The government maintained efforts in victim protection. The government identified 36 victims (76 in 2018). Of these, 23 were victims of sex trafficking, three of forced labor, four of forced begging, one of forced criminality, and five of multiple types of exploitation (34 were victims of sex trafficking, 18 of forced labor, two for forced begging, one for forced criminality, and 21 for multiple types of exploitation in 2018). Twenty-four victims were children (32 in 2018); 29 were female and seven were male (57 females and 19 male in 2018); and two were foreign victims (five in 2018). First responders referred 135 potential victims (193 in 2018) to the CPTV; law enforcement referred 55 potential victims (89 in 2018), social welfare organizations referred 40 (45 in 2018), other government entities referred 12 (21 in 2018), civil society referred 24 (38 in 2018); and four victims self-identified. The government adopted new SOPs for the identification, referral, and support of trafficking victims that included standardized indicators and guidelines to identify victims in migrant flows, schools, and high-risk sectors. However, SOPs did not provide clear roles and responsibilities for civil society, and implementation remained weak with a lack of proactive identification efforts, including screening of migrant flows and individuals in commercial sex. Some first responders, particularly local centers for social work (LCSW), justified cases of potential forced child begging and forced labor involving Roma as traditional cultural practices and customs. CPTV assessed and officially recognized victims referred by first responders and developed a protection and assistance plan for each victim. CPTV had two units, the protection agency and the URC. GRETA and other experts reported CPTV lacked the staff to review cases in a timely manner and resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. Experts continued to report the lack of transparency regarding the official victim assessment and CPTV’s inability to assess potential victims consistently. For example, CPTV did not provide official victim status to some potential victims, who were later determined by civil society to be trafficking victims, a trend that re-victimized some victims. Observers reported CPTV lacked specific procedures for child trafficking victims. For example, questionnaires used in the identification process were not adapted for children, and children often did not understand the questions.
The government allocated three million dinars ($28,590) to CPTV but could not provide information on funds allocated to all victim protection efforts in 2019 and 2018. The government did not provide funding to NGOs despite relying on their victim support and reintegration services. Although the government required victims be referred only to licensed service providers, only two types of services had official licensing criteria and standards established; of the two major NGOs that work on trafficking issues, one was licensed to provide comprehensive residential and life skills support, and the other was licensed to administer an SOS hotline. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, educational, medical, financial, and reintegration support; 121 potential victims and 184 official victims received some form of government assistance in 2019. The government reported providing equal protection to foreign and domestic victims, but according to experts, foreign victims faced obstacles in accessing support, and some local communities limited shelter accommodation to Serbian nationals. The government opened the URC in February 2019, designed to provide safe shelter and services with the capacity to accommodate six victims; the URC accommodated nine victims in 2019. CPTV reported difficulties in fulfilling its expanded responsibilities from a coordinating body to one that also provides direct assistance at the URC. The organization cited challenges such as a continued lack of capacity and staff, including technical staff and skills to provide support to victims, and a lack of resources to afford basic office equipment, food, hygiene products, and shelter renovations. Civil society reported improved cooperation with CPTV but noted CPTV relied on its scare resources to support the URC with food, toiletries, and access to vehicles.
LCSW operated shelters for domestic violence victims that also accommodated female trafficking victims. GRETA visited a LCSW-run shelter in Sremska Mitrovica in January 2018 and reported “good living conditions,” but these shelters generally lacked the specialized programs and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims. CPTV continued to report many relevant ministries did not consider victim protection to be part of their responsibility. The government maintained a drop-in shelter for street children and when authorities identified child victims, they returned them to their families, referred them to foster care, or placed them in one of the two centers for children without parental care; 31 potential child victims were accommodated in general shelters, 11 were accommodated in shelters for asylum-seekers and migrants, and 25 were placed in foster families. The government did not provide specialized accommodation for male victims. An NGO rented accommodation for male victims as needed, and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV maintained a protocol with the National Employment Service (NES) to assist victims in finding employment; CPTV referred two victims to NES for assistance (37 in 2018), but neither secured employment. The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits renewable up to one year and allowed potential foreign victims to stay for three months; authorities did not grant any new residence permits in 2019 (one in 2018) but did renew two residence permits. Furthermore, two victims received asylum. The government repatriated two victims back to Serbia and assisted a victim to repatriate to Albania.
The government penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, particularly victims of forced criminality and sex trafficking; authorities penalized four identified victims in 2019. CPTV and civil society organizations attempted to intervene in known prosecutions of trafficking victims but were not always successful. Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations, but once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims, including children, to cooperate with investigations and testify during prosecution; 103 victims assisted in court proceedings in 2019 and 2018. Observers reported Serbian authorities threatened some victims with prosecution for non-cooperation. Judges did not always grant witness protection to trafficking victims or adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings. Although the government passed a law designating officially recognized victims as a “particularly vulnerable group” eligible for special assistance and procedural consideration, judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” or “protective witness status” to trafficking victims, including children; these statuses allowed witnesses to testify without the defendant present, provide testimony via video link, and gain access to witness protection. Victims frequently appeared in front of their traffickers and did not receive notification when authorities released their traffickers from custody. Police escorted victims to and from court, and CPTV continued to consistently appoint lawyers to represent victims, but the length of trials and assistance provided to victims depended on the individual prosecutor or judge. Police did not consistently conduct “safety assessments” of official victims and often sent victims home to potentially exploitative family members. The law entitled victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for restitution, but judges continued to encourage victims to seek restitution solely by filing civil suits. Civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the abuser numerous times; only one victim has received compensation to date.