The government increased efforts to identify and refer trafficking victims to care. The government lacked formal victim identification procedures, but it continued to work in cooperation with civil society groups to train key law enforcement, judicial, immigration, and social services personnel to identify victims among high-risk populations. In 2017, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) continued to cooperate with two NGOs through signed agreements to assist those at risk of abuse and exploitation, including trafficking victims. Between April 2017 and January 2018, the MOI reported it identified 285 trafficking victims, including victims of sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging, as well as child victims of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and exploitation in organized crime. This demonstrated an increase in identified victims compared to the previous reporting period when the MOI identified 134 victims. Additionally, child protection specialists from MWFC identified 373 potential trafficking victims among the more than 12,000 child welfare cases they received in 2017; these cases included potential child victims of sexual exploitation, exploitation in organized crimes, and forced labor. The Ministry of Health (MOH) also identified 29 potential trafficking victims of sexual and economic exploitation and forced begging, including three foreign nationals and nine children, among patients that received services from the MOH. According to an international organization in early 2018, since the implementation of the anti-trafficking law, victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes were reportedly more willing to come forward to the authorities and seek assistance.
The government referred all 285 identified victims to protection services provided by both government entities and civil society organizations. Specifically, the MSA provided assistance and accommodation, including lodging and medical and psychological assistance, to 52 foreign and Tunisian victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation. The MOI facilitated the provision of medical services for 10 of the victims it identified, while it also provided social assistance and accommodation to seven foreign victims and 25 Tunisian child victims. The MSA continued to operate centers for vulnerable populations, including victims of trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault, asylum-seekers, unaccompanied minors, and the homeless. Through these shelters, the government provided vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims, with lodging, food, clothing, full and free medical care, psychological services, and legal aid through a network of pro bono lawyers. Three of these centers in Tunis, Sousse, and Sfax had designated areas available for victims of all forms of trafficking. The center in Tunis held a dedicated office for male and female trafficking victims with a trained social worker and offered medical and psychological exams. This center also allowed foreign embassies access to their nationals to provide assistance, including provision of legal documents and repatriation services. In October and November 2017, the MSA—in collaboration with an international organization—provided training for shelter staff on rehabilitation and care for trafficking victims. The MSA also organized a workshop for 40 participants, including the staff from both the Sousse and Sfax shelters and civil society representatives, to build partnerships for victim assistance. An MOH-operated hospital in Tunis had a unit dedicated to caring for victims of violence and sexual violence, including victims of sexual exploitation, which offered psycho-social support, medical documentation, and legal expertise. Since 2015, personnel in this unit continued to receive trafficking victim identification training and the unit assisted some trafficking victims in 2017. Despite the government’s efforts to identify, refer, and provide protection services to victims, during the reporting period, the government did not formally adopt a mechanism for the referral of trafficking victims to government-operated social centers or NGO-run shelters; however, in early 2017 the MOI adopted its own internal procedures to identify and refer victims by cooperating with civil society organizations and other government ministries. Due to a lack of systematic victim identification and referral procedures and policies, some unidentified victims may have been punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as women in prostitution or illegal immigrants.
The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; in 2017, the government granted one victim a temporary residency permit as an alternative to returning home. Trafficking victims could seek legal employment while under temporary residency status. During the reporting period, the government assisted 10 foreign trafficking victims (who were referred by an international organization) to obtain an exemption from paying overstay fees in order to leave the country. During the reporting period, the government reportedly offered all foreign trafficking victims relief from deportation and, for those who chose to return home, repatriation services. Under the anti-trafficking law, victims had the right to free legal aid to assist them in engaging in civil and criminal proceedings against their traffickers, and the government provided psychological and physical protection services to victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes.