The government increased protection efforts. Authorities identified 26 victims (three sex trafficking, 10 labor trafficking, 13 unspecified), compared with 24 in 2020, of which three were foreign nationals (11 in 2020). As in previous years, experts expressed concern that the data collected across government agencies was inconsistent and did not provide a comprehensive picture of the trafficking situation. Law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel applied formal written recommendations for victim identification. According to NGOs, the recommendations did not always work effectively in practice and were not informed by best practices for how to interview victims, especially children. Furthermore, observers reported authorities in some parts of the country underutilized the recommendations and had less experience identifying victims. In 2021, authorities received training on victim identification; however, NGOs noted officials still did not have the skills and experience required to conduct screening for trafficking among migrants and other vulnerable groups. A formal mechanism existed between police and NGOs to refer victims to NGO facilities.
Care facilities provided short- or long-term assistance, such as health care, psychological and social counseling, and shelter, to trafficking victims. In 2021, the government adopted the Law on Assistance to Victims of Crime, which ensured all victims of all crimes, including trafficking, received assistance before, during, and, if necessary, after criminal proceedings. Lithuanian law also entitled all crime victims, including trafficking victims, access to assistance, including counseling, regardless of whether victims sought assistance from law enforcement. The government allocated €300,000 ($340,140) to NGOs for victim assistance, a substantial increase from €245,000 ($277,780) in 2020. Government-funded NGOs supported 247 trafficking victims, compared with 208 in 2020. This number included “at risk” individuals and identified victims from previous years who continued to receive assistance. Individuals had the right to receive assistance without reporting the crime, and some chose to do so. Authorities placed Lithuanian female trafficking victims in municipal and NGO-facilitated shelters for victims of domestic violence and had the option to place foreign victims at a refugee reception center in Rukla. Five crisis centers provided assistance to male victims, including finding accommodations. Authorities could place child victims in foster care homes or mixed- use shelters, as there were no shelters specifically for child trafficking victims. Child sexual abuse victims, including trafficking victims, could seek assistance in the government-operated national support center in Vilnius. Experts raised concerns about inadequate assistance and protection measures for child victims. According to observers, child protective services struggled to identify child victims and refer them to care, especially in rural areas. In 2021, authorities identified one child victim, the same as in 2020. The Ministry of Social Security and Labor funded a training on identifying child trafficking victims for child protection specialists; the topics included recognizing forms of trafficking, emotional and physical impacts of exploitation, assistance to child victims, and the analysis of child trafficking cases. In addition, the Support Center for Child Victims of Sexual Abuse organized a series of trainings on protecting children against sexual violence, including trafficking, for child protection specialists. Municipalities continued to finance and implement reforms to the institutional child care system with the goal to move all children from institutions to families. As part of the reforms, municipalities converted large institutions into community houses, which accommodated up to eight children each. In 2021, 679 children lived in community homes, and 1,468 children remained in state care homes. The minister of social affairs and labor prohibited the placement of new children into care at orphanages as of January 1, 2020. Foreign trafficking victims had the same access to care as Lithuanian victims. Legislation allowed foreign victims a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement; foreign victims cooperating with law enforcement could receive temporary residency.
While the government encouraged victims to cooperate in investigations and prosecutions, the absence of clear policy on how victims would be adequately protected and law enforcement’s shortcomings in this area contributed to victims’ reluctance to assist in cases. In particular, traffickers sometimes threatened victims to intimidate them into not cooperating with the authorities, and victims lacked access to mental health professionals during or after their interviews by law enforcement. According to NGOs, law enforcement still did not utilize a victim-centered approach, contributing to a lack of trust on the part of victims toward officers. To address some deficiencies, courts frequently interviewed victims remotely and allowed victims to appoint individuals to serve as their representatives so their rights were defended without having to participate directly in court proceedings. Although the government provided legal representation to victims, observers reported attorneys had little experience with trafficking issues; as a result, NGOs often hired private attorneys for victims. Lithuanian law entitled trafficking victims to apply for financial compensation from their traffickers, but there were no state-run victim compensation programs. In most cases, courts ordered restitution, and it was awarded. In 2021, courts awarded more than €56,000 ($63,490) for non-material damages to trafficking victims.
In response to an inflow of Ukrainian refugees who were fleeing Russia’s war in Ukraine and arriving in Lithuania, the government adopted laws and regulations to provide temporary protection status for one year and expand assistance, including financial aid. The government also opened six registration centers across the country, providing food, medical care, and short-term lodging to refugees. Despite the government’s response to address the immediate needs of refugees, observers raised concerns about medium- and long-term support. Officials underscored challenges, such as limited resources and long- term housing, noting accommodation for the refugees could be limited to “simple conditions,” and the government may have no choice but to house some refugees in tents. To address this concern, in March 2022, the government announced a compensation program for households hosting refugees, in which volunteers had the option to receive a monthly stipend of €150 ($170) for the first refugee they host and €50 ($57) for each subsequent refugee, for a maximum of three months.