The government increased victim protection efforts. The government reported identifying 710 victims in 2021, compared with 257 victims in 2020. Additionally, the government also intercepted 305 potential victims using screening tools at sites known for transporting trafficking victims, including airports, border crossings, and internal highways; this compared with 378 potential victims intercepted in 2020. NGOs and international organizations reported identifying and assisting at least 826 potential victims, providing them with various services, including medical care, shelter, psycho-social counseling, family reunification, and repatriation assistance. Government officials continued to use the NRG to identify trafficking victims and refer them to services. The NRG provided victim referral guidelines for stakeholders—including police, prosecutors, immigration officials, and NGOs—and described resources and recommendations for victim protection. The government took significant steps to enhance implementation of the NRG, which was adopted in July 2020, including by distributing copies of the NRG to stakeholders and training them on its use. Several government agencies, including the MIA, developed unit-level guidance to further operationalize the NRG. In 2021, COPTIP, in partnership with an NGO, developed a national directory of trafficking victim service providers to complement the NRG. Additionally, the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development (MGLSD) partnered with a local NGO to develop trauma-informed standards of care for survivors of trafficking. The government continued to operate under the implementing regulations of the 2009 anti-trafficking act; these regulations outlined responsibilities for relevant stakeholders, including law enforcement, medical professionals, and civil society members, to combat trafficking.
For the first time in six years, the government reported directly assisting victims and referring victims to protection services using the NRG, the newly developed service provider directory, and the country’s multi- sectoral victim support system. The UPF continued to operate a short- term shelter for trafficking victims in Kampala. The government provided temporary shelter and support to 334 victims at the center in 2021; in some cases, officials allowed victims to stay at the shelter for longer periods of time to participate in criminal proceedings against traffickers. The government, in partnership with civil society organizations, also provided an unreported number of victims with various protection services, including shelter, medical services, psycho-social counseling, vocational training, and community reintegration. The availability of victim care remained inadequate to meet the needs of victims, especially outside of the central and eastern parts of the country, and services were primarily for women and children, limiting the services available for male victims. Government officials and civil society reported the lack of shelters in the country, both long-term and short-term, continued to adversely affect the government’s ability to adequately protect trafficking victims. In some cases, police reportedly returned child victims exploited by their guardians to their homes due to the limited availability of shelters or alternative forms of care. In response to the pandemic, some NGO shelters and government-run centers acted as quarantine or testing centers and operated under limited capacity due to social distancing measures, added steps for victim intake, or staffing gaps; the government reported this decreased its ability to refer all victims to care. The government also reported pandemic-related measures, such as travel restrictions, mandatory quarantine and testing, social distancing, and curfews, during the May 2021 to September 2021 lockdown decreased the ability for the government to provide in-person care or transport victims to NGO-run services. Due to the continued demand for trafficking victims protection services, the government provided some NGOs with exemptions to continue operating at full capacity during strict lockdown periods.
To address the exploitation of Ugandan nationals abroad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the MGLSD, continued to offer temporary shelter to vulnerable migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims, in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE); however, the government did not report the numbers of victims that received these services during the year. In September 2021, the Cabinet approved the establishment of shelters for vulnerable migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims, in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The government, in partnership with international organizations and local NGOs, continued to provide repatriation assistance to Ugandan victims exploited abroad.
The government remained without victim-witness legislation or a program to protect trafficking victims participating in criminal proceedings and prevent re-traumatization and generally relied on NGOs to provide these services; however, the government took some ad hoc steps to protect victims absent standardized procedures, including providing transportation, physical protection, shelter, interpretation services, and legal counsel. ODPP, in partnership with local NGOs, established child-friendly interviewing rooms in four regional offices where law enforcement, NGOs, and social workers could conduct forensic interviews with child trafficking victims. The absence of victim-witness protection policies hindered some investigations and prosecutions due to traffickers’ access to victims, leading to threats to discourage their participation in trials; additionally, some law enforcement officials lacked a victim- centered approach when working with victims, potentially discouraging them from participating in criminal proceedings. The 2009 anti-trafficking law permitted foreign trafficking victims to remain in Uganda during the investigation of their cases and to apply for residence and work permits, but the government did not report providing these services. The law permitted victims to provide testimony via video or written statement or to anonymously provide information. ODPP reported increasing training for investigators to collect supporting evidence to ensure strong evidence gathering in cases where survivors opted not to testify. The law allowed victims to seek restitution and compensation in both criminal and civil suits; the government reported courts increasingly ordered restitution or compensation but did not provide specific case details.