[ Human Trafficking, Country-by-Country ]

RUSSIA (Tier 3) – Extracted in part  from the U.S. State Dept 2023 TIP Report

The Government of Russia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Russia remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government facilitated the return of Russian children from Syria, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. However, during the reporting period there was a government policy or pattern of trafficking of Ukrainian citizens and North Korean workers. There were also reports of Russian officials forcing, deceiving, or coercing foreign national adults to fight in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. As part of its war of aggression against Ukraine, the Russian government operated a sprawling filtration operation and detention system that included the use of forced labor. The government continued to perpetuate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) imposition of forced labor conditions on North Korean workers. The government did not screen North Korean workers in Russia for trafficking indicators or identify any North Korean trafficking victims, despite credible reports in previous years that the DPRK operated work camps in Russia and exploited thousands of North Korean workers in forced labor. The government issued or re-issued 4,723 visas to North Koreans in 2022 in an apparent attempt to circumvent UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) prohibiting DPRK overseas labor. The government did not report how many North Korean workers remained in Russia in 2022. Separate from this complicity, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims, and its efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers decreased. Authorities continued to lack a process for victim identification and referral to care, and the criminal code did not establish a definition for a trafficking victim, hindering identification efforts and limiting access to victim services. The government offered no funding or programs to provide services for trafficking victims, and authorities routinely penalized victims and potential victims for unlawful acts committed solely as a direct result of being trafficked. As in previous years, the government did not draft a national strategy or assign roles and responsibilities to government agencies to combat human trafficking.

Additionally, the government engaged in conduct that created populations that are highly vulnerable to trafficking. The government’s forcible transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, including by forcibly separating some children from parental figures, greatly increased the separated children’s vulnerability to trafficking. Moreover, the government’s war against Ukraine created millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine, as well as those internally displaced by Russia’s aggression, all of whom were highly vulnerable to trafficking. The scale and scope of such conduct raise real and serious concerns regarding significant potential risks of trafficking.

Prioritized Recommendations

Cease the use of forced labor in filtration detention centers and the use of child labor for military purposes.

Stop the forcible recruitment and use of Russian citizens and foreign nationals as soldiers by government forces and pro-government militias and enforce limits on the length of compulsory military service.

Investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes and convict traffickers under the trafficking statutes, including complicit officials and suspected trafficking cases related to North Korean workers in Russia, respecting due process.

Develop and implement formal national procedures to guide law enforcement, labor inspectors, and other government officials in identifying and referring victims to service providers, particularly among labor migrants and individuals in commercial sex, and screen for trafficking indicators among individuals arrested for commercial sex or immigration violations.

Allocate funding to state bodies and anti-trafficking NGOs to provide specialized assistance and care to victims.

Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

Given significant concerns that the DPRK subjects its overseas workers to conditions that amount to forced labor, screen North Korean workers, students, and tourists for trafficking indicators and refer them to appropriate services, in a manner consistent with obligations under UNSCR 2397.

Create a national anti-trafficking action plan and establish a central coordinator for government efforts.

Ensure victim identification and protection measures are not tied to the prosecution of a trafficker and allow all first responders to officially identify potential trafficking victims and refer them to care.

Take all necessary steps to allow those forcibly relocated to Russia to travel freely and avoid falling victim to traffickers.

Increase efforts to raise public awareness of both sex and labor trafficking, including among children.

Ensure screening of children returned from Iraq and Syria for child soldiering indicators and provide them with rehabilitation and reintegration support.

Provide victims access to legal alternatives to removal to countries where they face hardship or retribution.

Amend the criminal code to include a definition of human trafficking that is consistent with the definition under international law.

Create a central repository for publicly available information on investigation, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing data for trafficking cases.