The government maintained negligible efforts to protect victims. The government did not provide funding or programs for protective services dedicated to trafficking victims. Without specific legislation differentiating trafficking victims from victims of other crimes, government agencies claimed they had neither the means nor authority to provide assistance programs specifically for trafficking victims. NGOs provided all protection services, including shelter, food, legal services, language interpretation, facilitating the return of documents or wages, and assisting in the resettlement or repatriation of victims. The last dedicated trafficking shelters closed in 2015 due to lack of funding; however, government-funded homeless shelters could accommodate Russian and foreign victims. Authorities did not routinely screen potential victims seeking assistance at these shelters for trafficking indicators; in prior years, the shelter provided medical and psychiatric aid, and referred victims to international NGOs and other homeless shelters located in many of Russia’s regions. There were no reports of victims assisted in these shelters in 2018. A shelter “for women in difficult life situations,” run by the Russian Orthodox Church, continued to accept victims and offered them food housing and psychological care, although not medical assistance; the government did not provide financial support for the shelter. Similar to the previous reporting period, the government took steps to limit or ban the activities of other civil society groups, including some dedicated to anti-trafficking activities. Further, the government’s efforts to exert pressure on NGOs through the implementation of restrictive laws also targeted those providing protective services for trafficking victims; the government continued to designate two locally registered NGOs working on trafficking issues as “foreign agents” and blocked one of these NGOs from a government-linked social media site in 2018. An unknown person attacked and stabbed the leader of an anti-trafficking NGO, inflicting non-fatal wounds. The “Yarovaya” package of anti-terror laws made it a crime for individuals or organizations to provide material assistance to people considered to be in Russia illegally; authorities could prosecute NGOs who assist unlawfully present victims of trafficking. There were limited examples of government cooperation with civil society. In July 2018, local authorities worked with NGOs to remove Nigerian sex trafficking victims from their exploiters; the victims had entered Russia with promises of employment and World Cup fan identification documents from their exploiters. An NGO reported repatriating 40 Nigerian victims. NGOs reported law enforcement worked with NGOs to remove victims from brothels and slave labor situation, obtain documents, and help repatriate victims from Nigeria, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Authorities reportedly covered repatriation costs on a case-by-case basis.
The government reported the identification of 19 trafficking victims in 2018. According to law enforcement statistics, of these 19 identified victims, 16 were Russian and three were from unspecified Central Asian countries; five were female sex trafficking victims, one female and three males were victims of forced labor, and 10 were children, although many of these were baby-selling cases. An NGO assisted approximately 193 victims in 2018, but it estimated the number of victims to number in the thousands. Police regularly avoided registering victims in criminal cases that were unlikely to be solved in order not to risk lower conviction rates. The government did not develop or employ a formal system to guide officials in proactive identification of victims or their referral to available services. NGOs reported a significant number of cases go unreported due to the lack of a formal referral mechanism, victims’ fears, and the lack of government assistance to victims. Despite the lack of formal procedures, observers reported some working-level officials referred potential victims for assistance on an ad hoc basis. However, observers also noted other authorities often did not recognize foreign victims when they were unlawfully present in Russia, which resulted in the penalization of foreign victims rather than their referral to care. Frequently, authorities criminally charged victims with prostitution or unlawful presence in country. Authorities punished child victims of forced criminality. Authorities did not screen other vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers or foreign women entering Russia on student visas despite evidence of their intention to work or other vulnerabilities to trafficking. In limited instances, Moscow city police informally provided “permit letters” valid for one year to individuals the police determined were trafficking victims. While the letters offered no official status to the migrants, they allowed victims to remain in the Moscow region without risk of deportation or prosecution while police investigated their trafficking case. Authorities reportedly prosecuted Russian citizens returning from Syria and Iraq, where some were subjected to trafficking, under anti-terror laws without being screened for indicators of trafficking. The government, after a temporary suspension of operations, resumed the repatriation of Russian minors, including potential trafficking victims, whose parents were alleged fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS was known to use child soldiers and perpetrate other forms of trafficking. The government did not report screening specifically for indicators of trafficking, but media reports indicated the children received counseling. An estimated 200 children had returned to Russia since this program first became public in 2017; the government estimated 1,400 remained in Iraq and Syria.
A February 2016 agreement between Russia and DPRK enabled Russian authorities to deport North Koreans residing “illegally” in Russia, possibly even for those with refugee status; this may increase the risk of labor trafficking for North Koreans working under the state-to-state agreement. Moreover, DPRK authorities reportedly arrested, imprisoned, subjected to forced labor, tortured, and sometimes executed repatriated trafficking victims. In February 2018, government officials announced that in accordance with UNSCRs 2375 and 2397, Russia would cease issuing new work permits to North Korean laborers and repatriate those workers whose contracts had expired. Media reports indicated Russia had begun to repatriate the laborers whose permits had expired. Russian government officials stated they were taking steps to fulfill its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolution to repatriate all of these workers by the end of 2019, and reported the number of DPRK workers in Russia declined steadily throughout 2018 from 30,023 to 11,490 by the end of 2018. Media reported the government continued to issue new work permits. Some government officials noted an allowance for the extension of contracts for North Korean laborers who had valid contracts as of September 11, 2017 and were still in Russia, while a government spokesperson stated new workers were arriving if authorities had finalized their work authorizations prior to the adoption of UNSCR 2375. Although government representatives publicly stated authorities asked DPRK workers to leave voluntarily, it was not evident that authorities screened workers for trafficking indicators or offered them options to legally remain in the country.