The government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2018, the government identified and assisted 139 victims (including 80 victims of labor exploitation, 38 victims of sexual exploitation, and 21 victims of other forms of exploitation), compared to 137 victims in 2017 (including 61 victims of labor exploitation, 59 victims of sex exploitation, and 17 victims of other forms of exploitation). First responders followed a national victim referral protocol and the government distributed victim identification guidelines to relevant stakeholders across the government and NGO community. The government established a pool of tutors available to train authorities on victim identification; however, the national rapporteur on trafficking reported challenges in accurately identifying child victims. Specifically, in some cases authorities failed to follow the protocol and did not properly notify child protective services when they identified an unaccompanied child victim. The government continued to train staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations. Conditions existed in order to qualify for victim status; victims must have broken off all contact with traffickers, and agreed to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter.
The government’s victim protection infrastructure was based on three specialized NGO-run shelters, for which the government allocated approximately €426,000 ($488,530) each in 2018, compared with €428,000 ($490,830) in 2017. The NGO-run shelters also received unspecified amounts of funding from regional governments. While NGOs referred many victims to the shelters, law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals identified most victims. NGO-run shelters provided psycho-social, medical, and legal care and were open to all victims regardless of gender, immigration status, or nationality. Despite the government’s complete reliance on these three NGO-run shelters for the majority of victims’ services, NGO-run shelters continued to carry the perennial administrative burden of requesting funding each year from different levels of government (region, community, federal), often with severe delays in receiving the appropriation. The government also funded two shelters for children; child trafficking victims shared these facilities with victims of other crimes. GRETA reported the government’s child safety services lacked sufficient capacity to accommodate unaccompanied child victims. The national rapporteur recommended the government officially recognize one child shelter to solidify its position within the national victim referral protocol, mitigating the risk of incorrect child victim referral. The government reportedly did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts their traffickers coerced them to commit; however, child sex trafficking victims were vulnerable to such penalization.
The government granted identified foreign victims temporary residence and employment permits and protective services; suspected trafficking victims could receive a reflection period, which granted them 45 days to receive services while they decided whether to work with law enforcement. If they decided to make a formal complaint, they could receive a three-month residence permit that provided them the right to work. If a public prosecutor confirmed the individuals were trafficking victims, they could receive a six-month residence and work permit, renewable until the end of the criminal case. Victims who were not citizens of EU member states could obtain permanent residency only upon the successful prosecution and sentencing of traffickers. Few child victims received residency permits and GRETA expressed concern that residency permits for non-EU child victims were contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement instead of factors relating to the best interest of the child. The government issued or renewed 248 residency permits to trafficking victims, compared with 235 in 2017. Some victims obtained restitution from traffickers in criminal and civil court during the reporting period. Belgium maintained a compensation fund for victims of violence, but victims of labor trafficking reportedly found it difficult to access this fund. Government-appointed pro bono lawyers could be provided to victims who had a monthly income of less than €1,200 ($1,380). The high costs of legal representation discouraged victim cooperation in criminal and civil proceedings. During criminal proceedings, witness protection laws provided only those victims under the physical threat of violence or living abroad options to testify via video. Child victims had a specific provision that allowed courts to permit video testimony.