The government maintained inadequate victim identification and protection efforts, and the government remained dependent on NGOs to provide most victim services. The government did not formally adopt procedures drafted in 2014 for the identification and referral of victims to NGO services. In practice, officials continued to identify and refer trafficking victims to care on an ad hoc basis. During the reporting period, the government coordinated with an international organization to draft new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, but the government did not finalize nor implement the SOPs by the end of the reporting period. The Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) continued to work with an international organization to develop a digital tool to better identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including migrant workers; at the end of the reporting period, MOSA adopted the tool, but it had not yet been digitized and fully operationalized. The government identified at least 70 sex and labor trafficking victims through the course of investigations and referred all of them to NGO protection services in 2021. The number of victims identified and referred to services in 2021 represented a decrease from the 156 victims the government identified in 2020 but an increase from 63 identified victims in 2019. During the reporting period, an NGO reported identifying at least 163 trafficking victims. The government did not report whether a DGS-operated hotline remained operational during the reporting period. The Ministry of Labor’s (MOL) complaints office and 24-hour hotline received 250 trafficking-related complaints; the government reported resolving the majority of these complaints but did not report further details. An NGO identified 26 victims through calls to the hotline it operated.
The government did not directly provide protection services to trafficking victims, nor funding for services for adult victims, but it continued to work in partnership with NGOs to provide essential victim services. NGO-run victim care facilities in Lebanon were dedicated only to female and child trafficking victims; there were no services available or government resources dedicated to male trafficking victims, even though forced labor of men in construction reportedly continued. As in previous reporting periods, an NGO reported referring male victims to their embassy or consulate for accommodation. The government and an NGO renewed a longstanding memorandum of understanding whereby DGS referred female victims to an NGO-run safe house and provided security for the location; the government did not allow victims to work while receiving assistance at the safe house. In response to pandemic-related mitigation measures, the NGO continued to provide single-occupant rooms for quarantine purposes. During the reporting period, the safe house assisted 183 trafficking victims. Victim services were not time-limited or conditional upon victims’ cooperation with law enforcement. MOSA also continued to coordinate and fund the provision of protection services to child trafficking victims through contractual agreements with NGOs. Foreign embassies that provided shelter to nationals when NGO shelters were full reported providing accommodation to an increased number of their nationals, including domestic servitude victims, due to the economic crisis. For the third consecutive year, MOSA coordinated with an international organization to provide technical support for the development of an implementation decree to create a victim assistance fund; the decree remained in draft form at the end of the reporting period.
The government continued to arrest, detain, and deport unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as domestic workers who fled abusive employers, out-of-status or undocumented migrant workers, women holding Artiste visas, and persons in commercial sex. NGOs reported some foreign victims, including migrant domestic workers, sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to fear of reprisal or deportation. Under the visa sponsorship system, foreign workers—including foreign trafficking victims who left their place of employment without permission from their employer—forfeited their legal status, thereby increasing the risk of arrest, detention, and deportation. DGS continued using new administrative procedures adopted in February 2021 for employers to inform DGS about domestic workers who have left the workplace; the new procedures replaced previously used employer complaint systems that automatically launched prosecutions of migrant workers who left their workplace. In addition, the new procedures prohibited the use of certain language in official reports, such as language implying domestic workers violated employment conditions like “fled” or “ran away,” replacing them with the phrasing “left the workplace.” Authorities could subject foreign workers without valid residence and work permits to detention for one to two months—or longer in some instances—followed by deportation; due to the pandemic, authorities did not exercise this authority during the reporting period. Furthermore, authorities could immediately deport women holding Artiste visas upon arrest for “prostitution” violations; however, DGS reported it did not deport any Artiste visa holders during the reporting period and no Artiste visas were issued in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, economic, and financial crises.
DGS continued to operate a 750-person detention center where authorities detained foreign domestic workers for violating the terms of their work contracts or visas. As in past years, DGS allowed an NGO to operate a permanent office inside the detention center with unhindered access to detainees to provide medical and psycho-social services. However, due to a decrease in government funding to the NGO over the past three reporting periods, the NGO was unable to continue providing health services to detainees—including trafficking victims—and was only able to provide social and legal services. DGS also continued to permit the NGO to interview detainees to identify trafficking victims among the detention center population, although interviews were limited due to pandemic-related mitigation measures; NGOs identified 130 trafficking victims in the detention center during the reporting period, compared with 16 victims the NGO identified in 2020. In response to the pandemic, DGS announced only detainees with pending judicial action would be held at the detention center and other detainees would be released with the option of temporary residency or repatriation assistance. DGS reported that as of September 2020, DGS had released and repatriated 600 of the 700 detainees who had been at the center at the start of the reporting period. The NGO continued to report high levels of professionalism, sensitivity, and awareness among DGS officials and investigators, which allowed the NGO to more effectively identify victims among detainees.
Victims could file civil suits to obtain compensation; however, the government did not report whether courts awarded compensation to victims through civil suits during the reporting period. Investigative judges could exclude the identity of a victim from official reports if there was a concern that providing information about the crime could result in a threat to the life or safety of the victim or their family. In addition, victims could provide testimony via video or written statement. The government did not report whether any of these safeguards were invoked or provided during the reporting period. Judges could allow foreign victims to reside in Lebanon during the investigation, but the government did not report any judges issued such a decision. NGOs continued to report foreign victims preferred quick administrative settlements followed by repatriation rather than long criminal prosecutions because of the lack of protection services or resettlement options during criminal proceedings. An international organization reported pandemic-related lockdowns and airport closures further encouraged victims to return home rather than remain in Lebanon under severe lockdown measures and poor economic conditions. Therefore, authorities faced challenges pursuing potential cases of trafficking when victims chose voluntary repatriation, as they were not present in the country to testify against their traffickers. The government did not provide temporary or permanent residency status or other relief from deportation for foreign trafficking victims who faced retribution or hardship in the countries to which they would be deported. During the reporting period, an NGO reported Lebanese authorities deported or otherwise created coercive environments that pushed Syrian refugees to return to Syria without assessing protection needs; the Government of Syria had a government policy or pattern of human trafficking, exploiting its nationals in forced labor in compulsory military service by forcing them to serve for indefinite or otherwise arbitrary periods and recruiting or using child soldiers.