The caretaker Government of Bulgaria does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included convicting more traffickers, informally adopting new NAPs for 2022 and 2023, and utilizing seized assets to supplement shelters and specialized service centers directly assisting trafficking victims. Additionally, the prosecutor general mandated specialized trafficking training for investigative prosecutors and magistrates and required the assignment of trafficking cases to those individuals. The National Investigative Service (NIS) established a cyber unit, focusing on internet-based exploitation, including trafficking, and financial investigations, and assisted regional police in investigating crimes with online components. Furthermore, the Bulgarian and German ministries of labor cooperated on a bilateral work program to combat labor trafficking, including joint anti-trafficking activities, informational campaigns targeting the large number of Bulgarians seeking employment in Germany, and a bilateral referral mechanism for trafficking cases between the countries. However, the caretaker government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. Courts continued to issue suspended sentences for most convicted traffickers (68 percent), which weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. Authorities did not adequately screen for trafficking indicators or identify victims, particularly among vulnerable groups, such as Roma. In addition, a limited number of identified victims received assistance (29 percent). Moreover, the caretaker government provided limited funding to NGOs for victim services and to the National Commission for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB) for capacity building and implementation of anti-trafficking activities, limiting the sustainability of the government’s anti-trafficking systems. The lack of resources, legal authority to pursue labor trafficking cases, and sufficient training impeded labor officials’ ability to enforce laws effectively. Finally, corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary continued to hinder progress, and alleged complicity in trafficking crimes persisted with impunity. Therefore Bulgaria remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.
The Government of Bulgaria should:
- Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and convict traffickers, including complicit government officials.
- Seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
- Proactively identify potential trafficking victims, especially among vulnerable populations such as Roma, and ensure all identified victims receive state-funded assistance.
- Train employees of relevant institutions on understanding and applying NRM guidelines for referring victims to services.
- Introduce a sustainable financial mechanism for victim services and allocate adequate funding to NGOs for the victim protection program.
- Increase funding to NCCTHB for capacity building, including staff, and anti-trafficking activities, such as prevention campaigns.
- Expand labor inspectors’ legal authority to identify and pursue labor trafficking cases and provide training for inspectors on recognizing trafficking indicators.
- Establish and implement a reliable comprehensive statistical system for collecting and collating victim identification and assistance data.
- Implement the non-punishment provision ensuring trafficking victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked and provide guidance to authorities on its application.
- Develop a formal mechanism that utilizes financial assets seized from convicted traffickers to supplement victim services and victim compensation.
- Train authorities on evidence collection and investigating trafficking crimes, particularly labor trafficking and online sex trafficking crimes.
- Enhance efforts to train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges to understand the severity of trafficking crimes and their impact on victims, particularly the negative impact of suspended or short sentences.
- Provide qualified legal counsel and courtroom protections for victims assisting prosecutions.
from 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – U.S. Department of State
2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State