The government decreased victim protection efforts. While civil society asserted that the pandemic caused a shift in government priorities and resources away from human trafficking, civil society also noted that low prioritization of victim identification occurred prior to the pandemic. For the third consecutive year, authorities reported identifying fewer total victims, the fewest since 2015. In 2020, cantonal authorities reported identifying 117 victims (150 in 2019 and 170 in 2018). Under article 182, authorities identified 53 human trafficking victims but did not sufficiently disaggregate data between sex and labor trafficking; a decrease compared with 83 human trafficking victims identified in 2019. Under article 195, authorities reported identifying 64 victims; however, this was a broader statistic that included victims of sex trafficking but may have also included victims of sexual exploitation; this compared with 67 victims in 2019 and 106 in 2018. The government did not report identifying labor trafficking victims, as it did not adequately disaggregate data. Of the trafficking victims identified by the government in 2020, eight were children, 15 were Swiss, 11 were male, and 106 were female. The federal government continued to lack national standard victim identification and referral procedures across cantons; however, it continued to distribute and update a previously updated victim identification checklist. NGOs expressed concerns that officials prioritized the identification of sex trafficking victims over labor trafficking, although the majority of the victims NGOs separately identified and assisted were labor trafficking victims. The Zurich police reported training an unknown number of NGOs on the identification of sex trafficking victims. Victim care varied across the cantons, and civil society continued to criticize the absence of a national victim protection program to ensure uniformity in victim assistance across the country. Cantonal authorities maintained jurisdiction on providing protection for victims, and trafficking victims were entitled to utilizing free and immediate assistance centers that varied from canton to canton. Eighteen of 26 cantons had roundtables, which functioned as victim referral mechanisms; roundtables included police, prosecutors, and NGOs. NGOs highlighted that eight cantons remained without roundtables for victim identification and referral. FSMM reported holding 15 cantonal roundtables to improve cantonal interaction and coordination on anti-trafficking measures in 2020. Victim assistance was available in at least 24 out of the 26 cantons, providing a wide-ranging network of care facilities mainly tailored to the needs of women and children; however, trafficking specific services varied from canton to canton. At least 13 cantons maintained referral agreements with NGO-operated victim assistance facilities that specialized in trafficking.
The Swiss Victim Assistance Law entitled all adult trafficking victims access to the government-funded women’s shelters or assistance centers for victims of abuse and to special safeguards during criminal proceedings; however, the government did not report how many trafficking victims received shelter or special safeguards during the reporting period. At least four government-funded and NGO-operated shelters continued to provide specialized assistance for victims of trafficking, two of which provided services to children. However, according to GRETA and civil society, the government did not have specialized shelters or assistance for child victims of trafficking, nor did it have standardized identification procedures for children. With the noted variances, most cantons generally provided victims with a minimum of four weeks of emergency lodging and living allowance, several hours of consultations with a lawyer, mental health counseling and medical treatment, transportation, and translation services. If recovery required more time, the victim assistance law obligated the government to assume the additional cost of longer-term care. Victims had free movement in and out of shelters. While victim assistance was not dependent on cooperation with law enforcement, some NGOs asserted that authorities sometimes used victim penalization to pressure victims into cooperating with law enforcement. In 2020, the government granted 506,960 Swiss francs ($575,440) to seven NGOs for victim assistance, as well as 63,240 Swiss francs ($71,780) to two NGOs for prevention and public awareness projects for 2021; an increase compared with 453,290 Swiss francs ($514,520) granted in 2019 for 2020.
Government-funded NGOs provided assistance to 184 trafficking victims in 2020, an increase compared with 169 trafficking victims assisted in 2019. Additionally, the government provided government-funded trafficking-specific counseling for 85 potential sex trafficking victims in 2019, compared with 306 victims in 2018. Many NGOs reported assisting fewer victims in 2020, which could have been due to pandemic-related restrictions, resulting in victim isolation and limited access to victims by NGOs and authorities; NGOs also reported difficulty in obtaining the necessary government documents to help victims due to the closure of government offices. A variety of sources referred victims to NGO services, including other NGOs, government-operated counseling centers, government offices, foreign consulates, police and judicial authorities, health care sector employees, lawyers, and family. Civil society stated services for labor trafficking victims were limited, and the government lacked case management resources for victims in the asylum system. According to NGOs, services for child and male victims were inadequate, especially counseling and victim referral resources. The government provided male victims temporary shelter in hotels or government-funded NGO-operated shelters in at least five cantons. The government had a witness protection program that trafficking victims could utilize, but the government did not report providing this protection to any victims during the reporting period.
The government also facilitated additional assistance to foreign victims of trafficking, which included financial support and residence permits; however, authorities granted few long-term residence permits and instead provided victims with repatriation assistance to help them return home. In 2020, the government provided repatriation assistance to 17 victims, compared with 27 in 2019, and provided 67,000 Swiss francs ($76,050) to an international organization for repatriation assistance in 2020. Cantonal immigration authorities were required to grant victims a minimum 30-day reflection period to decide whether to participate in judicial proceedings against their traffickers, but longer stays generally required cooperation with law enforcement. Foreign victims who were willing to cooperate with law enforcement could be granted a six-month residence permit, renewable for the duration of the investigation and criminal proceedings, after which, victims were required to depart the country. NGOs stated that victims who gave unclear statements to law enforcement due to trauma suffered were often denied residence permits.
The government could also grant short-term residence permits based on hardship that victims might face upon return to their country of origin, but the application of this benefit varied by canton. In 2020, the government granted 37 individuals reflection periods, 62 short-term residence permits, and 15 hardship-based residence permits (compared with 52 reflection periods, 71 short-term residence permits, and 14 hardship-based residence permits in 2019). In 2020, the government did not report the number of trafficking victims that were granted refugee status or temporary admission; compared with three granted refugee status and 13 granted temporary admission in 2019. Authorities continued to note the growing number of trafficking victims among asylum-seekers during the reporting period. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) did not report the exact number of victims undergoing the asylum process in 2020, compared with 73 in 2019. The government reported that the majority of trafficking victims were identified during the asylum procedure; NGOs stated that implementation of the 2019 asylum law which ensured early access to legal aid increased successful victim identification. However, civil society criticized the government for not systematically referring foreign victims to services once identified and often shifting responsibility to the legal advisor. The victim’s legal advisor could refer victims to NGOs for assistance, but the government did not offer financial support for victim assistance, according to an NGO. The government’s border police screened newly arrived asylum-seekers alone to eliminate the potential influence of traffickers operating within migrant camps, and specialists at SEM ensured identification and coordination practices remained consistent across the federal asylum reception centers. However, NGOs and GRETA continued to report asylum accommodations and psychological counseling in asylum centers were inappropriate and insufficient for assisting victims. Victim services were only available to victims who experienced trafficking within Switzerland; asylum-seekers remained vulnerable as they could be deported back to their first country of EU entrance without first receiving victim protection. GRETA noted cantons often did not transfer victims detected in the asylum system to specialized trafficking victim support centers because of financial constraints and instead continued to host them in asylum centers. GRETA also noted the lack of adequate accommodation and supervision for unaccompanied children, and lack of a systematic approach; GRETA urged the government to address these issues in its 2019 report. In response to the pandemic and to prevent delays in application processing, the government reduced the number of people participating in asylum application interviews, enhanced sanitation and reconfigured interview rooms to reduce exposure and transmission, extended deportation deadlines, and added up to 600 new housing units to respect social distancing guidelines.
To encourage victims’ cooperation with law enforcement, the law allowed victims to keep their identities confidential if they were in danger and to testify in a separate room from the defendant. The government prohibited cross-examinations for child trafficking victims, testimonies were videotaped, and authorities were limited to two interviews to minimize re-traumatization. Trafficking victims could receive restitution from their trafficker through criminal proceedings; however, unlike prior years, the government did not report awarding restitution to any victims in 2019, compared with 25 victims in 2018 and 31 victims in 2017. NGOs observed lenient sentencing of convicted traffickers also resulted in infrequent restitution for victims. GRETA and civil society noted restitution amounts were insufficient, especially compared with other serious crimes such as rape, and traffickers frequently did not pay. Trafficking victims could also pursue damages through a civil case, but the government did not report awarding damages to any victims during the reporting period. Victims could seek compensation from the government if the convicted trafficker was unable to pay the awarded restitution or damages, but the government did not report awarding compensation to any victims during the reporting period. GRETA criticized the lack of viable avenues for victim restitution when victims had no verifiable expenses or employment losses because the courts found it difficult to quantify the specific amount of lost income. While the government had a legal norm prohibiting the non-punishment of victims of crimes, the relevant provision of Swiss law did not explicitly address human trafficking or the criminal coercion often experienced in trafficking cases. Although the government continued to screen for trafficking victims, NGOs asserted that penalization of victims was common, with victims frequently charged with violating immigration laws, labor laws, local prostitution regulations, or violating pandemic-related restrictions as compelled by their traffickers. In its 2019 report, GRETA urged the government to adopt a provision on the non-punishment of specifically trafficking victims and encouraged additional training of public prosecutors in this regard.