The government significantly increased efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims and it provided some victims with protection services. Between April 2019 and February 2020, the National Authority identified 1,313 trafficking victims from among the potential victims referred to it by government agencies—including the MOI and the Ministry of Women, Family, Childhood, and the Elderly (MWFCE)—and civil society organizations; this represented a substantial increase from the 780 victims it identified in the previous reporting period. More than half of identified victims were women and children, and the majority were foreign victims of economic exploitation primarily from Cote d’Ivoire. The government referred or directly provided assistance to all identified victims of trafficking. The Ministry of Health (MOH) provided healthcare to 69 trafficking victims, including both Tunisian and foreign victims, and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) provided psychological and socio-economic assistance to 83 victims. NGOs reported that the government continued to collaborate with civil society organizations to provide assistance to the remaining victims in need. The government also repatriated and provided psycho-social, medical, and employment assistance to three female Tunisian trafficking victims, who Tunisian authorities identified abroad in 2019.
At the end of the reporting period, the government finalized and began implementation of the national victim referral mechanism, which streamlined all stages of the referral process from victim identification and assistance to civil and criminal proceedings. Judicial and border police continued to have practices in place to screen for potential trafficking victims among those who overstayed their legal residency or who were subject to expulsion after serving a prison sentence. The government also prepared a practical guide for security officers and judicial police on victim identification techniques. In addition, the MSA continued to train all labor inspectors to identify potential trafficking victims; there were 25 labor inspectors and 24 social workers in the MSA’s labor inspectorate that were trained as specialized points of contact for child trafficking victims. Despite these efforts, the national anti-trafficking commission and MOI special victims unit were the only government entities authorized to officially identify trafficking victims, thereby allowing victims access to state-run services and providing exemptions from exit visas for foreign victims. NGOs continued to report that the limited number of ministries who could legally identify a trafficking victim slowed the process for victims to receive care. Moreover, insufficient interagency coordination and resources reportedly hindered the timely identification and referral to services for trafficking victims. In addition, civil society organizations reported the special victims unit did not have sufficient personnel or resources to provide adequate assistance to trafficking victims, nor did personnel have the cultural understanding or training to communicate with vulnerable migrants from the sub-Saharan African population, including potential trafficking victims. Civil society organizations also expressed concern that the government’s process to provide exemption from visa penalties for foreign trafficking victims was slow and cumbersome, thereby creating difficulties for civil society to assist victims in a timely manner. Due to a lack of systematic victim identification procedures and policies, authorities may have punished some unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution or immigration violations.
The MSA continued to operate two centers in Sousse and Sfax that had designated areas available for victims of all forms of trafficking where victims could enter and exit freely and return on a regular basis for assistance seeking employment. The MSA—in collaboration with an international organization—continued to provide training for the centers’ staff on rehabilitation and care for trafficking victims. The MSA and National Authority continued to uphold an agreement, signed in January 2019, for the MSA to dedicate one room in all social care centers for victims of trafficking and violence. An MOH-operated hospital in Tunis continued to have a unit with trained personnel dedicated to caring for victims of violence, including sexual exploitation, which offered psycho-social support, medical documentation, and legal expertise; the government did not report if this unit assisted any trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government ran 79 youth centers around the country that provided psycho-educational services to at-risk children ages six to 18, including child trafficking victims, one of which was dedicated solely for abandoned or otherwise vulnerable children, including child trafficking victims; however, the government did not report if any child trafficking victims received assistance at this center during the reporting period. Civil society contacts reported there were overall limited services throughout the country for child trafficking victims, especially long-term, reintegration, and relocation services. Despite the centers and services provided by the MSA and MOH, the National Authority and civil society partners continued to report the country lacked sufficient shelters to support vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. Although the National Authority and NGOs partnered to reintegrate victims into society, the lack of resources, trained personnel, and sufficient shelter beds created challenges in doing so. Additionally, civil society organizations reported there were not adequate shelter or safe spaces available for male victims of trafficking and other forms of violence; there were only three government-run shelters that could accommodate male trafficking victims, but those shelters did not provide access to trained counselors, economic reintegration programs, or legal support. The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Under the anti-trafficking law, the government offered all identified foreign trafficking victims relief from deportation, and victims had the right to free legal aid to assist them in engaging in civil and criminal proceedings against their traffickers. During the reporting period, the government provided temporary relief from deportation for all identified foreign trafficking victims. The anti-trafficking law also allowed victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes access to psychological and physical protection services.