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Protecting the victims of trafficking

Am I a victim of human trafficking?
  • Did someone take away your identity card or passport?
  • Is someone forcing you to work for them to pay off a debt?
  • Were you deceived about the nature of the job, location or employer?
  • Are you working excessive days or hours, or performing hazardous work?
  • Are you isolated, confined or under surveillance?
  • Is someone forcing you to work, to engage in criminal activities or have sex against your will?
  • Is someone threatening to hurt you or your family?
If you answered 'yes' for you or someone you know, you or that person may indeed be a victim of human trafficking. You should contact the police or an organisation in the country where you are.

Protecting the victims of trafficking What help and protection will I get?

Very soon, 26 out of the 27 EU countries (Denmark is not included) will have the same laws to help victims of trafficking, to recover and rebuild their lives. Specific measures will protect the most vulnerable victims, who are often children.

On these pages you will find information on these EU-wide rules which must be followed in the national laws of EU countries. Many EU countries already have protections in place for victims of trafficking in their national laws. Information on rules in a particular EU country can be found by consulting relevant organisations in that country that are listed in the Directory. The Directory also contains information on organisations that protect and support victims in particular EU countries.

You will also find more information on the EU’s anti-trafficking website.

Find more information on preventing human trafficking and prosecuting offenders.


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Protecting and Supporting Victims of Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a serious crime and a gross violation of human rights. Traffickers lie to and exploit people for money by forcing them into prostitution or sexual exploitation; forcing them to work with no or little pay often in inhuman conditions; forcing them to beg or commit criminal activities (such as drug smuggling), or forcing them to remove and sell their organs. It is often referred to as modern slavery. A child is considered to be a victim of human trafficking, even where there is no force, deception or abuse of power. A child under EU law is any person under the age of 18.

I am a victim of human trafficking. What support can I expect under the laws that will soon apply in all EU countries?

As a victim of human trafficking, you are entitled to support and assistance.

This support is to help you to recover, to escape the traffickers and to exercise your rights as a victim in proceedings. You do not have to cooperate in any criminal investigation, prosecution or trial to receive the support.

Depending on your needs, you may get safe accommodation and material assistance. You may also be offered psychological support and information, as well as translation and interpretation services, if needed.

Any special needs will be taken care of. For example, if you are pregnant, psychologically ill, or suffering mentally from the effects of psychological, physical or sexual violence, you will be offered appropriate treatment.

You will also get specific protection if you decide to cooperate with the criminal investigation and proceedings. Read more on this below.

Protecting Victims during Investigations and Proceedings

In human trafficking cases the statement of the victim with details of the abuse and the use of force and coercion is often essential to gather the needed evidence to prosecute the case.

Sometimes victims do not want to get involved in criminal prosecutions, but without their cooperation it is difficult to bring trafficking offenders to justice.

The EU has adopted a law that entitles victims of human trafficking to receive protection during criminal investigations and proceedings, such as quick access to legal advice, the necessary legal representation and possible access to witness protection programmes. Special measures may also be put in place to protect victims from further victimisation and trauma during investigations and trials. This could mean avoiding visual contact between the victim and the accused. It could also mean limiting questions about the victim's private life.

Additional measures for child victims will make sure that they are interviewed only by trained professionals in a child-friendly environment.

Are there any other special protections for child victims in the laws that will soon apply in all EU countries?

Yes. Child victims must get special protection across the EU. These include access to education within a reasonable time and the possibility to get a guardian or representative, where necessary. The best interests of the child will always be the primary consideration.

Residence Permits for Victims of Human Trafficking

Existing EU-wide rules allow victims of human trafficking to get temporary residence permits in their host EU countries in certain circumstances. These rules apply in 24 EU countries, excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

As a victim of human trafficking, how do I get a temporary residence permit?

If you are a victim of human trafficking and you help the authorities to fight these crimes, you could obtain a temporary residence permit, even if you entered an EU country illegally. This can also apply to people who have been smuggled into an EU country.

You should first be granted a “reflection period” to allow you to recover and escape the influence of those who have committed the crimes. This will help you to decide on whether or not you want to cooperate with the authorities. The length of the reflection period will be decided by each EU country.

During this reflection period you can get the following guarantees and protection measures:
  • A sufficient standard of living (some kind of support in cash or in kind, and shelter);
  • Access to emergency medical treatment and psychological assistance;
  • Translation and interpreting services;
  • Protection from being expelled from the country;
You may also get free legal aid. After the reflection period, you may be granted a residence permit, provided that:
  • Your stay helps the investigation or judicial proceedings;
  • You show a clear intention to cooperate;
  • You cut all relations with the human traffickers.
If I am granted a residence permit, what rights do I have during my stay?

During your temporary stay, you should have at least the same rights as during a reflection period, including a standard of living that ensures your subsistence (some kind of support in cash or in kind, and shelter). Each EU country decides whether you can work during your temporary stay.

If you are younger than 18, your best interests must be considered when any decision is taken regarding the reflection period and a possible temporary residence permit. As a minor you are entitled to access education.

How long will my temporary residence permit last?

Your residence permit will last at least six months and will be renewed as long as you fulfil the conditions to get a residence permit, as described above.

Can I apply for another permit to allow me to remain in my host EU country?

If you wish to prolong your stay in your host EU country after your temporary residence permit expires, you will need a different type of residence permit.

For example, if you wish to start or continue working or studying, you must comply with the rules that apply in that country.

To find more information on these rules, select your country on this map or use the search tool on the top left corner of this page.

If your temporary permit expires and you do not get another type of permit, you may have to return to your home country.

Organisations in EU countries can give you more details on your rights in your host EU country. Consult the Directory for more information.

Further information

More on trafficking and smuggling

More on the fight against human trafficking

What do I need to enter and live in an EU country?

Crossing the EU border

EU laws and policies on human trafficking

EU-wide rules on trafficking in human beings

EU-wide rules on residence permits for victims of human trafficking

EU-wide rules on smuggling