Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Switzerland


The Government of Switzerland fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, Switzerland remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by increasing prosecutions, the number of identified victims, and public funding for NGOs that provide victim care. The government opened a new shelter dedicated to serving trafficking victims and provided training to law enforcement officials, judicial officials, migration officials, NGOs, social service providers, and shelter staff. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it continued to sentence the majority of convicted traffickers to short sentences, suspended sentences, or fines. The government often treated forced labor as less serious labor violations.


Sentence convicted traffickers to significant terms of imprisonment, including in forced labor cases; strengthen or revise existing criminal code articles, particularly article 182, to better differentiate between sex and labor trafficking; establish a comprehensive referral system and increase access to specialized services, especially for asylum-seekers, male, child, and transgender victims; improve the process for issuing short- and long-term residency permits for potential victims, especially those in the asylum registration and transition centers; and provide additional police and judicial training to better equip law enforcement personnel and judiciary to address trafficking.


The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Articles 180, 181, 182, 195, and 196 of the penal code prohibit all forms of trafficking with penalties from one to 20 years of imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 182 prescribes the same penalties for trafficking for labor exploitation as for sex trafficking. The government provided law enforcement data from the most recent year for which it was compiled; this resulted in the government reporting data from 2016 for some categories and 2015 for others. The government did not disaggregate data on law enforcement efforts between sex trafficking and forced labor. The government initiated 233 human trafficking investigations in 2016, compared to 306 in 2015. Cantonal authorities prosecuted 190 defendants in 2016, compared to 96 in 2014, the most recent year for which complete data was available for comparison. The government obtained convictions of 22 defendants on trafficking charges in 2015, compared to 28 in 2014, the most recent year for which complete data was available for comparison. Authorities continued one of the largest trafficking investigations in its history involving a network of approximately 25 suspects accused of subjecting Thai nationals to trafficking. The main suspect was formally charged with a trafficking crime and awaited trial at the end of the reporting period. Of the 22 convictions, only 11 resulted in prison time. Of those 11 prison sentences, only seven received a prison sentence of one year imprisonment or more, with four partially suspended and seven fully suspended prison sentences or receiving monetary fines. The highest sentence issued for trafficking crimes was for six years in prison, while the lowest sentence was a suspended monetary fine that would have corresponded to a 180-day prison sentence. Observers reported judges often treated forced labor crimes as lesser labor violations and perpetrators consequently received lesser penalties not commensurate with the crimes committed.

The Special Brigade against Human Trafficking and Illicit Prostitution (BTPI), a cantonal anti-trafficking police unit based in Geneva, consisted of 22 inspectors that undertook house searches, which are the result of house warrants and patrolled areas known for prostitution to investigate suspicions of human trafficking. The government partnered with international law enforcement organizations such as EUROPOL and INTERPOL to conduct international investigations on trafficking and extradite traffickers. It also participated in several joint expert working groups, including EUROPOL’s “Blue Amber” action days, focusing on human trafficking and people smuggling. The Swiss Federal Police (Fedpol) regularly collaborated with counterparts from Romania, Hungary, Thailand, Greece, Austria, Germany and Kosovo, among others, investigate and prosecuted both sex and labor trafficking offenses. In 2016, authorities provided training to German-speaking and French-speaking law enforcement officials. Following the federal administrative court’s first hosting of a trafficking education seminar for judicial officials in December 2015, the court organized two more sessions in 2016 to train an additional 30 police officers and one public prosecutor. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.


The government increased protection efforts. The federal government continued to lack standard procedures across cantons for victim protection and victim identification. Cantonal authorities reported identifying 197 victims, 107 of whom were victims of forced prostitution during the reporting period. Assistance for victims of violence was available in almost all of the 26 cantons but did not always include anti-trafficking services and varied canton to canton. In 2015, the latest year for which assistance data was available, 91 victims and/or relatives of victims received government trafficking-specific counseling. Federal and cantonal government sources financed the vast majority of a leading NGO’s 2.5 million Swiss franc ($2.45 million) operating costs of its trafficking victim protection program. One NGO, using funding provided by the government during the previous reporting period, established a new shelter that served trafficking victims. A leading NGO reported assisting 172 trafficking victims, 34 of which were referred by the police. Fifty-six were sex trafficking victims, while 12 were forced labor victims. One NGO reported an increase in the number of trafficking victims among asylum-seekers. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) maintained a nationwide circular to educate personnel on how to more effectively identify trafficking victims in the asylum system.

Under the Swiss Victim Assistance Law (OHG), all trafficking victims are entitled to help from the government-funded women’s shelters or victim assistance centers for victims of abuse, and enjoy special safeguards during criminal proceedings. Cantonal authorities maintain jurisdiction on providing protection for victims, and trafficking victims are entitled to free and immediate assistance centers that vary from canton to canton. Many cantons have referral agreements with NGO-operated victim assistance facilities that specialize in trafficking. Through the anti-human trafficking ordinance the government dispersed a total of 333,312 Swiss francs ($327,100) to seven public and private service providers from a total annual allocation of 400,000 Swiss francs ($392,540). The government supported specialized trafficking and other shelters. The ordinance allows all organizations involved in implementing anti-trafficking measures to apply for a government grant. NGOs regularly provide anti-trafficking services to victims, including a network of therapists and medical specialists for counseling. The BTPI did not report the number of victims during the reporting period. Services for child and male victims were limited, especially shelter, counseling, and victim referral resources. The government provided male victims temporary shelter in centers, hotels, or NGO-operated shelters for men, and NGOs that received government support provided limited services to such victims. One of the leading NGOs also assisted male victims and helped four transgendered victims. NGOs reported more resources are needed to address the shortcomings for protection services of male and child trafficking victims. The government also facilitates assistance to foreign victims of trafficking; however, due to strict residency requirements, few are granted long-term residency permits and instead are provided with repatriation assistance to help them return home. The government held a series of anti-trafficking workshops for both German- and French-speaking police officers, cantonal migration officials, NGOs, and social service providers during the reporting period. The training included advice and best practices for victim identification.

Services for asylum-seekers in transition between registration and reception centers within Switzerland’s asylum system were insufficient, especially for underage trafficking victims. The government granted 48 individuals reflection periods, 85 short-term residence permits, and 21 hardship-based residence permits. Sixteen victims received restitution payments in 2015, but no information was provided for the number of restitutions payments received in 2016. NGOs expressed concern that it remained difficult for victims to obtain victim protection and hardship residence permits without the assistance of a judge. In May, a conference of cantonal social directors published recommendations on care for unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers, which also included a chapter on the protection of underage trafficking victims.


The government maintained prevention efforts. A specialized unit within Fedpol coordinated national efforts, including anti-trafficking policy, information exchange, cooperation, and training. The government co-hosted and co-funded several awareness events organized by cantonal authorities and NGOs during the national anti-trafficking week in October 2016. In November 2016, the Swiss Coordination Unit against the Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (KSMM) hosted its third national meeting of the heads of the cantonal anti-trafficking roundtables to exchange information on trafficking issues and anti-trafficking measures. The government conducted an annual assessment of its anti-trafficking efforts, which it provided to the Council of Europe, OSCE, and UN. The SEM also provided 10,000 Swiss francs ($9,810) to the IOM for the production of German and French anti-TIP flyers disseminated in restaurants, bars, cinemas, and shops. Also on the European Day against Human Trafficking in October, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and IOM co-hosted an international roundtable with anti-trafficking experts from Romania and Bulgaria on strengthening transnational cooperation for fighting trafficking. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The FDFA educates incoming diplomats and consular officers each year on human trafficking and refers them to the OSCE handbook on forced labor within diplomatic households, which the government co-financed. The government continued to maintain prevention efforts and increased awareness about trafficking issues throughout the year.

Fedpol initiated a program for strengthening the work of NGOs to prevent crimes in commercial sex. Federal, cantonal, and municipal authorities provided a combined total of 285,000 Swiss francs ($279,690) to a leading NGO that fights trafficking. The federal government also provided 579,599 Swiss francs ($68,790) to a leading international organization that serves trafficking victims. The government formally adopted its new national action plan and began implementation during the reporting period.


As reported over the past five years, Switzerland is primarily a destination and, to a lesser extent, a transit country for women, children, and transgender people subjected to sex trafficking, as well as men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, including forced begging and forced criminal activity. Foreign trafficking victims originate primarily from Central and Eastern Europe—particularly Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Albania, although victims also come from Thailand, Nigeria, China, Brazil, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, and Morocco. Forced labor exists in the domestic service and health care sectors, and in agriculture, catering, construction, and tourism. Female victims among asylum-seekers came from Nigeria, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, and were often forced into prostitution and domestic servitude. Male victims among asylum-seekers came primarily from Eritrea and Afghanistan and were exploited both in the sex trade and for forced labor.