Highlights on the referral and anti-trafficking national systems in Italy, Belgium, France, Spain


Equality Cooperativa sociale, Comunità dei Giovani, Veneto Region,

University of Padova National referral system

A referral mechanism is a cooperation mechanism through which each actor involved has the common objective of protecting the rights of trafficked persons, coordinating the actions. It can be National or Local. Since 2016 the Italian Government has adopted a new system of protection for the victims, and a National Action Plan against trafficking in human beings and severe exploitation. Both the system made of 21 Regional Projects and the National Action Plan represent the Italian Government Engagement to define long-term intervention strategies for the prevention, the fight against trafficking in human beings and severe exploitation, as well as actions aimed at raising awareness, social prevention, the assistance and social inclusion of victims. In this plan Italian government mentions the 4 Ps paradigm which is the fundamental international framework used by States, at international level, to combat contemporary forms of slavery. In this framework, every organic strategy in this field is commonly included: Prevention, Prosecution, Protection, Partnership. 

The referral procedure aims to report/refer the presumed trafficked person, with her/his consent , to the anti-trafficking organization to assure the adequate measures of identification, assistance and protection. These are also the main and strategic goals of N.A.Ve project the Anti-trafficking Network for Veneto Region representing the Regional Referral Mechanism fighting against trafficking and the severe exploitation (PROSECUTION) with a multi-agency approach (PARTNERSHIP) and acting in PREVENTION and assuring PROTECTION to victims of sexual exploitation, work, begging, forced illegal economies and forced marriages.

The Municipality of Venice is the Coordinator of N.A.Ve Project, Regione Veneto and University of Padova are two of the main partners. Whereas Equality Cooperativa Sociale and Comunità dei Giovani are responsible for the services offered by the anti-trafficking NGOs in Veneto. 

Equality offering outreach services to reach presumed or potential victims of sexual and labour exploitation and is on charge for the social identification of victims (PREVENTION and PARTNERSHIP), whereas Comunità dei Giovani is the lead organization for the NGOs offering shelter services (PROTECTION). 

N.A.Ve Project has as its strategic objective the Human rights based approach; any assistance provided is based on a human-right centred approach where the rights, choices and wishes of the individual are respected. The method used is that of multi-agency and multidisciplinary work aimed at protection of human rights and victims. 

The main purpose of the National Referral Mechanism is to formalize and strengthen collaboration between government agencies and NGOs engaged in the anti-trafficking system. It must therefore neither replace nor exactly reproduce other national anti-trafficking bodies, but instead represents an indispensable structure for the referral of victims of trafficking. The general purpose of an NRM is also to change the perspective on the way in which trafficking in human beings should be treated, considering that it is not a mere problem of crime or immigration, but a serious violation of the human rights of those who are victims.


At the heart of the Belgian national referral mechanism is the Interdepartmental Coordination Platform (ICP) for the Fight against Trafficking and Smuggling in human beings, a body for multi-agency cooperation set up in 1995. 

Chaired by the Federal Department of Justice, it gathers representatives from all the federal entities involved in anti-trafficking, amongst others the Police, the Board of Prosecutors General, the social inspection services, the Immigration Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the three government recognized specialized reception centres that provide shelter and assistance to victims: Payoke for the Flemish region, Pag-Asa in the Brussels area and Sürya in Wallonia. The Platform sets the strategic direction of antitrafficking policy and actions, particularly with an eye towards combating traffickers’ criminal activities and their networks, protecting victims and monitoring developments and results.

First responders follow a national victim referral protocol to identify victims and refer them to specialised care. A victim is first detected on the basis of their account or on the basis of indicators. Frontline responders must meet the person’s urgent and basic needs, and inform them about the victim protection program. They often use a leaflet, available in 22 languages, to help victims understand their situation, their rights and the support they can expect.

Any person suspected of being a victim of human trafficking can benefit from the protection program, regardless of gender, nationality, immigration status or age. Also included are victims of trafficking through the loverboy method, both minors and adults, which involves recruitment through romance and emotional bonding.

 Assistance is conditioned on three criteria: victims have to break off all contact with their exploiters, agree to counselling at a specialized support centre, and be willing to assist in the investigations.

The assistance program usually last two to three years. It is designed to support the victim from initial referral to the end of the judicial proceedings, and is focused on helping the client reach full autonomy and self-reliance.

FRANCE - France terre d’asile


France is a transit and destination country for human trafficking victims. Most of identified victims are French citizens or from Nigeria and Romania and are victims of sexual exploitations (75%). 19% of identified victims suffers from work exploitation, 4% are forced to delinquency, 1% are exploited to forced begging and 1% are subjected to other types of exploitation [1]. Due to social street work encouraged through public policies and police controls, victims of sexual exploitation are more identified than others.

Human trafficking is defined (in a similar way to the Palermo and Warsaw protocols) and condemned by the Penal Code, which provides an exhaustive list of means of exploitation. The interministerial mission for women protection against violence and fight against human trafficking was created in 2013. This mission coordinates all stakeholders involved in fighting human trafficking and helping victims such as NGOs but also five central offices of judicial polices in charge of investigations that can include human trafficking situations: OCRTEH (specialized in human trafficking), OCLTI (illegal work), OCRIEST (illegal migration and employment of foreign persons), OCLDI (itinerant delinquency), OCLAESP (environment and public health violations).

 NGOs realize preliminary identification of victims. There are numerous organizations specialized in this social area, thanks to public policy, the biggest ones are associations working with victims of sexual exploitation but other NGOs are specialised in helping victims exploited on other grounds. In order to strengthen their identification and be able to help more persons, organizations create their own indicators. In that sense, France terre d’asile published a guideline for frontline workers. Police is in charge of formal identification, then approved by a judge. Self identification by the victim him or herself is an important step in his/ her way to emancipation and recovery.

NGOs realize the preliminary identification of victims. In order to strengthen their identification and be able to help more persons, organizations create their own indicators. In that sense, France terre d’asile published a guideline for frontline workers. Police is in charge of formal identification, then approved by a judge. Selfidentification by the victim him or herself is an important step in his/ her way to emancipation and recovery.

Protection of victims

French system allows five types of protection for foreign human trafficking victims:

- Resident permit for formally identified victims (art. L.316-1 and 2 Ceseda): a temporary resident permit can be delivered to victims when they are formally identified by Police and willing to denounce their exploiters. First, Police delivers information regarding resident permit, housing, protection and the right to a 30 days reflection time (during which they can benefit a 30 days resident and work permit). After 30 days, if they are still willing to engage in this judicial process, they have the right to a temporary resident and work permit during all the judicial investigation. With this permit they can receive financial support, medical protection, they are entitled to work or attend trainings, they can receive information and benefit from social care, housing and, if desired, assisted voluntary return. If their exploiters are convicted with final conviction, they, then, can be granted a resident card.

- Resident permit through a programme of leaving forced prostitution (art. L. 316-1-1 Ceseda and art L. 121-9 Casf)

- Resident permit granted on humanitarian ground (art L.313-14 Ceseda)

- Resident permit granted on private and family life ground (art L313-11 7° Ceseda)

- Asylum claim: in case of fear of persecution based in the event of return to their country of origin, alien victims can claim asylum in France.

The national sheltering mechanism “Ac.sé” includes 83 accommodation places in several cities, to create a geographic distance between adult victims and exploiters. It offers a social support to beneficiaries, who do not need formal identification to enter this protection mechanism. In addition, other social actors provide specific sheltering such as AFJ, CCEM or Amicale du Nid. Additionally, France terre d’asile has dedicated 20 beds in its Parisian reception center to asylum seekers victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence. Regarding minors, an experimental mechanism has been set up since 2016 in the Paris area.

[1] ONDRP and Miprof (2020), La traite des êtres humains, profil des vicitimes suivies par les associations en 2019

SPAIN - Cruz Blanca

Contemporary trends of human trafficking depict Spain as country of destination, transit as well as origin of this alarming phenomenon. Nationwide, 542 victims of trafficking were identified in 2019, most of them for sexual exploitation (294). Only 3 victims of trafficking for the purpose of forced marriage were identified, along with 192 for labour exploitation, 22 for begging and 31 for criminal activities. The most detected nationalities are Romanian and Nigerian, followed by Chinese, Paraguayan and Bulgarian, which highlights the complex and often transnational nature of human trafficking. 

In spite of this, no mechanisms for referral or intervention exist at national level, nor a comprehensive anti-trafficking law giving coherence to our currently fragmented and dispersed legal system (Criminal Code, Law on Foreigners, Protocol on the Prevention of Victims of Trafficking, Instruction 6/2016). Some actors that allow a multiagency coordination are the Spanish anti-Trafficking Network (formed by 32 NGOs), the National Anti-trafficking Rapporteur and the Ministry of Equality's Anti-Trafficking Social Forum.

This lack of formal coordination systems results in a weaker identification of victims, especially in the case of child trafficking, which largely remains a hidden reality. There is an urgent need to establish specialized mechanisms addressing the needs of children victims of trafficking. Spain has not yet set up centres specialized in assisting trafficked children, although according to the UN one third of human trafficking victims are minors. 

The most common form of child trafficking is sexual exploitation, however little is known on other types of exploitation. Since 2015, Spanish authorities have started collecting data on labour exploitation and in 2016 investigations were launched on forced marriage. This has allowed making more visible other forms of human trafficking existing on the territory, although more efforts are needed for an effective victim identification, of all sexes and ages.

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