The government slightly increased protection efforts. The government identified four victims, compared with seven victims in 2020. All were victims of forced labor with two adult male victims, one boy, and one girl. First responders used standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, including the proper treatment of victims, screening for indicators, and victim-centered interview practices. The government also developed new guidelines and screening indicators for labor inspectors on identifying victims of forced labor. Mobile units and the task force screened 444 individuals in commercial sex, begging, or employed in vulnerable sectors for trafficking indicators (467 individuals in 2020). Authorities interviewed an additional two individuals deemed “high-risk” due to work at businesses that violated labor standards (two in 2020). Authorities screened 624 Georgian nationals deported from other countries for trafficking indicators at the international airport and border crossings (1,177 in 2020). The Agency for State Care (ASC) also operated seven mobile groups responsible for identifying potential victims among vulnerable children who were homeless or used the streets as a source of livelihood, including a new mobile group created in November 2021 in the Adjara region; mobile groups assisted 245 children. While the government reported fewer inspections and interviews because of business and border closures in response to the pandemic, observers reported a lack of government capacity to identify forced labor victims, and alleged that victim identification efforts, particularly raids on commercial sex establishments, were proven ineffective by the low number of identified victims. Observers reported most identification efforts were led by the government as civil society mostly did not work in anti-trafficking due to a lack of grants and programs.
A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM) provided SOPs for official identification and referral of victims to services. Law enforcement officially recognized victims who participated in investigations and the Permanent Group assessed and officially recognized victims who declined to participate in investigations; both recognitions granted victims access to the same protection and assistance services. The Permanent Group, composed of a five-member board of NGO and international organization representatives, was required by statute to convene and assess a potential victim within 48 hours. Law enforcement officially recognized four victims (seven in 2020) and the Permanent Group did not recognize any victims (three victims in 2020). GRETA, OSCE, and other experts reported the threshold to obtain official victim status through the Permanent Group was high and shifted the burden of proof to victims. Nonetheless, an international organization reported the work of the Permanent Group improved after the government amended its procedures in 2019.
ASC-run crisis centers in five cities and NGOs provided initial psychological care, medical assistance, legal support, and temporary shelter for potential victims awaiting official victim status. Additionally, ASC operated anti-trafficking shelters in Tbilisi and Batumi and other victim assistance programs for official victims. The government allocated 400,000 lari ($130,080) to the government-run anti-trafficking shelters, compared with 760,746 lari ($247,400) in 2020. ASC-run shelters provided medical aid, psycho-social support, legal assistance, childcare services, reintegration support, and a one-time financial payment of 1,000 lari ($325) to victims; five received support and two received 1,000 lari ($325) in cash assistance. In April 2021, the government amended the law to remove a clause that denied victims the 1,000 lari ($325) cash assistance if they received restitution. Child victims received the same specialized assistance, in addition to custodial care, education, and family reintegration programs. ASC-run shelters were staffed by a nurse and psychologist and offered separate areas for men, women, and children. Victims can initially stay at the shelter for three months, which authorities may extend upon the victim’s request; the government-run shelters accommodated nine victims (nine in 2020). Shelter staff chaperoned victims when leaving the shelter, but victims could request to leave the shelter unchaperoned. ASC-run shelters provided personal protective equipment, disinfectants, and COVID-19 tests, and adopted social distancing measures, including a space for victims to quarantine for 14 days before moving to the shelter. ASC-run shelters also organized an epidemiologist to train staff members on victim assistance during the pandemic and created an online platform to offer virtual legal and psychological assistance. In previous years, experts reported an inability to assess the quality of services at ASC-run shelters due to a lack of independent evaluations of the operations and conditions, but experts reported that ASC-run shelters focused more on victims of domestic violence due to the low number of identified trafficking victims. ASC also operated six shelters and seven crisis centers for vulnerable children who were homeless or used the streets as a source of livelihood, including a new crisis center established in Batumi in October 2021.
The government provided equal services for Georgian citizen and foreign national victims and granted foreign victims renewable one- year residence permits with the ability to seek legal employment; no victims required residence permits (five in 2020). The government could provide repatriation assistance to Georgian victims returning to Georgia and foreign victims wishing to leave Georgia; no victims required repatriation assistance in 2021 or 2020. The law required closed-door sessions for court proceedings and allowed victims to leave the country pending trial; however, experts reported in practice, law enforcement required victims to remain in country through the end of the trial, likely hindering victim cooperation, particularly from foreign victims wanting to repatriate, due to slow court proceedings. Nine victims assisted law enforcement in 2021 (six in 2020). PGO’s victim-witness coordinators supported victims during proceedings, including legal and logistical assistance, and measures to prevent re-traumatization. Additionally, the government amended the criminal code in June 2021 to allow investigators to assign MOIA’s victim-witness coordinators to victims from the onset of an investigation; PGO and MOIA victim-witness coordinators assisted eight victims and ten witnesses (12 victims and six witnesses in 2020). However, an international organization reported the lack of standardized interactions between MOIA and PGO victim-witness coordinators, ASC, and other interlocutors likely created coordination issues. The law allowed recorded testimony or testimony by other technological means; seven witnesses testified remotely (one victim and three witnesses in 2020). The law also allowed the possibility of placing a victim into the state’s witness protection program; no victims required the use of witness protection in 2021 or 2020. Victims could obtain restitution through criminal proceedings or compensation through civil suits; however, judges have never awarded restitution in criminal cases and only awarded compensation in civil suits to three victims to date. Observers highlighted the failure to freeze and seize criminal assets as an obstacle to pursuing restitution from traffickers.