The government increased victim protection efforts. Pandemic-related restrictions and business closures, along with the increased use of private locations and the internet as venues for exploitation, exacerbated vulnerabilities for sex trafficking victims and decreased victim visibility to authorities. NGOs reported that law enforcement had a decreased capacity to identify trafficking victims because the pandemic necessitated police prioritize the enforcement of pandemic-related health restrictions. In 2021, cantonal authorities identified 62 victims under article 182, an increase compared with 53 in 2020 but still less than 83 in 2019 and 64 in 2018. The government did not report the number of labor trafficking victims it identified, as it did not adequately disaggregate data. Of the 62 trafficking victims identified by the government in 2021, eight were children, and four were Swiss. Unlike prior years, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims within the asylum system in 2021. The federal government had a national victim identification mechanism and standardized questions, as well as a regional referral mechanism, though implementation was inconsistent and varied canton by canton. NGOs continued to express concern that officials prioritized the identification of sex trafficking victims over labor trafficking, although one NGO indicated that the majority of the victims it identified and assisted were labor trafficking victims. Law enforcement authorities acknowledged this issue and noted that additional resources and specialization across all cantons would allow law enforcement to better address labor trafficking within the country. The canton of Bern passed a specific law on labor trafficking and established a joint inspection team between labor inspectors and police, and as a result, authorities reported the increased identification of labor trafficking victims in 2021.
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, asserting this could lead to re-traumatization for victims. 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. In 2021, the government granted 518,599 Swiss francs ($567,390) to nine NGOs for victim assistance, which included some public awareness activities as well; an increase compared with 401,694 Swiss francs ($439,490) granted in 2020. Civil society continued to express concern that funding was insufficient and short-term funding resulted in ineffective program implementation. Government-funded NGOs provided assistance to 458 potential trafficking victims in 2021, including at least 324 potential sex trafficking victims, 81 potential labor trafficking victims, and seven children. This was a significant increase compared with 184 in 2020 and 169 in 2019. NGOs reported that in 2021, assisted victims were most often from Hungary, Brazil, Romania, and Nigeria; most frequently assisted in Zurich or Bern; and most often referred by civil society, medical staff, or police. Additionally, the government provided trafficking- specific counseling for 254 potential trafficking victims in 2020, the most recent year data was available; an increase compared with 193 in 2019 and 186 in 2018. 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. NGOs noted improved victim referral during the reporting period, which was attributed to increased government-funded training and roundtable events. 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 significantly from canton to canton. The two cantons without victim assistance would reportedly transfer identified victims to larger cantons with the capacity to provide assistance, though they remained responsible for providing the funding to do so. The government reported a new specialized counseling service for trafficking victims opened in one canton in August 2021. NGOs continued to raise concerns about the discrepancies between cantonal efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims, noting smaller cantons did not have the resources or means to properly assist victims, which could result in re-traumatization. At least 13 cantons maintained formal referral and cooperation agreements with NGO-operated victim assistance facilities that specialized in trafficking. One NGO noted establishing cooperation agreements with an additional seven cantons in 2021.
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 and standardized identification procedures for children were used inconsistently. 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. Civil society reported decreased capacity and available services for victims due to pandemic-related prevention measures. 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. 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 how many victims it provided this protection to due to privacy concerns. While NGOs confirmed trafficking victims had access to witness protection if the government referred them, they noted victims were sometimes unaware of their entitlement or it was unavailable to them if they were exploited in trafficking in another country. 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.
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. 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. During the reflection period, victims were able to obtain victim protection and assistance services from NGOs. 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. While the government had a national guideline to ensure uniformity in the granting of residence permits across the country, in practice, the approval of the permits varied by canton.
While authorities continued to note the growing number of potential trafficking victims among asylum-seekers during the reporting period, they officially identified relatively few victims. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) did not report officially identifying any trafficking victims in 2021, compared with four in 2020 and one in 2019. However, NGOs stated that implementation of the 2019 asylum law, which ensured early access to legal aid, increased successful victim identification. SEM reported providing potential trafficking victims with a pamphlet on their rights, redesigned in 2021, during their hearing to determine if they were victims. 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. FedPol reported asylum hearings for potential trafficking victims, though more difficult to conduct, continued despite pandemic-related restrictions. In May 2021, the Asylum and Human Trafficking working group published its recommendations for improving the identification of trafficking victims in the asylum system—many of which the government undertook, including the new 30-day reflection period to decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement—and a special hearing for suspected victims. The working group also recommended that an independent body be responsible for victim identification and that an option for appealing hearing decisions should exist. Civil society expressed concern that the government remained without a national victim identification mechanism for trafficking victims in the asylum system and urged increased national coordination and for law enforcement to take a more victim-centered and trauma-informed approach to victim interviews. Trafficking victims often remained unidentified by the government within the asylum system, and civil society urged the government to involve them at the earliest stage possible and at asylum hearings to ensure victims of trafficking avoided deportation. Civil society also highlighted a tendency for officials to misidentify unaccompanied asylum-seeking children as adults, which allowed authorities to transfer the children back to their country of first entrance and into accommodation facilities for adults. Civil society noted an increasing number of unaccompanied children continued to disappear from 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. 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. NGOs and GRETA continued to report asylum accommodations and psychological counseling in asylum centers were inappropriate and insufficient for assisting trafficking victims, all of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. NGOs reported asylum- seekers experienced destabilization because many were transferred to different accommodations throughout the pandemic and some accommodations were no longer gender-sensitive, leading to increased harassment and a decreased freedom of movement, particularly for female and LGBTQI+ individuals. The guide on accommodation requirements for asylum-seekers at federal asylum centers remained pending during the reporting period. The government reported that victim services were only available to victims who experienced trafficking within Switzerland; however, NGOs argued there were exceptions to this policy under Article 17 of the Swiss Victim Aid Act, which were not uniformly applied. NGOs urged the government to enact improved protections and assistance for victims who experienced trafficking abroad. The practice of deporting asylum-seekers back to their first country of entrance was suspended during the pandemic. 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.
The government continued to lack comprehensive statistics on restitution and damages awarded to victims and did not require prosecutors to systematically request restitution during criminal trials. Trafficking victims could receive restitution from the trafficker through criminal proceedings; however, unlike prior years, the government did not report awarding restitution to any victims in 2021, 2020, or 2019, compared with 25 victims in 2018 and 31 victims in 2017. GRETA and civil society noted restitution amounts were insufficient, especially compared with other serious crimes, such as rape. NGOs reported it was often a difficult and lengthy process for victims to obtain restitution from traffickers and few victims received the full amount. NGOs also reported instances of the government denying restitution for formally recognized labor trafficking victims because they were undocumented and lacked the required permits. 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. NGOs reported a lack of uniformity in the court’s determination for sufficient restitution, noting very small amounts awarded to severely traumatized victims. Trafficking victims could also pursue damages through a civil case, but the government did not report whether any victims brought suits and were consequently awarded damages in 2021. Victims could seek a maximum of 120,000 Swiss francs ($131,290) in compensation from the government if the crime took place in Switzerland and the convicted trafficker was unable to pay the awarded restitution or damages; however, the government did not report awarding compensation to any victims in 2021. While the government had a legal provision prohibiting the punishment of victims of crimes, it did not specifically address human trafficking or the criminal coercion often experienced in trafficking cases. The decision to prosecute a trafficking victim was left to prosecutors, who did not always apply the principle in trafficking cases to prevent the defense from perceiving the prosecution as biased. Although the government continued to screen for trafficking victims, NGOs asserted penalization of unidentified victims was common, with victims frequently charged with petty crimes, violation of local commercial sex regulations, or immigration and labor laws. NGOs reported improvements in non- penalization of victims when the government increased its cooperation with civil society, as civil society reported helping identify victims the government did not, intervening on behalf of victims, and building greater trust. Civil society urged the government to involve them at the earliest stages possible, as screenings by law enforcement, immigration, and social services remained an issue, particularly in cases of labor exploitation. NGOs and GRETA urged the government to adopt a provision on the non-punishment of trafficking victims, and GRETA encouraged additional training of public prosecutors in this regard.