The government decreased protection efforts. The prosecution service identified 340 victims (270 sex trafficking, 70 labor trafficking and forced begging), a decrease from 376 victims in 2018 and 407 victims in 2017. The government identified 33 child trafficking victims (53 in 2018, 42 in 2017). Authorities identified one potential trafficking victim from Ukraine in 2019 (none in 2018, one in 2017). Experts alleged some law enforcement could not effectively identify victims, especially among vulnerable groups such as asylum-seekers, migrants, and members of the Roma community. NGOs and international organizations reported cultural issues created extreme difficulties for all practitioners in identifying trafficking crimes among the Roma community. Some law enforcement viewed Romani as people who chose that lifestyle and either did not need support or could not be identified as trafficking victims. Pre-trial authorities formally identified trafficking victims, and the anti-trafficking commission, which coordinated the government’s efforts, referred victims to services. The government allocated 390,000 lev ($224,010) for services and implementation of the annual national anti-trafficking and victim protection program, the same as in 2018, and spent 149,170 lev ($85,680) on health care and psychological and social assistance, compared to 234,000 lev ($134,410) in 2018. Experts noted the victim protection program was chronically underfunded and with the exception of a small increase in 2014, the government failed to update the anti-trafficking commission’s budget in the past decade, hampering implementation of a fully-fledged victim-centered approach.
Observers noted limited residential care offered to victims remained problematic with only four dedicated shelters for trafficking victims in the country. In 2019, the government reopened the crisis center for child victims of trafficking in Sofia, with funding allocated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and managed by the municipality of Sofia. The government continued contracting NGOs to operate shelters and crisis centers. Child victims could stay in centers for up to six months at which point child protection services could place them with relatives, a foster family, or another residential care institution. Observers noted an underdeveloped foster care system often resulted in child protective services placing children in shelters for victims of trafficking or domestic violence. In 2019, child protective services assisted 17 minors who were exploited abroad (11 for sex trafficking and six for labor trafficking, including forced begging and criminality). The government allocated 9,870 lev ($5,670) annually per child accommodated in a crisis center, an increase from 9,180 lev ($5,270) in 2018, and 33 lev ($19) monthly per child attending school. The National Council on Child Protection maintained referral services and accommodation for unaccompanied minors.
The law allowed foreign victims who cooperated with law enforcement to stay and work in Bulgaria for the duration of criminal proceedings before deportation, although no foreign victims had applied for this status. For foreign victims who chose not to assist in trafficking investigations, the government provided a 40-day recovery period (70 days for foreign child victims) before repatriation. The law accorded victims anonymity during the pre-trial and trial phases, but authorities rarely implemented this provision, resulting in victims facing intimidation and threats to change their statements. Observers noted many victims did not cooperate with law enforcement because they did not believe the judicial system would protect them, effectively administer justice, or convict perpetrators with meaningful sentences. The process for seeking compensation remained overly bureaucratic and discouraged victims from making claims; as a result, no victims received compensation.