Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Bulgaria

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The Bulgarian authorities have taken a number of important steps to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings. The national legal framework in the field of action against trafficking in human beings has evolved in the light of the country’s international commitments as well as the situation and trends of trafficking in Bulgaria. A specific law on combating trafficking in human beings was adopted in 2003, and in 2009 the use of services of victims of trafficking was criminalised and the penalties for trafficking were increased. The institutional framework put in place, at national and local level, aims to bring together in a co-ordinated effort all relevant actors, including non-governmental organisations. The setting up in November 2010 of a national mechanism for referral and support of trafficked persons strengthens the co-operative framework between state actors and civil society in the identification of trafficked persons and their protection.

That said, the national referral mechanism remains to be backed up with necessary funding. Although the budget allocated by the State to the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings has been increased, there is still a considerable reliance on external financing for many activities, including prevention, research and provision of assistance to victims of trafficking. GRETA considers that the Bulgarian authorities should make a further investment to ensure that the national and local commissions for combating trafficking in human beings can effectively carry out the full range of tasks within their mandate.

Given that Bulgaria is predominantly a country of origin of victims of trafficking, prevention has been a strong aspect of the action taken by the Bulgarian authorities, in partnership with nongovernmental and international organisations. Considerable work has been done on the awarenessraising side as well as in the areas of training and international co-operation. A good practice is the appointment of “labour attaches” in countries where Bulgarian nationals seek employment. However, GRETA urges the Bulgarian authorities to strengthen the aspect of prevention through social and economic empowerment measures for groups vulnerable to THB. There is clearly a need for a comprehensive, co-ordinated and adapted approach towards the problems in the Roma community, aiming at improving their integration and access to education, health care and social assistance as an ultimate prevention measure against trafficking in human beings. GRETA also urges the authorities to take steps to secure the registration of all persons from socially vulnerable groups at birth and for social services, both as a prevention measure and in order to avoid re-trafficking

While acknowledging the efforts made by the Bulgarian authorities to improve the identification of victims of trafficking through the setting up of a national referral mechanism, GRETA concludes that the current identification system is not sufficiently effective as it risks to leave out those who do not want to co-operate with the authorities and take part in judicial proceedings against the alleged traffickers. Further, GRETA considers that the Bulgarian authorities should pay more attention to the identification of persons detained as irregular migrants.

As regards assistance measures for victims of trafficking, GRETA urges the Bulgarian authorities to ensure that all the measures provided for in law are guaranteed in practice. Even when assistance is delegated to non-governmental organisations, the state has an obligation to provide adequate financing and to ensure the quality of the services delivered. In this context, GRETA stresses the need to set up a sufficient number of shelters for victims of trafficking in order to meet the needs for accommodating such victims, and to ensure that the conditions provided in the shelters are adequate. It is also necessary to provide victims of trafficking with vocational training and access to the labour market with a view to improving their chances to reintegrate in society and to avoid re-trafficking.

When it comes to children, the setting up of a co-ordination mechanism for referral, care and protection of repatriated unaccompanied minors is a welcome development. However, GRETA considers that there is a need to improve the system for providing assistance to child victims of trafficking, both in terms of accommodation in crisis centres and as regards medium and long-term support programmes tailored to the needs of the children.

Concerning the compensation of victims of trafficking, despite the existence of legal possibilities, this aspect remains largely unexplored. GRETA urges the Bulgarian authorities to increase their efforts to provide information to victims of trafficking about their right to compensation and the ways to access it, and to ensure that victims have effective access to legal aid in this respect.

Most of the substantive criminal law provisions of the Convention are adequately reflected in Bulgarian law. However, GRETA urges the Bulgarian authorities to take legislative measures allowing for the possibility of not imposing penalties on victims of THB for their involvement in unlawful activities to the extent that they were compelled to do so. As regards the confiscation of assets acquired through the trafficking in human beings, discussions are underway about the way in which the confiscated assets are to be used, in particular how a part of them can be directed to the victims.

Regarding the investigation of cases of trafficking in human beings, welcome efforts have been made in the area of international co-operation. That said, GRETA urges the Bulgarian authorities to step up proactive investigations of potential cases in sectors such as entertainment, tourism and construction. Further, GRETA considers that the Bulgarian authorities should prioritise the identification of gaps in the investigation procedure and the presentation of cases in court, inter alia with a view to ensuring an expeditious trail.

Finally, GRETA also considers that the Bulgarian authorities should make full use of the available measures to protect victims and to prevent intimidation during the investigation and during and after the court proceedings. In this context, the Bulgarian authorities should take additional measures to ensure that victims of THB are adequately informed and assisted during the pre-trial and court proceedings.

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