The government increased protection efforts, but proactive victim identification remained a challenge, and government policies significantly limiting the availability of humanitarian protections for certain asylum-seekers remained in force. The government increased trafficking victim identification during the reporting period by identifying 657 new victims in 2019, compared to 597 in 2018. The Department of Equal Opportunity (DEO), which coordinates protection efforts, reported government-supported NGOs assisted 1,877 trafficking victims in 2019, also an increase compared to 1,373 victims assisted in 2018. Of all the new trafficking victims NGOs assisted, 50 percent were victims of sex trafficking or exploitation, 11 percent victims of labor trafficking or exploitation, and the remainder were potential victims of unidentified forms of exploitation. Seventy-two percent of victims identified in 2019 were Nigerian, four percent were Romanian, and three percent were Ivorian. Of victims referred to assistance programs, 83 percent were female, 16 percent male, one percent transgender, and three percent were children. The government did not report identifying any Italian national victims or children. Several entities referred victims to care, including migration centers and a committee on asylum requests, which referred 10 and 25 percent, respectively, of victims. Regional committees utilized national guidelines for asylum-seekers to adjudicate asylum applications to identify trafficking victims among applicants. However, while the government had a formal referral mechanism, it was unevenly implemented during the reporting period. NGOs and the DEO recognized inconsistencies in the efficiency and effectiveness of the current referral process between regions and found that quality standards were lower in the south. During the reporting period, at least six local MOI offices and six local asylum committees signed an agreement with local NGOs to help improve victim identification and assistance. NGOs reported that gaps in authorities’ proactive victim identification efforts persisted during the reporting period. To reduce the flow of refugees and migrants from Libya, Italy continued training operations with and assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard, as did other EU member states. However, many NGOs criticized this coordinated effort because it often resulted in the occupants of vessels rescued in the Libyan search and rescue area being brought back to Libyan shores; NGOs cited severe security and human rights conditions inside Libya and Libyan detention centers and a heightened risk of trafficking for migrants forced to remain in Libya. During the reporting period, the government continued to delay NGO humanitarian ships carrying refugees and migrants from Libyan search and rescue waters from docking at Italian ports, pending relocation agreements with other EU member states. The government funded four voluntary repatriation programs to source countries and provided support for similar repatriations by international organizations from Libya.
NGOs coordinated with law enforcement and immigration officials at both arrival points and longer-term reception centers. The government observed standard UNHCR procedures to screen for trafficking victims among asylum-seekers, although NGOs asserted authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival, instead classifying victims as asylum-seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation. NGOs continued to stress the need for longer time periods for screening of refugees and migrants at arrival ports to more accurately ascertain victim status, but they acknowledged conditions were not conducive to a stay there beyond one or two days. Italian criminal law lacked a provision specifically prohibiting punishment of trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, but, during the reporting period, there were no reports of judges convicting trafficking victims forced to commit such crimes. Current law required proof of exploitation in a criminal action against the perpetrator, which left victims and potential victims at risk of prosecution and conviction when a court did not first convict the perpetrators. NGOs, the EU, and the Catholic Church projected that the government’s September 2018 decree, which remained in force through the reporting period, tightening the availability of humanitarian protections for certain asylum-seekers could result in increased trafficking risks for irregular migrants already residing in Italy. However, the government drafted legislation to partially restore some protections, which is currently with the Council of Ministers. Although persons already officially recognized as trafficking victims remained in a protected category, NGOs reported that many of these irregular migrants were either victims or potential victims, with most at risk of labor trafficking. International organizations continued to assert most centers remained under-equipped to fully address the unique needs of trafficking victims. The government often housed victims and potential victims with irregular migrants, and such housing lacked adequate security against traffickers inside and outside the centers seeking to recruit victims or remove those already under their control.
The government cooperated with NGOs and international organizations to provide shelter and services to victims. In 2018, the government allotted €24 million ($26.97 million) to trafficking victim assistance programs implemented by NGOs for a 15-month period; in 2019, the government allotted the same amount of money, and awarded and funded 26 projects. This compared to €22.5 million ($25.28 million) in 2017. With co-funding from an international organization, in 2019 the MOI supported a program to provide victims of labor exploitation, including labor trafficking, with shelter and legal services. Local governments provided additional funds to victim assistance programs, although the government did not report amounts. Given the breadth of potential beneficiaries, the government did not allocate sufficient funds to accommodate needs. NGOs reported inconsistent quality standards of assistance programs across regions. The law allowed for an initial three to six months of government assistance to all trafficking victims. After initial assistance, foreign victims were eligible to obtain temporary residency and work permits and had a path to permanent residency; additionally, foreign victims were eligible for six months of shelter benefits, renewable for an additional six months if the victim obtained a job or enrolled in a training program. The government granted 155 residence permits to victims in 2019 under Article 18, a decline from 270 in 2018 and 418 in 2017. Of victims granted a residence permit, 19 were identified by police and 39 percent were male. According to NGOs and pro bono lawyers, many victims applied for asylum upon arrival rather than protection as a victim of trafficking, either through pressure from their trafficker or believing that asylum status afforded greater freedoms, more immediate access to employment and services, and long-term residency. In 2019, the government approved only one percent of applications for permits for humanitarian reasons, significantly limiting humanitarian protection and potentially increasing vulnerability to trafficking. Availability of interpretation services for lesser-known African dialects, with victims coming from as many as 15 different language groups, remained a significant challenge. Trustworthy interpreters were also difficult to secure, as reportedly many interpreters came from the same communities as the accused traffickers.
GRETA recommended establishing a separate national referral mechanism specifically for children that took into account the specialized needs of children, but the government did not make progress on this recommendation during the reporting period. Children represented nearly thirteen percent of all victims receiving assistance; many were boys forced to beg or commit robbery. NGOs estimated there were several thousand minors in Italy who were victims of sex trafficking in 2019. Many unaccompanied Nigerian minor victims misrepresented their age to gain placement in an adult reception center, giving them greater freedom to leave the center unnoticed with their trafficker. NGOs, however, welcomed increased scrutiny by authorities of these age claims, and authorities more often sent victims into child protection if unable to confirm adult age status. Foreign child victims automatically received a residence permit until age 18 and accommodations in a general children’s center or a designated center for trafficking victims who were also asylum-seekers. Children received counseling and enrolled in public schools with the support of mentors. However, a significant percent of unaccompanied children chose to leave the centers voluntarily, which greatly increased their risk of trafficking.
The government did not require victims to cooperate with law enforcement to obtain assistance and a residence permit, although NGOs and international organizations reported authorities did not consistently implement this policy and sometimes gave preference to those who cooperated. The government also offered a single payment of €1,500 ($1,690) to victims, although GRETA and NGOs noted the application procedure was overly complex and the amount insufficient. GRETA further recommended the government increase the use of existing legal remedies to provide restitution to victims and more proactively seize assets and pursue forfeiture against perpetrators. The government did not award restitution to any trafficking victims during the reporting period. NGOs, prosecutors, and local officials praised the continued contribution of trained cultural mediators hired by the government or provided by government-funded NGOs, for their skill in communicating with refugees, migrants, and victims.