The government decreased efforts to protect victims. The HTU continued to report it employed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to identify potential trafficking victims when apprehending persons in prostitution and when accompanying immigration and labor officials on operations where trafficking was suspected. Police, immigration, and labor officers, who would be most likely to encounter potential trafficking victims, reported they also used these SOPs. In some cases, authorities employed identification measures only after detaining victims during law enforcement operations, such as raids in which police arrested foreign women for prostitution crimes. Contrary to a victim-centered approach that requires governments to stabilize people with indicators of trafficking in order to provide time to determine if the person is a victim, in one case in 2018, courts convicted a Vietnamese woman for prostitution only one day after police detained her and her alleged pimp in a raid. Additionally, officials may have detained and deported unidentified trafficking victims for labor or immigration violations. Foreign government officials reported Bruneian authorities deported several of their citizens after their Bruneian employers withheld wages or medical care and then reported to immigration officials that the migrant workers had run away. According to observers, the practice of detention and deportation perpetuated victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers, exacerbating significant identification and service provision gaps. On March 31, 2019, the government identified two potential sex trafficking victims, compared with three potential victims identified in 2017.
The government maintained a secure, general-purpose shelter and provided medical care, counseling, psychological assessment, clothing, meals, and access to vocational training programs and recreational activities to all female trafficking victims and male trafficking victims under the age of 18. The government required victims to apply to leave the shelter and permitted movement only when the victim was accompanied by a chaperone. Shelter officials permitted victims to make calls home in the presence of an official from their embassy who could translate the conversation for authorities. The government did not provide shelter or services to adult male victims. During the reporting period, three women, identified as potential trafficking victims in the previous reporting period, received shelter and assistance services until October 2018 when the government decided not to prosecute their case and repatriated the women—a year after authorities initially placed them in the shelter. For the third consecutive year, the government reported budget constraints delayed its ongoing renovation of a dedicated trafficking shelter.
The 2004 law established a fund to compensate victims and cover repatriation costs. However, the government’s decision to not allocate money to the fund and convicted traffickers’ ability to elect additional prison time in lieu of paying fines resulted in the fund’s continued lack of resources. The departments of labor and immigration could grant victims temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis; the government did not report any victims receiving work passes during the reporting period. The government did not have legal alternatives to removal for victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries.