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GRETA publishes its third report on Serbia

Over the past five years, several legislative changes relevant for combatting trafficking in human beings were adopted in Serbia. However, further steps are needed to ensure effective access of victims to justice and effective remedies, said the Council of Europe’s anti-trafficking body GRETA in the new report published today.

The report welcomes the steps taken by the Serbian authorities to further develop the anti-trafficking legislative framework. These include the introduction in the Law on Foreigners of a recovery and reflection period and a temporary residence permit based on humanitarian grounds for victims of trafficking, as well as provisions related to victims of trafficking in the Law on Health Care and the Law on Free Legal Aid. Another positive development is the establishment of the position of National Rapporteur on human trafficking, to be fulfilled by the Ombudsman.

However, the report stresses that further steps are needed to ensure better access of victims of trafficking to justice and effective remedies. In particular, lawyers representing victims of trafficking should have knowledge of trafficking issues, and the costs of legal aid and legal assistance provided via NGOs should be reimbursed by the State.

Victims’ access to compensation remains rare, and therefore GRETA calls on the authorities to ensure that victims of trafficking are systematically informed of their right to compensation and to make full use of the legislation on the seizure and confiscation of assets from perpetrators in order to secure compensation for victims. The authorities should also set up without further delay a state compensation scheme accessible to victims of trafficking.

While welcoming the existence of specialised investigators and prosecutors to work on human trafficking cases, GRETA notes that such cases are often requalified as lesser offences and that victims are not always informed when plea-bargaining is used. GRETA urges the Serbian authorities to strengthen the criminal justice response to human trafficking, by ensuring that human trafficking offences are investigated proactively and promptly, and lead to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for those convicted.

Noting the increase in the number of migrant workers in Serbia and reports about labour exploitation on construction sites employing such workers, GRETA urges the Serbian authorities to intensify their efforts to prevent and combat trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation. This should include steps to strengthen the capacity of labour inspectors, to proactively and thoroughly investigate allegations of trafficking involving foreign workers, and to ensure that victims of trafficking among them are identified in a timely manner and are offered appropriate assistance.

Moreover, GRETA asks the Serbian authorities to pay increased attention to identifying victims of trafficking among migrants and asylum seekers, and to provide sufficient staff and resources to the Centre for the Protection of Victims of Trafficking to enable it to carry out timely identification of victims of trafficking.

While welcoming the re-opening of the emergency shelter for victims of trafficking, the report notes that there are still no shelters for male victims. GRETA urges the Serbian authorities to improve assistance to victims of trafficking, including by allocating adequate funding for services delivered by specialised NGOs.

Serbia remains primarily a country of origin of victims of trafficking in human beings, but it is also to some extent a country of destination and transit. According to the statistics provided by the Serbian authorities, in the period 2017-2022, there were a total of 320 formally identified victims of trafficking (250 female and 70 male, including 150 children).  In addition, there were 367 presumed victims of trafficking. Serbian nationals accounted for the majority of victims in the period 2017-2022. Most victims were female and almost half were children. Although sexual exploitation remained the prevalent form of exploitation, cases of trafficking for labour exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality were also identified.

GRETA and Serbia

The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) is an independent body which monitors the way countries implement the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. All 46 member states of the Council of Europe are bound by the Convention, as well as non-member states Belarus and Israel.

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