PORTUGAL (Tier 2)

The Government of Portugal 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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Portugal remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying and assisting more presumed trafficking victims, increasing funding for victim assistance, and prosecuting slightly more suspected traffickers. Law enforcement continued participating in international investigations and operations, which resulted in the identification of several potential victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. While the government did not provide full sentencing data, of the available data, judges issued lenient sentences resulting in at least 71 percent of convicted traffickers receiving fully suspended sentences or fines, which 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. For the third consecutive year, the government did not identify any victims among the asylum-seeking population because of ongoing gaps in victim identification and the number of confirmed victims continued to decrease significantly. The government also did not provide compensation to any trafficking victims in 2021 and restitution remained rare.

  • Improve efforts to proactively identify victims within the country, including Portuguese nationals, children, sex trafficking victims, and victims within the asylum-seeking population, by systematically training government officials, particularly immigration police, labor inspectors, and law enforcement, on proactive victim identification among vulnerable groups.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Increase trafficking survivor access to damages and compensation and increase prosecutors’ efforts to systematically request restitution for survivors during criminal trials, including by training prosecutors and magistrates on victims’ right to restitution.
  • Allow formal victim identification and referral from entities other than the police, including civil society, social workers, and health care professionals.
  • Ensure law enforcement cooperation is not a requirement for formal victim identification.
  • Increase efforts to implement strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies that are consistently enforced by investigating fraudulent labor recruitment and ensuring cases with indicators of labor trafficking are prosecuted under the trafficking statute.
  • Allocate additional resources and capacity for labor inspectors to detect labor trafficking.
  • Increase efforts to enforce the law prohibiting recruitment fees charged to workers and ensure any recruitment fees are paid by employers.
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Increase survivor input when forming policies, programs, and trainings.
  • Increase efforts to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases.

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 160 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Some child sex trafficking crimes could also be prosecuted under Article 175, which addressed “pimping” crimes; it prescribed penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment. Article 159 prohibited slavery and prescribed penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

In 2021, the most recent year available for finalized and published government statistics, the Foreigner and Borders Service (SEF) and Criminal Investigation Police (PJ) initiated 93 human trafficking investigations with an additional 129 ongoing cases from prior years. This was similar to 94 in 2020, but less than 121 in 2019. Prosecutors initiated legal proceedings against 36 suspects in 2021, similar to 34 in 2020, but less than 45 in 2019. Prosecutors also initiated legal proceedings against six legal entities in 2021, an increase compared with less than three in 2020. In 2021, courts convicted 28 traffickers, similar to 24 in 2020, and 26 in 2019. Due to pandemic-related restrictions, courts were closed during parts of 2021. The government did not provide comprehensive data regarding sentences imposed by courts on traffickers that allowed for an accurate assessment of adequate penalties for convicted traffickers; however, based on the data available, it reported that in 2021 judges sentenced at least six traffickers (21.4 percent) to one year or longer imprisonment, while at least 20 traffickers received a fully suspended sentence or a fine (71.4 percent). Lenient sentencing 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. The government did not disaggregate between sex and labor trafficking for prosecutions and convictions. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. Prosecutors noted difficulty in obtaining convictions for labor trafficking cases with an absence of force or violence; courts would often drop the trafficking charge for a lesser charge, which would consequently affect the ability for victims to obtain restitution. In its 2022 report, GRETA expressed concern that the number of prosecutions and convictions was low compared with the number of victims identified and stressed the failure to convict traffickers and the absence of effective, proportionate, and dissuasive penalties undermined efforts to combat trafficking and guarantee victims’ access to justice. GRETA urged the government to increase its efforts to ensure it classified trafficking cases as such and to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases, including the confiscation of traffickers’ assets as compensation for victims.

The government provided guidelines for implementation of the Law on Criminal Policy, including specific guidance for investigating and coordinating trafficking cases, victim interviewing, avoiding victim re-traumatization, and working with vulnerable groups like children and undocumented migrants. SEF had a specialized trafficking unit with nationwide investigation authority, and there were several teams within the PJ who had received special training to investigate trafficking; however, authorities noted that these units lacked sufficient resources. SEF cooperated in three joint action days in 2021, organized by Interpol, with dozens of participating countries, resulting in the identification of at least 1,467 potential victims and arrest of at least 363 suspects across participating countries; however, Portuguese officials did not report identifying any trafficking suspects or victims in Portugal. In 2021, SEF also participated with EUROPOL and dozens of countries in three international operations, resulting in identification of 960 potential victims across all participating countries; in Portugal, law enforcement identified one potential case of trafficking involving 55 potential victims as a result of these operations. SEF screened for potential trafficking victims at the Lisbon airport in 2021, and reported arresting suspected traffickers through this proactive approach. In 2022, the Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings (OTSH), in collaboration with other governmental entities and government-funded civil society organizations, organized and delivered 20 training activities to various law enforcement officials, multidisciplinary teams, health care workers, and social workers; some training topics included child trafficking, the NRM, and victim identification.

The government increased protection efforts. In 2021, authorities and government-funded NGOs initially classified 318 individuals as possible trafficking victims (308 in Portugal, seven abroad, and three unknown); however, authorities only “confirmed” six as trafficking victims after the conclusion of a criminal investigation. This compared with an initial 228 possible victims in 2020. Since 2018, there has been a progressive decrease in the number of “confirmed” trafficking victims – 13 confirmed victims in 2020 and 44 in both 2019 and 2018. Of the six confirmed victims in 2021, four were women, two were men, all were adults, and at least five were labor trafficking victims. Front-line responders, including police and NGOs, could identify and refer presumed victims to services, but only law enforcement officials or the national rapporteur could formally “confirm” an individual as a trafficking victim. Law enforcement officials were the primary body responsible for formal victim confirmation, while identification by the national rapporteur was typically only used in exceptional circumstances. The government reported police, judges, and prosecutors determined whether to confirm a victim by analyzing evidence and the presence of trafficking indicators. However, in its 2022 report, GRETA noted, in practice, formal identification of victims depended on the initiation of an investigation and the outcome of criminal proceedings. GRETA reported there was no timeline for authorities to confirm official victim status; the process depended on the duration of the related prosecution. While presumed victims could receive assistance from government-funded NGOs, such as shelter, the process by which they could obtain some of the same benefits as confirmed victims was not as clear nor timely; for example, under Article 109 of the Law 23/2007, presumed victims could still obtain, though were not entitled to, a residence permit, but the process was complex, and there were additional stipulations. Furthermore, if during legal proceedings, law enforcement re-classified the crime as a non-trafficking crime, victims would remain “presumed” rather than “confirmed”. In its 2013, 2017, and 2022 reports, GRETA urged the government to ensure formal identification of trafficking victims did not depend, in practice, on their cooperation with law enforcement and on the presence of sufficient grounds to initiate a criminal case. In 2021, of the original 318 possible victims, NGOs identified 50 “presumed” victims, while an additional 144 victims with ongoing investigations continued as “presumed” victims, and the remaining victims were determined not to be trafficking victims – this totaled 194 “presumed” victims. Of the 194 presumed victims, at least 161 were presumed victims of labor trafficking (mostly in agriculture), including at least five for forced begging and three for forced criminality; at least eight were presumed sex trafficking victims; at least 22 were Portuguese; and at least 23 were children. Six confirmed victims and 194 presumed victims in 2021 was an overall increase compared with 13 confirmed victims and 92 presumed victims in 2020, and 44 confirmed victims and 130 presumed victims in 2019. However, experts raised concerns regarding gaps in the government’s efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims as the government did not report identifying any victims among the asylum-seeking population – presumed or confirmed – and there were no Portuguese or children among the confirmed victims. Presumed victims were most often from Morocco, Portugal, Romania, and Moldova. In its 2022 report, GRETA noted there were gaps in victim identification in the asylum system due to a lack of knowledge about trafficking indicators among organizations working with undocumented migrants and running reception centers for asylum-seekers and there were no SOPs in place once victims were identified. GRETA recommended the government establish effective identification and referral procedures for applicants for international protection, as well as systematic training for officials interacting with this vulnerable population.

The government continued to utilize its NRM, which was widely used and distributed to all relevant front-line officials, including NGOs, social service workers, and health care workers. The government also continued to utilize its NRM specifically for child trafficking victims. Upon request, the OTSH continued to distribute checklists to front-line officials on identifying victims of sex and labor trafficking, including victims of forced begging and criminality. The government continued to provide a publicly available victim identification handbook to labor inspectors and other front-line officials. Upon encountering a potential victim, law enforcement personnel conducted an initial standardized risk assessment and systematically referred individuals deemed vulnerable or at risk to one of five regional government-funded multidisciplinary NGO teams to receive specialized shelter and assistance. Collaboration between the multidisciplinary NGO teams and the police remained effective. The multidisciplinary NGO teams included psychologists and social workers.

In 2022, the government increased its funding amounts for trafficking shelters, victim repatriation, and the multidisciplinary regional teams to €2 million ($2.14 million); this compared with €1.5 million ($1.60 million) in 2021, 2020, and 2019. Adult victims and their minor children had the right to shelter, health care, psycho-social and legal assistance, translation and interpretation services, a reintegration program, and education and employment training. The government provided 36 presumed victims with assistance and shelter in 2021; of those assisted, eight were Portuguese, 23 were men, 13 were women, 30 were labor trafficking victims, and at least four were sex trafficking victims. This was an increase compared with 23 victims assisted in 2020, but still less than 57 in 2019. Additionally, the government provided long-term care to 18 victims from prior years who remained in government shelters – some from 2014. Thirty victims received psychological assistance and four received medical assistance. Twenty-five victims received legal services, 11 received training and education, and 17 received support with labor market integration in 2021. The government also enrolled four labor trafficking victims in its reintegration program in 2021, which included accommodation in an independent apartment; three victims from prior years also remained in this program. The government had five government-funded NGO-operated shelters exclusively for trafficking victims – two for adult female victims and their minor children, two for adult male victims, and one for children. Adult victims could leave the shelters at will unless authorities determined the victims’ safety was at risk. Child victims received care under Portugal’s child protection system or through its shelter for child trafficking victims, which could accommodate up to seven children.

The government offered victims a recovery and reflection period of 30 to 60 days, during which they could decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement. During the recovery and reflection period, victims were entitled to emergency medical treatment, psychological assistance, protection, interpretation, and legal assistance. The government provided funding to assist victims with voluntary repatriation, which it provided to several victims in 2021. The law also entitled victims to a one-year residence permit if they cooperated with law enforcement or had a personal situation regarding their security, health, family situation, or vulnerability; authorities could renew this permit indefinitely. In 2021, the government issued 18 temporary residence permits to victims (15 to adults and three to children), predominantly for labor trafficking; similar to 20 residence permits issued in 2020. Waiting periods for obtaining a residence permit could be a year or longer, which could result in victims missing important judicial deadlines while waiting. The government reported presumed and confirmed victims had access to services regardless of cooperation with law enforcement; however, civil society noted that outside the recovery and reflection period, access to legal aid, health services, and work permits without a residence permit – which could sometimes take a year to obtain – was particularly challenging for undocumented presumed trafficking victims. In its 2022 report, GRETA urged the government to ensure trafficking victims could benefit, in practice and in a timely manner, from the right to obtain a residence permit.

Courts permitted some crime victims to testify by deposition or video conference, which was required for children. The law entitled victims to psychological assistance during interviews and accompaniment by a trusted person, as well as access to interpreters. The law allowed for the victim’s identity to remain concealed during trial. The government had a comprehensive victim-witness assistance protection program. The government reported informing victims of their rights to legal aid, to claim damages or request compensation, and to interpretation. In its 2022 report, GRETA urged the government to take further steps to ensure all victims, including third-country nationals, could effectively access legal assistance and legal aid at an early stage (as soon as there were reasonable grounds for victim identification) by reviewing the eligibility criteria, and ensuring decisions were made in a timely manner. The government continued to lack comprehensive data on restitution, damages, and compensation awarded to victims, which GRETA recommended the government rectify. Prosecutors were not required to systematically request restitution during trials; the government reported two victims received restitution in 2021. Portuguese law allowed victims to file civil suits against traffickers, but the government reported no victims filed suits during the reporting period. Victims could also seek compensation from the government if the convicted trafficker was unable to pay the awarded damages; however, the government did not provide any such compensation to trafficking victims and GRETA noted this rarely occurred. In its 2022 report, GRETA recommended the government increase its efforts to guarantee effective access to compensation for trafficking victims and increase training on victims’ access to compensation for legal practitioners, prosecutors, and the judiciary. GRETA also reported the lack of a specific provision in Portuguese law protecting victims from being inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked could leave them vulnerable to prosecution. NGOs continued to report instances where the government prosecuted trafficking victims, which resulted in their unwillingness to come forward and cooperate with authorities.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The government’s multi-stakeholder anti-trafficking network, the Support and Protection Network for Victims of Trafficking (RAPVT), met an unknown number of times in 2022 and was led by the national rapporteur on trafficking; RAPVT included representatives from various central and local government agencies and three NGOs. The government’s NAP expired in 2021; authorities reported having a draft NAP (2023-2026) that was in the public consultation process, but did not adopt it by the end of the reporting period. The government continued publishing several annual reports on human trafficking. In 2022, the government launched a national awareness campaign focused on trafficking vulnerabilities of refugees fleeing Ukraine, which included leaflets for distribution, and a government-funded NGO continued a previously launched regional campaign. The government reported participating in trainings provided to foreign governments, including Equatorial Guinea and Cabo Verde.

The government required temporary employment agencies to obtain a license to operate and prohibited them from charging a recruitment or placement fee to workers. Though illegal under Portuguese law, SEF asserted the imposition of recruitment fees still frequently occurred and could increase worker’s vulnerability to debt bondage. Portuguese law criminalized passport withholding and contract switching. Law enforcement noted difficulty in pursuing cases against subcontractors or intermediary companies, particularly in the agricultural sector; subcontractors would often close their business and re-open under another name. The government reported foreign workers were able to change employers without prior government permission, which may have decreased their vulnerability to trafficking. Fraudulent labor recruitment remained a concern, but the government took effective law enforcement steps against several businesses in 2021, including the prosecution and conviction of several traffickers. GRETA noted a need to strengthen monitoring and regulation of temporary employment and recruitment agencies, especially those employing and recruiting domestic workers. Labor inspectors did not have the authority to identify victims, a dedicated budget, or staff to detect labor trafficking cases, but could refer suspected labor trafficking cases to the police. The government reported conducting many labor inspections, but it did not report whether labor inspectors referred any possible trafficking cases to police nor whether any labor trafficking victims were identified as a result. In its 2021 annual report, the government noted labor trafficking and exploitation in the agricultural sector continued to remain a challenge. In its 2022 report, GRETA urged the government to take further measures to prevent and combat labor trafficking by addressing legislative gaps relating to subcontracting companies, strengthening labor inspections, and continuing to raise awareness. Labor inspectors frequently conducted joint inspections with SEF when foreign workers were present, which may have intimidated undocumented victims and created a barrier to the identification of victims.

Each of the five multidisciplinary government-funded NGO teams operated a hotline, available 24 hours a day and in several languages, and the government continued to operate a general hotline for children in danger; however, the government reported receiving 125 trafficking-related calls in 2022, but did not report whether any trafficking victims were identified as a result. Additionally, a government-funded NGO operated a shelter and protection center phone line; however, it did not report further details on victims identified as a result. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Portugal, and traffickers exploit victims from Portugal abroad. The majority of trafficking victims are from India, Moldova, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, and Romania, but victims also originate from West Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America, specifically Brazil. Labor traffickers exploit foreign victims in agriculture, construction, and domestic service; seasonal migrant workers are especially vulnerable. Traffickers transport victims to farms located in the interior of the Alentejo region or western Portugal, where they are comparatively isolated. Cubans working in Portugal may have been forced to work by the Cuban government before the Government of Portugal ended the use of Cuban medical professionals in December 2019. According to an NGO, a Portuguese public institution – indirectly operated by the government – and an international organization funded Cuban workers in Guinea-Bissau who may have been forced to work by the Cuban government; the government confirmed the program ended in 2021. Traffickers often use fraudulent recruitment methods to exploit Portuguese victims in restaurants, agriculture, and domestic service, primarily in Portugal and Spain. Refugees, predominantly women and children, fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, are vulnerable to trafficking. Sex traffickers exploit foreign women and children, mostly from Africa and Eastern Europe, and Portuguese women and children within the country. Traffickers exploit children from Eastern Europe, including Romani children for forced begging and forced criminal activity in Portugal. Authorities report traffickers facilitate the transfer of asylum-seeking women and children, many from West Africa, to Portugal; traffickers obtain false documents before moving them to other European countries for sex trafficking. Sub-Saharan trafficking networks sometimes use Portugal as a route into the Schengen area to exploit children for both sex trafficking and forced labor. Labor traffickers sometimes exploit soccer players through fraudulent recruitment; these victims are often children and young adults, primarily from South America and Africa.

U.S. Department of State

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