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