpetrators who “utilized sexual services from a trafficking victim,” compared with none in 2021.
The Trafficking in Human Beings Directorate (THBD) of the Kosovo Police (KP) investigated all trafficking cases through its eight regional units, and it also maintained a unit in the predominantly ethnic Serb northern municipalities. The Office of the State Prosecutor (OSP) continued to designate a special coordinator for trafficking cases and maintained a trafficking point of contact in all seven basic prosecution offices. The special coordinator for trafficking monitored cases, provided guidance, participated in the anti-trafficking law enforcement task force, and organized trainings and workshops. The THBD cooperated with the Labor Inspectorate, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Tax Administration to conduct 194 joint inspections of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and massage parlors (168 in 2021), which led to the closure of 74 premises (55 in 2021).GRETA and other observers reported a lack of training and experience among most prosecutors and judges resulted in weak sentences or cases charged as a lesser crime, especially in labor trafficking cases or cases involving emotional control or psychological coercion of a victim. The government maintained institutionalized training programs at the Justice Academy, and the OSP trained prosecutors, judges, and victims’ advocates on various trafficking issues. The government, in cooperation with international organizations and NGOs, also trained police and social workers. The government exchanged information with foreign governments on 32 trafficking-related cases and worked with Albanian authorities to extradite a suspect to Kosovo. The THBD, OSP, and KP Inspectorate cooperated to investigate government employees potentially complicit in trafficking offenses but did not report any new cases, nor did the government report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.
The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 21 victims, compared with 22 victims in 2021. Of these, 17 were sex trafficking victims, and four were labor trafficking victims; there were six women, one man, and 14 girls; and two were foreign nationals from neighboring countries. First responders used standard indicators to screen vulnerable populations; however, GRETA and other observers reported a lack of guidance and proactive identification efforts for forced begging victims, especially children. The KP and border police continued to classify forced begging of children by their parents as parental neglect or abuse rather than trafficking, stating that, according to Kosovo legislation, children accompanied by their parents did not meet the definition of trafficking. The government, in cooperation with an international organization, developed indicators for health workers to identify potential victims. A multi-disciplinary NRM provided SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services. The NRM required an investigator from the THBD and a victim’s advocate from the Victim’s Assistance and Advocacy Office to convene and assess the victim as at a low, medium, or high risk of danger and to coordinate victim care and placement. The NRM also required a social worker for child victims to participate in the assessment. The government translated pamphlets into Ukrainian and Russian that informed victims of their rights and available services.
The government funded and ran a specialized Interim Security Facility (ISF) to provide services to victims. The government also licensed and partially funded two NGO-run shelters to provide services to victims. The government annually allocated €100,000 ($106,840) to the ISF, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) allocated €40,000 ($42,740) to one NGO-run shelter and €45,000 ($48,080) to the other, a decrease compared with €56,000 ($59,830) and €63,000 ($67,310), respectively, in 2021. The Pristina municipal government provided one of the NGO-run shelters with €16,000 ($17,100), compared with €14,000 ($14,960) in the previous year. For the first time, the Fushe Kosove municipal government also provided the same NGO-run shelter with €3,000 ($3,210). NGO-run shelters reported government funding in 2022 was satisfactory but reported delays in receiving all funds. The three shelters provided legal assistance, medical and psychological services, counseling, education, recreational services, and reintegration support. The ISF temporarily accommodated victims assessed as high risk, such as victims of cases with the trafficker still at-large, victims testifying in court proceedings, or those awaiting repatriation; the ISF assisted 14 victims in 2022 and 2021. Authorities required victims to have a police escort outside the ISF while court proceedings were ongoing and required an approval from a prosecutor and the KP for victims assessed as high risk to permanently leave the ISF. The facility had the capacity to shelter 40 individuals for up to 90 days with separate rooms for females, males, and families. Eleven staff members worked at the ISF, including the director, victim advocates, nurses, and a teacher, but it did not employ an in-house psychologist. The two government-funded, NGO-run shelters accommodated victims assessed as low and medium risk and focused more on reintegration support; the two shelters assisted 25 victims. The CSW appointed case managers who prepared care plans in cooperation with the victim and shelter staff. The CSW provided services to child victims and also acted as legal guardians, but observers reported the CSW did not have enough staff to handle all their responsibilities. Civil society reported good quality of care for victims, but reintegration programs had limited success because of a lack of resources and high overall unemployment.
GRETA reported representatives from the THBD and OSP had a good understanding of the principles surrounding non-penalization of trafficking victims. However, due to a lack of consistent screening and identification procedures for forced begging, authorities likely deported some unidentified trafficking victims. The law entitled foreign national victims to a 90-day reflection period in which victims could recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. Authorities afforded foreign victims the same rights and services as internal victims, and the law entitled foreign victims to a temporary residence permit for at least six months; no foreign victims requested a permit in 2022 or 2021. The government assisted with repatriating two victims (one in 2021). In 2021, the government updated SOPs and required a psychologist and prosecutor attend interviews with victims in addition to a victim advocate and police. The government reported suspected traffickers were not present when victims provided statements, and foreign victims could return to their countries of origin after testifying without waiting for the conclusion of the trial. All 21 victims participated in investigations by providing statements to the THBD, prosecutors, and pre-trial judges (22 in 2021). The law provided witness protection, free legal aid, and confidentiality of a victim’s identify; no victims required witness protection, but, in 2021, the KP reported a municipal official unknowingly provided a victim’s birth certificate to a suspected trafficker. The law allowed judges to grant a victim restitution in criminal cases or to receive compensation from a government-financed compensation program if the victim was unable to obtain restitution from the traffickers; no victims received restitution, but one victim received compensation of €3,500 ($3,740) from the compensation program, compared with no restitution or compensation in 2021.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Authority Against Trafficking in Persons (NAATIP), composed of representatives from eight government ministries, the judiciary, municipal offices, victim advocates, NGOs, and international observers, coordinated interagency efforts; the NAATIP held quarterly meetings in addition to ad hoc meetings and produced quarterly reports. The government drafted and adopted the Anti-Trafficking National Strategy for 2022-2026 and a NAP for implementation between 2022 and 2024. The OSP maintained local multi-disciplinary teams comprising a prosecutor, police, victim advocates, social workers, and shelter representatives to improve coordination on trafficking cases in three regions. The government allocated €8,180 ($8,740) for awareness campaigns and, separately and in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations, organized awareness campaigns targeting the public; religious communities; Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities; and students. In 2021, the government facilitated the participation of a survivor in an awareness campaign who read a letter they had prepared aloud to an audience in lieu of being physically present. The MLSW maintained a legal framework for the registration and licensing of private-sector employers, including foreign employment agencies. The law prohibited agencies from charging recruitment fees, but the government did not report efforts to monitor recruitment agencies. The government-operated hotline for victims of domestic violence and other crimes received 559 calls, including five potential trafficking cases. Observers reported operators lacked the capacity to understand and respond to trafficking-related calls and needed training, particularly for calls concerning potential child forced begging. The government organized awareness campaigns focusing on the demand for commercial sex acts.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Kosovo, and traffickers exploit victims from Kosovo abroad. Criminal networks exploited victims in sex trafficking internally. Many sex trafficking victims in Kosovo are girls, although traffickers also force women from Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and other European countries into sex trafficking. Traffickers recruit women and girls with promises of marriage or employment as dancers and singers and force victims into sex trafficking in private homes and apartments, nightclubs, and massage parlors. Children from Kosovo, Albania, and other neighboring countries are forced to beg within the country. Traffickers subject Kosovans to sex trafficking and forced labor throughout Europe. Marginalized Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities, particularly children, are vulnerable to forced begging and sex trafficking, including by traffickers who are often their parents or relatives. LGBTQI+ persons, migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees also experience a higher risk to trafficking.