The government increased protection efforts. The government identified 141 victims (14 for sex trafficking, four for slavery-like practices, and 123 for labor trafficking, including four for forced begging), an increase from 94 in 2021, and 82 in 2020, but still less than the 221 victims identified in 2019. The majority of victims identified were foreign national men, including those from Colombia, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Slovakia, Venezuela, and Vietnam. During the reporting period, MOI developed an NRM for the identification and referral of victims to care; at the close of the reporting period, the NRM was awaiting approval by the national anti-trafficking advisory body. The government reported all victims were offered services and/or referred to services by NGOs. Authorities referred 46 victims to care facilities, compared with 61 in 2021. The National Intervention-Consultation Center for Victims of Trafficking (KCIK), run by two government-funded NGOs, provided assistance to 254 potential victims (210 in 2021), including 29 victims of sex trafficking, 171 victims of forced labor (including three for forced begging and one for forced criminality), and 54 victims of other types of exploitation related to trafficking; 99 were female and 155 were male, and 231 were foreign victims. The National Police and Border Guard used SOPs to identify and refer victims; these SOPs included tools to identify child victims and potential victims during the asylum process and a list of vulnerable groups that border guards should screen for trafficking. Additional police and border guards were transferred from other regions of the country to the Polish-Ukrainian border crossings, the main transportation routes, and reception points to provide better protection of refugees from Ukraine, including through use of the SOPs for identification of victims. In response to an influx of third country nationals from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa attempting to cross the border from Belarus, the government issued a regulation in August 2021 permitting the Border Guard to return to Belarus any migrants who crossed the border irregularly. In October 2021, the government legalized the practice of these “pushbacks,” allowing the government to withhold international protection for asylum-seekers; experts expressed concern this law violated asylum seekers’ right to protection and authorities may have deported unidentified trafficking victims. During the reporting year, the pushbacks continued, although the Border Guard reported identifying two potential trafficking victims at the Poland-Belarus border. Police and prosecutors had previously acknowledged that authorities lacked the expertise to identify forced labor and child victims, particularly among unaccompanied children.
Although three regional labor inspection offices carried out inspections in response to complaints of potential human trafficking, as in the previous four years, labor inspectors did not identify any victims in 2022. Experts previously noted labor inspectors’ challenges in determining whether an offense constituted a violation of workers’ rights or forced labor. The National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) continued to distribute SOPs for labor inspectors on the identification and referral of labor trafficking victims to all regional labor inspection offices. The Ministry of Family and Social Policy (MFSP) conducted two training sessions for social workers focused on the identification of trafficking victims, crisis intervention, and cooperation with other institutions on victim protection. Civil society representatives reported effective cooperation with the national police and Border Guard on victim referral procedures during the reporting period.
KCIK provided Polish and foreign national adult and child victims with medical and psychological care, shelter, legal counseling, welfare support, reintegration services, and referrals to orphanages and foster care for child victims. Non-governmental experts expressed concern the national system for child victim assistance did not properly address the needs of unaccompanied children, and noted the government placed unaccompanied child victims in foster families or orphanages unprepared to assist child victims. KCIK operated two shelters for adult female victims, including one for women with children and a small shelter for men, and it rented apartments for victims who did not prefer shelters. The government allowed victims to seek employment and work while receiving assistance and to leave the shelters at will and unchaperoned; shelters and housing were available for victims with disabilities. Experts noted shelter capacity for male victims was insufficient given the increasing number of male labor trafficking victims. The government provided specialized shelter and housing to 61 victims in 2022 (54 in 2021). Victims also could receive general assistance (social, medical, psychological, and legal) in 167 crisis intervention centers operated and funded by local governments, 16 of which maintained staff trained on assisting trafficking victims; KCIK arranged accommodations for 96 victims using crisis centers and other locations (65 in 2021).
The government allocated the same amount in 2022 as since 2015, 1.1 million zloty ($251,140), to two NGOs that run KCIK for victim services. All non-European Economic Area (EEA) victims were entitled to social welfare benefits, including crisis intervention assistance, shelter, meals, necessary clothing, and financial assistance. Victims from the EEA had access to the full scope of welfare benefits offered to Polish citizens if they could prove habitual residency. NGOs had previously reported some victims, particularly from Romania and Bulgaria, were unable to prove this through the required documentation. Legislation went into effect in January 2021 allowing law enforcement to issue certificates to potential victims from EEA countries, facilitating their access to welfare benefits; in 2022, KCIK provided assistance to five EEA nationals (three Slovakians, one Lithuanian, and one from Czech Republic), compared with 13 in 2022.
Authorities reported screening individuals in vulnerable populations, including individuals in commercial sex and migrants, during law enforcement operations. Foreign victims were entitled to a three-month reflection period, during which they could stay legally in Poland to decide whether to assist in the criminal process; 109 victims used this benefit in 2022, compared with 61 in 2021. Foreign victims were eligible for a residence permit – valid for up to three years – which entitled them to work, and could apply for permanent residency, though both benefits were contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement; authorities granted residence permits to 21 foreign victims in 2022, compared with 16 in 2021. The government coordinated with an international organization to repatriate 48 foreign victims (15 in 2021). Polish law permitted victims to provide testimony via video or written statements; audio-video recording of testimony was obligatory for victims younger than 15 years of age and for victims of sexual crimes, including sex trafficking. A government-funded NGO provided legal assistance to 128 victims in 2022. However, experts noted law enforcement and prosecutorial interview techniques lacked a trauma-informed approach, hindering opportunities to build rapport with traumatized victims, who then were less likely to provide reliable testimony. NGOs reported judges interviewed children and did not receive training on child-friendly, victim-centered, or trauma-informed interviewing techniques, which re-traumatized victims. The National Prosecutor’s Office reported the courts did not award restitution in 2022 or 2021, compared with one case in 2020. Victims also could receive compensation in civil suits; the government reported no compensation was awarded to trafficking victims in 2022.