What is a Transnational Referral Mechanism?

The primary elements of the TRM in the Baltic Sea Region, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine include procedures for the effective and safe transnational assistance and referral of victims of trafficking to a range of services.

This TRM includes measures for four main components:

  1. Identification;
  2. Urgent Assistance and Protection;
  3. Long-Term Assistance and Social Inclusion;
  4. Return.

The TRM is strongly intertwined with and connects to the National Referral Mechanisms (NRMs) of the countries involved.

How to use this TRM?

The TRM contains several measures which are to be carried out in order to ensure efficient and secure referral of persons who may have been subjected to THB and to offer them support and protection. This TRM is primarily intended for professionals who are likely to identify potential victims and in that way are participating in the support process, for example the police, social services, migration agencies, NGOs, shelters, lawyers, health care providers and psychologists. The document is divided into the following measures:

1 – A presumed victim of Trafficking in Human Beings is identified
2 – National Point of Contact / Initial Referral
3 – Formal identification of a victim
4 – Reflection/ Recovery period
5 – Available urgent assistance
6 – Return process
7 – Long-term assistance

The TRM is intended to guide actors in order to guarantee support and protection to presumed and formally identified victims of THB. The actors who will use the manual do not have to go through each measure in the given order, but may instead choose which way would best contribute to the victim receiving support and protection. There is a room for flexibility and individual adaptation of the referral process. The procedures are to be regarded as a help for professionals and are intended to increase cooperation between governmental and non-governmental actors working against THB.

Challenges addressed by the TRM

Countries of the BSR have more commonalities than differences in terms of identified challenges in assisting victims and cooperating internationally.

The main challenges identified by the CBSS Member States are:

  1. Differences in legislation

Procedures for identification of victims and the criteria to be recognized as a victim of human trafficking differ from one country to another.  If in a country of destination, the person is identified as a victim of THB, she/he might not be identified as a victim in another country which has different identification criteria. A formally identified victim in one country might not be considered a victim or might be even seen as a criminal in another country.  There is also no unified terminology in the trafficking field. For example, in some countries, the status of a ‘victim’ could be granted by such authorities as police, an immigration service, a state agency for social welfare or mandated NGOs. The term ‘identified victim’ will be used for this category of victims of THB and can be defined as a person who has been formally identified as a victim of trafficking in human beings by the relevant formal authority in a Member State. But in some cases, victims will not report to the relevant formal authority, or will not want to cooperate with the police. The victim may need assistance and support and for this reason contact victim’ service providers. Also, in these cases, the victim could fulfil the constituent elements of the crime of trafficking in human beings and therefore be considered a victim of trafficking in human beings according to the legal definitions. In some countries this category of victims is either called ‘presumed’ or ‘potential’ victims of trafficking in human beings.

  1. Lack of knowledge about identification and assistance system in a different country.

A lack of first point of contact in a case of human trafficking in the country to which the victim is returned to is a common challenge in all CBSS Member States. Various channels of referral are used based on the available information and personal contacts. For example, NGOs assisting a victim tend to refer a victim to another NGO in the country of origin without notifying responsible state authorities.  Another challenge is incomplete and fragmented information which is provided about the victim to the authorities in the country of origin.  Often victims are returned without notifying any relevant authority at all. As a result, assistance to the victim is interrupted and the person is extremely vulnerable to be re-trafficked.

Each CBSS member state should have a first point of contact for human trafficking cases which other member states and/or national agencies can turn to for method support and exchange of information. Each member state should prepare a list of relevant actors and their contact details. The list should be widely distributed to actors in a position to identify a presumed victim of human trafficking.

  1. Different scope of services and criteria to receive assistance.

Absence of or incomplete legal regulations on provision as a minimum of urgent assistance in some countries hampers successful cooperation. Who is entitled to receive assistance also varies in countries. For example, in Finland assistance is provided also to victims who have been exploited outside Finland, but it is not the case in all countries of the BSR.

Duration of provision of assistance differs from several years till a few months or no assistance at all. In such cases it is not possible to ensure continuation of services once the victim is returned to the country of origin.

Long term assistance to victims is limited or does not exist at all. The  situation is particularly problematic in countries of origin and transit. Assistance systems are mainly geared towards assisting nationals of these countries and do not provide almost any long term protection measures for foreign victims.

  1. Language barrier.

Language barrier is another obstacle that prevents an effective handling of trafficking cases in the Baltic Sea Region.  In many countries communication among experts in English is problematic.  Lack of a common spoken language results in misinterpretation of information or miscommunication.

Principles for assistance

The following principles should be used by all involved professionals from governmental authorities and NGOs encountering victims of THB in order to ensure a sufficient assistance in the short-term and in the long-term avoiding the risk that people subjected to human trafficking will become victims again:

  • Listen to the story of the presumed victim and involve the proper governmental authorities and NGOs on an earlier stage,
  • Be non-discriminatory and assist victims regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, functional disability, sexuality, age or legal status,
  • Do not be judgmental in relation to the potential victim’s earlier experiences and current choices and behaviour,
  • Take into the account possible disabilities or challenges in expressing herself or himself,
  • Respect the decisions made by the victim with knowledge of the circumstances,
  • Define and respect expectations and duties.