Recently, the US Department of State published its 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The document analyses the state of human trafficking around the world. In its discussion of Bulgaria, Germany and Greece, the TIP report concurs with recommendations that have been put forward by CSD and its partners repeatedly, concerning the need for increased training for legal and law enforcement professionals and greater interagency cooperation to better combat human trafficking in all three countries. CSD’s ongoing work in the field has identified the need to formulate specialised training to equip those working in law enforcement, the judiciary and social services with the skills necessary to handle the unique challenges posed by human trafficking. Governments in the three countries need to implement measures, fostering multi-stakeholder, transnational collaboration and raise awareness of human trafficking.
This year, Bulgaria’s TIP tier rating was lowered to Tier 2 Watch List, meaning that, despite significant efforts, it does not fully meet minimum standards for combatting human trafficking. It also indicates that, while the estimated number of trafficking victims in the country is increasing, anti-trafficking measures are not advancing in proportion.
In 2021, the Bulgarian prosecution service identified 416 trafficking victims. The TIP report suggests that proactive efforts to identify victims were limited. Regarding victim support, bureaucracy involving multiple agencies often complicated the process of victims accessing services. Additionally, members of marginalised groups (such as Roma and migrants), who are especially vulnerable to trafficking, faced additional obstacles relating to prejudice, stigma and distrust.
There was also a decline in the prosecution of human traffickers. In 2021, there were 53 human trafficking investigations (down from 84 in 2019). Of 77 defendants prosecuted, just 27 were convicted. This can be tied to disparities in the awareness of forced labour, human trafficking and victim sensitivity among judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Furthermore, the fact that regional prosecutors’ offices assign cases randomly prevents prosecutors from specialising and developing the specific skills required for human trafficking cases. Another issue identified by the TIP report is corruption. The report notes several cases where trafficking had been enabled by corrupt law enforcement accepting bribes, fearing retaliation or having personal relationships with traffickers.
Although the National Commission for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings has orchestrated several national awareness campaigns, there remains a strong need to expand training for relevant professionals in Bulgaria to help them identify victims and bring traffickers to justice.
Improvements in Germany’s anti-trafficking measures have upgraded the country’s TIP tier rating to Tier 1, meaning it fully meets minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
In 2020, the most recent year for which statistics are available, German law enforcement conducted 325 human trafficking investigations, ultimately convicting 224 suspects (an increase from 195 in 2019). That same year, the government identified 494 trafficking victims.
While various organisations in Germany provide professional training on human trafficking issues, civil society organisations reported a need for more training focusing on forced begging, labour trafficking and forced criminality, and how these issues impact undocumented migrants.
The report also notes that there were not enough professionals specialised in trafficking. While prosecutors working on sex trafficking cases often had prior experience with trafficking victims, labour trafficking cases were typically assigned to those with backgrounds in financial, economic or organised crime.
Germany’s federal system also poses unique challenges. The TIP report emphasises a need for greater cooperation at different levels of government and between states, as criminal prosecution and victim referral procedures differ from state to state. In Germany, as in Bulgaria and Greece, the ERADICATING project will facilitate coordination between stakeholders and close gaps in training.
Greece’s TIP tier rating has remained at Tier 2, as it does not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking though it is making substantial efforts to do so.
In 2021, Greece prosecuted 342 alleged traffickers (up from 16 in 2020) and convicted 116. While the country convicted significantly more traffickers than in the year prior, it identified fewer victims. In 2021, the government identified 130 victims of human trafficking, a decrease from 167 in 2020.
The TIP report highlights gaps in training among relevant professionals, which could contribute to issues regarding victim identification. For example, civil society organisations reported instances of first responders failing to differentiate sex trafficking from commercial sex, allowing victims who came forward to be re-victimised. Lack of training was a particular issue in rural areas.
As in Bulgaria and Germany, tensions between migrants and authorities prevented members of these groups from seeking help. Furthermore, Greek authorities did not normally screen migrants and asylum seekers for signs of trafficking. Corruption was also an issue, with the report noting cases of law enforcement officers being involved in trafficking and other organised crime.
Additional specialised training in Greece would not only help authorities identify and assist victims more effectively, but also enable them to disrupt more trafficking operations and prosecute those responsible.
This blogpost is funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund – Police.