The government increased efforts to protect victims. In 2019, the most recent year for which official data was available, the government-funded national victim registration center and assistance coordinator registered 1,334 possible trafficking victims, compared with 668 in 2018. Of these, 849 were victims of sex trafficking, 424 of labor trafficking, including 196 subjected to forced criminality, and 61 of uncategorized trafficking. Children comprised 108 of the victims, compared with 62 in 2018. In 2019, the top five countries of origin of victims were: Nigeria (512), the Netherlands (244), Uganda (91), Poland (83), and The Gambia (49). The police reported identifying 952 victims (530 in 2018); regional health care organizations 252 (91 in 2018); labor inspectors 46 (75 in 2018); border security 10 (12 in 2018); and other organizations identified the remaining victims. Observers stated the increase in the number of identified victims was due to government training efforts, an increased willingness of international victims to self-identify as victims during the asylum process, and improved understanding of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the context of victim identification. Authorities in Bonaire identified two victims in 2020; the government offered services to both victims and granted one special residency status.
During the reporting period, observers reported the GDPR, which required non-law enforcement organizations to obtain consent from the victim before official registration unless a “justified interest” existed, continued to deter some victims from registering. Nevertheless, experts agreed it was not the GDPR itself that caused victims to fear stigmatization as a trafficking victim and withdraw from the victim process, but rather the strict interpretation of the regulation by many non-law-enforcement organizations out of fear of being non-compliant with EU privacy regulations. Experts stated the GDPR considered providing care to trafficking victims a “justified interest,” and, therefore, the government could provide social services without victim consent. Observers stated many stakeholders began to provide relevant information for victims who required immediate assistance, including medical treatment, and arranged consent with the victim afterward. In November 2020, the MJS published a manual with guidance to stakeholders on the GDPR and reporting potential victims. Additionally, some observers reported an increase in self-identification among asylum-seekers, especially among individuals from Nigeria. An NGO noted, however, that many non-EU third country nationals seeking asylum had difficulty in accessing victim care services. MJS provided awareness training to the Immigration and Naturalization Services to identify potential trafficking indicators among asylum-seekers.
The government funded an extensive network of care facilities for both foreign and domestic victims. The government fully funded three NGO-managed shelters that provided dedicated services for child and adult trafficking victims; the shelters could house 58 shelter victims, including 14 spaces designated for male victims. The government provided €1.44 million ($1.77 million) to the shelters, compared with €600,000 ($736,200) in 2019. All shelters provided medical and psychological care, schooling, language and skills training, and legal assistance; some also provided self-defense classes, and most had facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Local governments also funded shelters for domestic violence victims, which had dedicated space for trafficking victims. The government funded specialized care for up to 36 people in six shelters for trafficking victims who also had a psychological disorder, developmental limitations, or “substance abuse disease.” The government allocated €2 million ($2.45 million) to services for victims requiring specialized care.
Children remained vulnerable in the protection system; civil society reported care workers were not sufficiently trained to identify child trafficking victims. Observers noted children leaving Dutch asylum centers to unknown destinations was a Europe-wide problem that needed to be tackled at the European level. The national rapporteur and civil society agreed the government was actively engaged in addressing this issue, including through law enforcement cooperation via the EMPACT project.
While holding the presidency of the Benelux Union in 2020, the government worked with Belgium and Luxembourg to improve cooperation on victim protection, including by publishing an updated brochure to raise awareness among the public and potential victims about anti-trafficking laws and referral and assistance programs in each of the three countries. Together with Belgium and Hungary, the government continued to administer a project to provide resources for social workers, legal experts, and law enforcement authorities, among others, to increase knowledge of victim referral and assistance mechanisms, particularly for Hungarian victims in the Netherlands and Belgium. In 2019, the government provided funding to Aruba and Curaçao to support the response to arriving Venezuelan migrants, a group vulnerable to trafficking. The governments of Aruba and Curaçao allocated a subset of this funding to anti-trafficking efforts in 2019 and 2020, including awareness campaigns and victim services. However, funding for anti-trafficking efforts in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten remained sporadic and insufficient.
By the end of the reporting period, 33 of the country’s 35 health care regions had a trafficking victim coordinator, and the government funded an NGO to assist the two regions without a coordinator. The government continued funding a website to provide victim identification and referral information to first responders and other professionals who may encounter a victim, and it supported an initiative by victim care organizations to develop best practices for prevention and protection of male victims of sexual exploitation. Although victims could request physical separation from a suspect during court proceedings, observers expressed concern that frequently lengthy trials re-traumatized victims. Judges often awarded restitution to victims, and if the perpetrator did not pay the court-ordered amount within eight months, the government assumed responsibility for collecting the payment from the perpetrator. Authorities reported courts ordered higher restitution awards than was typical in a number of cases in 2020, highlighting a case in which a judge awarded €310,000 ($380,370) to two victims.
The government permitted potential victims to stay in shelter care for a three-month reflection period to begin recovery and decide whether to assist law enforcement. During the reflection period, non-EU victims had access to specialized shelters but could not work. After the reflection period, victims who agreed to assist police could continue to stay in shelters. Non-EU victims willing to press charges were eligible for a short-term residence permit (B-8 permit), valid for a maximum of five years; the B-8 permit allowed non-EU victims to seek employment. If authorities decided to prosecute the suspected trafficker, the victim was eligible to receive permanent B-8 legal residency. The government did not report how many foreign victims applied for the permanent B-8 permit (333 applied in 2018, the most recent year data was available). According to civil society, foreign victims who ceased cooperation with authorities lost their residence permits and consequently all government-sponsored support services. Moreover, some NGOs noted law enforcement could quickly drop a case if it did not immediately find sufficient potential evidence for a successful prosecution, leading to victims potentially being excluded from services. A victim could apply for asylum if their case closed without a conviction or they declined to assist in an investigation. The government did not report the number of potential victims who applied for asylum. A procedure also existed to grant victims residency, separate from B-8 eligibility, in cases where they were seriously threatened or had serious medical or psychological conditions. Authorities worked with civil society to repatriate foreign victims unable to acquire residence permits; an international organization assisted in repatriating approximately 10 victims in 2020. The government continued a policy of transferring Dublin asylum claimants to their original country of asylum registration, including claimants who had potentially been subjected to trafficking in another EU country. Civil society observed this policy led to the deportation of many victims who were in need of support. Authorities noted that when a Dublin asylum claimant was returned to a Dublin country of origin, Dutch law enforcement shared all investigation data with their counterparts in the country of origin to facilitate investigation and prosecution of a case. The government extended immigration relief to victims facing deportation or repatriation to countries with a high rate of COVID-19 infections and to victims who could not return to their home countries due to travel restrictions; the government allowed identified victims to stay two to six weeks beyond the three-month reflection period in specialized shelters for trafficking victims or in asylum centers.