MEPs asked to commit to improve access to residence

On the occasion of the European Day for Victims of Crime, on 22 February 2021, La Strada International addressed Members of the European Parliament to help improve access to residence for victims of crime, in particular victims of trafficking and severe forms of labour exploitation. EU Parliament members are asked to commit to 10 points of action to improve access to residence for victims of trafficking. These recommended actions, are based on research conducted in the framework of the project REsidency Status: STrengthening the protection of trafficked persons (REST project), coordinated by LEFO IBF in Austria and five other LSI members.

Dear Member of the European Parliament,

On the occasion of today’s European Day for Victims of Crime, we would like to address you to help improve access to residence for victims of crime, in particular victims of trafficking and severe forms of labour exploitation.

Last week, the EU Parliament voted in favour of a resolution and report assessing the 2011 EU Anti-trafficking Directive which highlights the very low number of registered trafficking victims in international protection procedures and calls on the Member States to ensure that anti-trafficking and asylum procedures are interconnected and complement each other.

The resolution also calls on the Member States to ensure a coherent application of the provisions set out in the Dublin III Regulation, the Anti-Trafficking Directive and the Residence Permit Directive to prevent the practice employed in some Member States of transferring victims of human trafficking to the country, where they were exploited when they first arrived, thereby leaving them more exposed to the risk of being re-trafficked and re-traumatised.

The resolution further demands from Member States to step up their efforts to identify potential victims early on, in particular within migration flows and hotspots, and to adopt protection and prevention measures; highlighting that potential victims who have been identified should be provided with protection and access to a safe place where they can be provided with information and legal aid and have access to justice, irrespective of their residence status.

Further the resolution requests the Commission to assess a review of Directive 2004/81/EC on granting residence permits to victims of trafficking who are third country nationals with a view to ensuring that victims are not returned on the expiry of the reflection period and that residence permits for trafficked persons are not made conditional on the participation or willingness to participate of the trafficked person in the investigation or criminal proceedings of the case, but to ensure that the unconditional access to assistance and support mandated by Directive 2011/36/EU is reconciled with Directive 2004/81/EC and its application.

We strongly welcome this call from the Parliament, as access to residence is a crucial aspect of access to justice for victims of trafficking, but unfortunately only few can access this right.

In 2020 research has been conducted in the framework of the project REsidency Status: STrengthening the protection of trafficked persons (REST project) on the lack of residence for victims of trafficking. The findings and recommendations (see policy paper) of this research fully support the related paragraphs of the recent resolution from the EU Parliament on this matter.

The project – partly funded by the Council of Europe is coordinated by LEFÖ IBF in Austria and implemented by five other LSI members in Serbia (ASTRA), Moldova (La Strada), the Netherlands (CoMensha), France (CCEM) and Spain (Proyecto Esperanza). The project works on improving access to long-term protection for third country nationals trafficked in Europe, through a secure residency status, by exploring available long protection opportunities, including the refugee protection scheme.

We defined ten points of action to ensure that trafficked and exploited persons can access their right to residence and are provided with the most appropriate protection to secure rights and access to a durable solution. Be it in granting international protection or permanent residence in the country of destination or ensuring safe return and reintegration in the country of origin. Indeed trafficked persons should have fair and effective access to asylum procedures and both victim protection standards and asylum procedural guarantees should be systematically applied.

Today, on the European Day for Victims of Crime we ask you to commit to support these 10 recommendations and to ensure that European Member States:

  1. Define clear criteria, an adequate timeframe and simplify procedures for granting residence permits to trafficked persons, both based on their personal situation and in exchange for their cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. Access to regular residence should not be made dependent on whether proceedings for human trafficking or other related crimes are initiated or not.
  2. Ensure that trafficked persons are informed about all possibilities to obtain (temporary and long term) residence and protection available in the country of residence, as well as safe mechanisms to return to their home countries.
  3. Establish referral mechanisms between the NRM and the asylum system to grant trafficked asylum seekers and refugees access to specialised support and assistance and develop guidelines or procedures to ensure that available systems function in a coordinated and coherent manner.
  4. Ensure expert legal advice free of charge at the early stages of the identification and asylum procedure to assist trafficked asylum seekers in understanding procedures and providing relevant information about their trafficking experience and the risks they may face in case of return or transfer to the first country of entry into the European Union.
  5. Acknowledge the right of victims of trafficking to appeal against the denial/non-renewal decision of their application for a residence permit and guarantee that trafficked persons receive all the necessary information during all proceedings so that they can make an informed decision;
  6. Increase the involvement of various agencies, including both public institutions and civil society organisations, in the identification process as well as in the determination process assessing the victim’s personal situation.
  7. Ensure that trafficked asylum seekers are not held in immigration detention or other forms of custody and ensure compliance with the non-punishment provision in European law.
  8. Ensure that a thorough risk assessment is conducted before issuing a return decision, including a decision on a Dublin transfer to ensure compliance with non-refoulment obligations. Trafficked persons in Dublin procedures should not be discriminated in their access to support and in the scope of protection of their rights as victims.
  9. Ensure a risk and vulnerability assessment during the Dublin procedures and establish communication channels between Dublin Units and specialized NGOs to ensure clear coordination in cases of removal of a trafficked person and an adequate reception and follow up of his/her assistance.
  10. Grant victims of trafficking direct access to the labour market – without imposing any restrictions regarding occupation, sector of activity and territorial scope – as a measure towards the social inclusion and the full recovery of victims.

La Strada International
European NGO Platform against trafficking in human Beings.