Task of the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings. The task of the Rapporteur is to examine the work to combat human trafficking in Finland as an independent body. The aim of the Rapporteur is to ensure that the victims of human trafficking are identified and receive help and that their rights are enforced. In the Rapporteur’s view, it is important that those responsible for human trafficking are held criminally liable for their acts and that structural measures are taken to prevent human trafficking.
The duties of the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings are laid down in the Act on the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. Under the act, the task of the Rapporteur is to monitor human trafficking phenomena, compliance with international obligations and the effectiveness of the national legislation. As part of this task, the Rapporteur produces reports on human trafficking and related phenomena. The Ombudsman may also provide legal advice and, in exceptional situations, assist victims of human trafficking in courts.
The Ombudsman has the right to access a wide range of information, including details of criminal convictions that are normally kept secret. This is important so that the Ombudsman can assess compliance with international agreements on human trafficking and determine how the national legislation is responding to the challenges arising from human trafficking.
The National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings was appointed in 2009
The National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings was appointed in 2009 to monitor human trafficking and related phenomena. The decision to establish the post was prompted by the belief that the action against human trafficking would benefit from external monitoring and assessments, and analysis-based development proposals.
The view was also that the Rapporteur could bring the issue of human trafficking to political and public debate, which was expected to make the efforts to combat human trafficking more effective. Over the years, the Rapporteur has been doing this for example by publishing reports and studies, and by issuing recommendations, which have also led to progress in the efforts to combat human trafficking by different government agencies.
The Aliens Act is not used often enough to protect victims of human trafficking
Victims of human trafficking have only granted a few residence permits on the basis of human trafficking. A recently published study by the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman showed that protecting the victims of human trafficking with the help of the Aliens Act has not been successful. The Aliens Act should be amended to better correspond to the different situations of victims of human trafficking.
In 2006, a special provision was included in the Aliens Act concerning a temporary or continuous residence permit granted for victims of human trafficking. According to the provision, a temporary residence permit can be granted due to ongoing criminal proceedings. As for a continuous residence permit, it can be granted to victims of human trafficking in a particularly vulnerable position.
From 2018 to 2020, a total of 600 new clients were admitted to the assistance system for victims of human trafficking. During the same period, indications of human trafficking were discovered during the Finnish Immigration Service’s decision processes in the case of approximately 450 people. Despite this, a residence permit was granted to only approximately 30 people based on the special provision on human trafficking. 15 people were granted a temporary and 14 people a continuous residence permit.
Exploitation of victims of human trafficking is often repeated
Based on the asylum and residence permit decisions made by the Finnish Immigration Service from 2018 to 2020, we investigated what kind of victims of human trafficking were identified, how the Aliens Act was applied and how the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking was assessed. According to our study, a victim of human trafficking had typically been subjected to forced labour, sexual abuse or forced marriage. The exploitation had usually happened outside Finland, and the duration of exploitation varied. Men had most often become victims of forced labour, while women had been subjected to sexual exploitation. For many women, the exploitation related to sexual violence had lasted for a long time, while the women had been forced to prostitution.
The decisions of the Finnish Immigration Service included in our study showed the accumulation of human trafficking, meaning that the victim had been exploited repeatedly during different stages of life. In some cases, the exploitation started in the victim’s childhood and continued in different forms through adulthood. As a result of the exploitation, many victims of human trafficking had physical and mental health problems.
The assessment of the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking is diverse, but varying
Our study showed that the exploitation experienced, age and gender, education and work experience as well as the state of health affected the assessment of the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking. In most cases, there were several indications of vulnerability present. The decisions of the Finnish Immigration Service assessed the ability of the victims of human trafficking to take care of their livelihood, health and children and prevent potential recurrence of human trafficking after returning to their home country. The assessment also included the protection and support provided by the family and different actors in society.
Our study shows that the assessment of vulnerability was not consistent; among people in similar situations, some received a positive and some a negative decision. More victims of human trafficking received a residence permit due to their vulnerable position on individual compassionate grounds rather than based on the special provision concerning victims of human trafficking. International protection was also granted, but the decision was rarely based on human trafficking.
Amending the Aliens Act is necessary
Our study showed that the goal of the reform of the Aliens Act in 2006 to protect victims of human trafficking more effectively than before has not been reached. In the application procedure by the Finnish Immigration Service, the threshold of interpreting a victim of human trafficking as being in particularly vulnerable position is high, and victims of human trafficking have not usually received a residence permit on this basis.
The Aliens Act should be amended to correspond better to the situations of victims of human trafficking. One concrete change would be to remove the requirement of a particularly vulnerable position from the act. The right of victims of human trafficking to receive a residence permit based on their vulnerable position should be secured. In this way, the residence permit would cover a wider range of situations of victims of human trafficking, instead of only the most severe and extreme cases of exploitation.
Rights of the injured party of an offence must be protected
The problem with temporary residence permits is that the victim of human trafficking has not always received the right to stay in Finland for the whole duration of the criminal proceedings. The right of residence of victims of human trafficking as injured parties of an offence during criminal proceedings should be safeguarded more strongly.
We also consider problematic the cases, in which a victim of human trafficking has received a negative decision when it has not been possible to complete the investigation into a human trafficking offence or take the criminal proceedings further. In Finland, there is currently a clear risk involved in reporting exploitation in working life. If the criminal proceedings do not progress, the victim may lose their residence permit in addition to their job. Such a legal situation does not encourage victims of human trafficking to file a report of an offence concerning the exploitation they suffer. The Aliens Act should be changed so that a more permanent right of residence than what the current regulations allow would be secured for victims of human trafficking who have filed a report of an offence concerning exploitation.
Heini Kainulainen & Anni Valovirta