The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 10 trafficking victims (seven labor and three sex trafficking) and 32 potential trafficking victims, an increase from one Timorese child sex trafficking victim identified in the previous reporting period. Most victims were Timorese exploited in forced labor abroad. With technical assistance from an international organization, the government finalized and formally adopted SOPs to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care. The government funded the organization to train some law enforcement and immigration officials on the SOPs. According to the SOPs, multiple government and NGO front-line responders could refer a suspected trafficking victim for care, and, upon referral, an interagency group of police, immigration officers, prosecutors, Ministry of Social Services (MSSI) officials, and NGOs coordinates care. The government only provided shelter and services to victims who participated in investigations against their alleged traffickers. MSSI had officers in all 13 districts that continued to work with an NGO to provide GBV and trafficking victims with medical and psychological care, security, and legal assistance. The government referred three sex trafficking victims to NGO shelters, and MSSI provided psycho-social, medical, and reintegration support to the sex trafficking victims and several labor trafficking victims. MSSI allocated $2,500 to support GBV and trafficking victims – a substantial decrease from $5,000 and $10,000 allocated in the previous two years; as in the previous reporting period, MSSI did not report utilizing this funding to assist any trafficking victims. VPU had $8,000 that it could use to provide emergency assistance to trafficking or GBV victims; it did not report using any funds. OPG required trafficking victims to stay in shelters until police and prosecutors secured evidence for law enforcement proceedings. The government did not operate any shelters for trafficking victims. MSSI provided funding to NGOs that cared for GBV and trafficking victims. NGOs reported their GBV shelters were not designed for trafficking victims and had limited capacity. The shelters also could not accommodate males, although NGOs stated they could find other lodging if they identified male victims. Shelters and services were primarily available in Dili and other urban areas; the quality and availability of victim care in rural areas remained lower.
Article 9 of the anti-trafficking law permitted victims to seek compensation for losses and damages incurred through trafficking, courts could order restitution in trafficking cases, the government had a compensation fund that could assist trafficking victims, and Timorese laws authorized the government to provide legal assistance to trafficking victims seeking compensation. The government did not assist any victims through these mechanisms. The government did not report whether any trafficking victims participated in trials against traffickers and received protection services to facilitate their participation. NGOs noted that, despite protections available for victim-witnesses, judges often did not apply them.
The government repatriated seven women labor trafficking victims from the UAE, compared to not identifying or repatriating any Timorese trafficking victims exploited abroad in the previous reporting period. To address emerging reports that scammers recruited young Timorese to take to Portugal with false promises of employment but abandoned them upon arrival, the government allocated $3 million to fund temporary housing for the approximately 5,000 Timorese stranded in Portugal and, in collaboration with an international organization, repatriated approximately 20 people, including those at risk of trafficking. Foreign trafficking victims identified in Timor-Leste could not be repatriated without OPG approval. The government’s policies allowed foreign victims alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution; it did not provide such assistance.
Regulations and guidance accompanying the 2017 anti-trafficking law stated that trafficking victims may not be detained, accused, or judged for having entered or resided illegally in Timor-Leste nor for having perpetrated crimes traffickers compelled them to commit. Neither the government nor civil society partners reported specific cases in which authorities penalized trafficking victims solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. However, due to a lack of training and inadequate screening for trafficking indicators, immigration and law enforcement officials may have detained or deported some unidentified trafficking victims. For example, officials and NGOs reported traffickers coached victims to state they were voluntarily in commercial sex, which officials reported made it difficult for them to identify victims during law enforcement actions. Immigration officials deported approximately 50 Indonesians for visa violations, including 22 women working in bars, hotels, restaurants, and salons. Although officials reported screening for trafficking before deportation, observers countered that only a handful of immigration officials understood trafficking and could adequately screen, and immigration officials did not conduct victim-centered interviews; for example, officials sometimes questioned suspected trafficking victims in the presence of alleged traffickers.