The government made mixed protection efforts; however, efforts to identify and protect forced labor and foreign national victims remained inadequate. The government identified 20 trafficking victims, compared with 88 in 2020 and 40 in 2019. Of the victims identified, 16 were sex trafficking victims (14 citizens from Kazakhstan and two from Uzbekistan), including one sex trafficking victim exploited in Georgia, and four were forced labor victims (three Kazakhstani citizens and one from Uzbekistan). Law enforcement units dedicated to migration and trafficking issues operated under standard guidelines for the identification of victims among vulnerable populations, including undocumented migrant communities and individuals in commercial sex. The government amended these guidelines to implement a victim-centered approach to investigations, including by recording victim testimonies to reduce the need for multiple interviews and enabling criminal cases to move forward in the absence of victim testimony. Separate referral procedures were outlined under the 2015 Special Social Services Standards, which instructed law enforcement agencies on effective coordination with NGOs to connect victims with protection services. Police also maintained a formal referral mechanism for victims initially arrested or detained during police operations. The PGO and the MIA each had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with an international organization, and the MIA had memoranda of cooperation between police departments and 17 NGOs across the country to provide assistance with trafficking cases. Victims identified by government authorities are referred to government-funded NGO-run shelters; however, the government did not report the number of victims it referred to NGOs for assistance this year. Reports indicate NGOs continued to provide shelter, legal assistance, and other services to hundreds of victims. One NGO reported it identified 200 victims (193 victims of forced labor, six victims of sex trafficking, and one victim of both sex trafficking and forced labor, including 166 men and 34 women) and provided assistance to 193 victims, which included 161 victims from Uzbekistan, 24 victims from Kazakhstan, and 12 victims from Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine; the citizenship of three victims was unknown.
NGOs continued to report regional anti-trafficking units, composed of one or two police officers, effectively referred victims to the NGOs for care and facilitated strong cooperation. NGOs reported an unknown number of forced labor victims may remain unidentified and without access to services due to the remote location of farms throughout the country. Law enforcement units mandated to address migration or trafficking issues had a formal system to identify trafficking victims among at-risk persons, such as undocumented migrants or individuals in commercial sex. However, although the government improved efforts to identify foreign victims and expanded the mandate of the labor inspectorate to require monitoring for trafficking indicators, officials’ efforts to identify foreign victims and labor trafficking victims remained inadequate.
The government allocated 148.9 million tenge ($340,830) for 2021-2023 to support 17 shelters in 17 regions (compared with nine regions in 2020); from this amount, NGOs received 107 million tenge ($244,920) in 2021 (an increase from $164,740 in 2020 and $180,880 in 2019). These trafficking shelters offered legal, psychological, and medical assistance and were accessible to all Kazakhstani trafficking victims. Although authorities previously extended the length of NGO service providers’ local government contracts from one to three years to reduce administrative burdens on organizations providing essential services to trafficking victims, some NGOs reported funding delays. The government encouraged victims—including foreign nationals—to participate in investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection during court proceedings, access to pre-trial shelter services, and basic provisions such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical and legal assistance. These and other protection services were not conditional upon Kazakhstani victims’ cooperation with law enforcement, but foreign national victims could not access services unless a criminal case had been initiated against the traffickers. The Law on State Protection of Participants of Criminal Proceedings from 2000 enables foreign national victims to receive assistance, including short-term housing and financial support for basic needs during criminal investigations. In cases where law enforcement identified foreign national victims, victims often refused to cooperate due to lack of trust in authorities, feeling unsafe, long criminal procedures, and sometimes not being able to work during the process, especially considering the government’s failure to effectively encourage them to so do by preventing their access to services unless a criminal case had been initiated against the traffickers. According to experts, foreign national victims frequently reported their exploitation to local police upon return to their home country, where they felt safer. In 2020, the government started drafting amendments to the Social Code that would extend protection services to foreign national victims irrespective of the initiation of criminal cases; these draft amendments remained pending at the end of this reporting period. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) reportedly utilized other channels to provide protection services to an unspecified number of foreign national victims in the interim. While victims were able to receive compensation by filing civil suits in conjunction with the criminal cases, many victims and their attorneys continued to be unaware of the right to seek compensation, and high legal fees continued to dissuade some victims from doing so. The government could provide Pro bono attorneys to trafficking victims, although statistics on provision of legal services were unavailable for the reporting period, and NGOs reported these attorneys were often inexperienced.
The MIA allocated 1 million tenge ($2,290) to assist seven victims, including five citizens of Kazakhstan and two citizens of Uzbekistan, for participating in investigations—the victims were provided with housing, food, and witness protection. Some victims were unwilling to cooperate out of fear of reprisal or desire to avoid involvement in any law enforcement activity. The Administrative Code of Kazakhstan, under which the government imposes non-criminal punishments, protects foreign national victims from deportation if a criminal case is initiated. The government deported undocumented migrants for violation of labor and migration legislation—it is not clear whether undocumented migrants were screened for trafficking indicators prior to deportation. Experts noted that some victims were not allowed to work in Kazakhstan during the period of criminal investigation, which could last for months or even a year, and preferred to settle outside of court rather than initiating a case. NGOs reported foreign national victims sometimes were unable to access medical care due to a lack of health insurance and/or residence permits or financial strain generated by loss of employment during the pandemic. Although Kazakhstan’s 2021-2023 TIP National Action Plan (NAP) included provisions outlining a reflection period in lieu of statutory deportation for foreign national victims, these provisions did not come into effect by the end of the reporting period. NGOs continued to report a shortage of lawyers authorized to participate in administrative deportation cases.
The government at times penalized foreign nationals for unauthorized entry after they fled exploitation abroad and sought refuge in Kazakhstan, including those from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where they could face retribution or hardship. This reportedly had the potential to disincentivize some victims from accessing asylum and protection services. Civil society contacts continued to report that some foreign trafficking victims, including ethnic Kazakh survivors of Xinjiang detention camps and Turkmen victims in southern Kazakhstan, were hesitant to report their abuses to local authorities due to distrust of law enforcement, perceived corruption, and fear of punitive deportation or other punishments. Some NGOs reported a slight increase of Turkmen migrants in border regions who could be vulnerable to forced labor. Authorities at times committed politically-motivated harassment against activists attempting to raise awareness and advocate for the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang, who in some cases are subjected to forced labor conditions. Enduring insufficiencies in victim identification procedures placed some unidentified foreign national victims—especially those exploited in forced labor—at risk of penalization for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Some NGOs reported police and migration officers detained victims for immigration violations.
Nearly 600 women and children have been repatriated from conflict zones in Syria since 2019 (37 men, 157 women, and 413 children). Experts have noted that the reintegration program has been highly successful and is well resourced and staffed to provide services in government-run rehabilitation centers. Birth certificates were given to the children born in conflict zones, and their mothers were provided with identification documents to facilitate integration.