2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Denmark


The Government of Denmark does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Denmark remained on Tier 2. These efforts included financially supporting counseling centers and health clinics for potential trafficking victims, including mobile health units focused on sex trafficking outreach, and issuing new guidelines related to victim support during a pandemic and victim identification in asylum centers. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Courts did not convict any traffickers for the second consecutive year, and authorities prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers. The government continued to focus on the undocumented status of some foreign victims rather than screening for trafficking indicators. The government did not provide significant incentives for victims to cooperate in investigations, such as long-term residence permits, and the government’s practice to move toward repatriating victims inhibited successful prosecutions and left victims vulnerable to re-trafficking and reluctant to come forward and work with police. Additionally, the government held the passports of foreign victims who cooperated with authorities, without their consent, leaving them at risk of re-traumatization. Finally, the criminal code lacked a non-punishment provision, resulting in some authorities prosecuting victims, including children, for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.


Significantly increase efforts to prosecute and convict suspected traffickers. • Proactively screen all vulnerable individuals, such as migrant workers, asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children, for trafficking indicators and stay deportation of potential victims prior to identification and care. • Grant and renew residence permits to asylum-seekers. • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the trafficking statute. • Increase incentives for all victims to cooperate in the prosecution of traffickers, including by granting longer-term residency, work permits, and reparation. • Amend the law to include a non-punishment provision ensuring trafficking victims, including children, are not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. • Increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims and prosecute and convict labor traffickers. • Develop clear procedures for identifying child trafficking victims and train relevant workers to recognize indicators. • Increase the number of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges who specialize in trafficking cases. • Train staff at asylum centers to recognize trafficking indicators among potential victims and report those victims for assistance. • Expand efforts to streamline victim identification procedures, including by expeditiously transferring potential trafficking victims from police or immigration custody to crisis centers or care providers. • Establish an anti-trafficking unit within the Copenhagen Police.


The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Section 262(a) of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, authorities investigated six trafficking cases (five sex trafficking, one labor trafficking), the same number as in 2019 (one in 2018, four in 2017). Officials prosecuted two suspects (both labor trafficking), compared with four in 2019, three in 2018, and two in 2017. Courts did not convict any traffickers for the second consecutive year (one in 2018, nine in 2017). There was one trafficking-related prosecution that resulted in a conviction under a non-trafficking statute—a Danish fisherman exploited two Ghanaian sailors in forced labor for three years; courts acquitted the man of those charges and instead convicted him of usury, issuing a sentence of one year and six months’ probation, 250 hours of community service, and a 3 million kroner ($494,640) fine. Experts continued to express concern with the low number of convictions, particularly for labor trafficking, over the past several years. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

Local police in collaboration with regional departments investigated trafficking cases. However, overextended police officers managed multiple responsibilities, including counterterrorism, redirecting a significant amount of their attention and time from trafficking and limiting the number of officers available to conduct investigations. Furthermore, the Copenhagen Police’s homicide division maintained responsibility for anti-trafficking investigations as one of its many responsibilities, despite Copenhagen being the most populous city in the country and a primary location for trafficking crimes. An investigation unit within the National Police worked on trafficking investigations among other crimes, such as human smuggling. The Danish Tax Agency (DTA) assessed the risk of trafficking in tax-related criminal cases, and in cases involving trafficking, DTA participated in police inspections and provided police and prosecutors with information on citizens’ and companies’ tax and value added tax payments. The National Police continued to allocate approximately 18 million kroner ($2.97 million) through 26 full-time staff to combat and investigate trafficking cases. The government maintained trafficking coordinators in each of the country’s 12 districts. According to regional experts, however, the level of expertise varied by district, and there were no specialized police investigators outside of the National Centre of Investigation, which had no jurisdiction but assisted local and regional police in trafficking investigations. Additionally, there were no specialized prosecutors or judges in the country. Reports indicated limited resources and an overreliance on victim testimony led to cases being investigated and prosecuted under non-trafficking statutes, such as pimping. The government’s Center against Human Trafficking (CMM) and National Police provided police with instructions on trafficking at the police academy and additional training for police who became investigators. CMM also provided guidelines to defense lawyers representing trafficking victims.


The government decreased efforts to protect trafficking victims. Authorities identified 64 trafficking victims (36 sex trafficking, seven labor trafficking, 10 forced criminality, 11 uncategorized), the same number as in 2019 (97 in 2018, 98 in 2017). Of these victims, 43 were female, 20 were male, and one identified as transgender. Eleven of the identified victims were children (six in 2019, 10 in 2018, three in 2017). There were five Danish victims identified (none in 2019 or 2018, one in 2017). Experts noted the trend toward online advertisement of commercial sex made identifying sex trafficking victims more difficult. NGOs reported the government’s perspective that trafficking was a sex-based phenomenon with primarily female victims led to the underreporting and inadequate identification of adult and child male victims in forced labor. Furthermore, while local organizations, including local unions and churches, played a central role in identifying large-scale labor cases in recent years, the pandemic-related lockdown hindered organizations’ ability to identify victims through their communities. In 2020, the government developed procedures for staff at asylum centers to identify trafficking indicators among potential victims, but observers noted staff did not receive training. The government provided a list of indicators and procedures to authorities for proactive victim identification. The procedures involved multiple government and law enforcement agencies, requiring several interviews of victims, who at times remained in detention before referral to NGOs, and required police to call CMM if a suspected victim was in custody. CMM was responsible for formal identification of victims of Danish or EU origin or who were documented migrants, and the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) was responsible for formal identification of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. DIS screened potential victims during the asylum interview; however, according to NGOs, the DIS interview was often too brief to make an accurate identification. Due to the pandemic, CMM and DIS were unable to conduct interviews in prison facilities; as a result, the police agreed to conduct detailed interviews with trafficking-specific questions. Officials had the authority to detain potential victims for 72 hours and could extend this period when they needed more time to determine victim status or immigration status, or to identify traffickers. NGOs contended authorities primarily treated victims as undocumented immigrants subject to deportation, especially if victims were previously detained by law enforcement. Furthermore, while the government provided guidelines on not imposing penalties upon trafficking victims, Danish law lacked a non-punishment provision ensuring victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Observers noted incidents in which authorities prosecuted victims, including children, for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

In 2020, all 64 identified victims received some form of government assistance (63 in 2019, 89 in 2018, 88 in 2017); 41 victims entered care facilities. As a standard practice, CMM assigned a contact person to identified victims to assist them with support. Government-funded, NGO-operated facilities provided trafficking victims medical and psychological care, shelter, and financial, legal, and reintegration assistance. Although these facilities were trafficking-specific, authorities sometimes housed victims with asylum-seekers. Three shelters for female victims accommodated up to nine adults and received 7.8 million kroner ($1.29 million) from the government. During the reporting period, CMM established counseling centers and health clinics for foreign women in commercial sex in Copenhagen and Aarhus. There was no specialized shelter for male victims, but accommodation was available if necessary. Municipal child protection authorities assisted child victims and placed them in municipal accommodation or in residential care institutions. The Danish Red Cross assisted unaccompanied children in facilities partially funded by the government and screened all unaccompanied children in asylum centers for trafficking indicators. Observers continued to express concern over the disappearance of unaccompanied children from asylum centers and reports of unaccompanied children, particularly Moroccan boys living in asylum centers, being forced into sex trafficking, forced labor, and petty criminality. Regional experts reported shortcomings, such as a lack of clear procedures, in the identification of child victims, especially among unaccompanied children. Of the 11 child victims identified, eight received accommodations – four in asylum centers and four under the auspices of relevant municipalities.

Stricter immigration policies and guidelines, including an assessment deeming parts of Syria safe, increased vulnerability among asylum-seekers and refugees, particularly those the government returned to their country of origin who could face retribution or hardship. The Aliens Act allowed the government to grant residence permits to refugees and family members, including trafficking victims, for temporary stay only, and to revoke residence permits if the need for protection no longer existed, unless contrary to Denmark’s international obligations. Consequently, Syrian refugees—the highest percentage of asylum-seekers in Denmark—who received residence permits linked to their approved asylum claims had their cases reopened and reviewed, affecting approximately 1,250 Syrians. Officials and media outlets reported, by the end of 2020, 170 Syrian refugees from Damascus and Rif Damascus had their residence permits revoked or denied for renewal and more than 1,000 remained under review, exposing them to long stays in asylum centers and increased risk to trafficking.

In 2020, the government did not report granting residence permits to victims, the same as in 2019 and 2018 (one in 2017). Regional experts underscored it was “nearly impossible” for victims to receive a residence permit in Denmark, noting since 2015 the government had granted only six new residence permits. Experts also underscored the difficulty for victims to receive work permits. As part of procedure, the government granted identified, undocumented trafficking victims a 30-day reflection period to stay in Denmark and receive support and assistance with the potential to extend another 90 days. The government required victims who accepted the subsequent 90 days extended departure deadline to leave voluntarily within 120 days. Regional anti-trafficking experts, including the Council of Europe, emphasized this period did not refer to a period of reflection and recovery necessary to determine whether victims would cooperate in the investigation of their cases; rather it was a period of time the victims had to cooperate in their repatriation. Until March 2020, an international organization served as the contracted partner for voluntary returns. Since then, the government moved the mandate to the Ministry of Immigration and Integration’s Return Agency, which oversaw the return of foreigners, who received rejected residency requests, including trafficking victims, to their country of origin. While the move centralized victim support in the Return Agency, NGOs expressed concern the new agency lacked experience and capacity. Furthermore, one NGO reported the Return Agency held the passports of four trafficking victims without their consent – a practice that could potentially re-traumatize victims. During the reporting period, the ministry responded to a parliamentary inquiry about this practice, stating the Return Agency had victims who opted into the voluntary return program “deposit” their passports with the government to “ensure the alien’s presence, while the cooperation with the alien on an individual action plan leading up to the repatriation takes place.” Predictably, some victims chose not to participate in a voluntary return because they viewed it as merely preparation for deportation. Additionally, traffickers’ use of debt-based coercion and victims’ lack of protection in their home countries served as significant deterrents from accepting the return. The government allowed victims who assisted in the prosecution of a trafficker to remain in Denmark for the duration of the investigation or court proceedings. However, NGOs reported the threat of deportation prevented victims from coming forward and led some identified victims to leave shelters before the conclusion of police investigations or court proceedings in order to evade deportation. Additionally, observers noted that many victims saw no benefit to being identified and that there was little to no incentive for victims to serve as witnesses since there were no long-term residency options, the compensation process remained complex, and above all else, the government prioritized returning victims to their countries of origin.


The government moderately increased prevention efforts. Officials implemented the 2019-2021 national action plan and budgeted 63 million kroner ($10.39 million) for the duration of the plan. In addition, a 2016 omnibus social spending resolution passed by Parliament allocated 9.4 million kroner ($1.55 million) through 2020 for anti-trafficking efforts, such as outreach, victim identification, and shelter. CMM received 14.8 million kroner ($2.44 million) annually as well as an additional 1.7 million kroner ($280,300) allocated for reintegration. During the reporting period, CMM conducted awareness campaigns addressing forced labor, including outreach to businesses with at-risk employees, such as massage parlors. Additionally, CMM released guidelines on providing support to potential victims during a pandemic. Since many potential victims did not speak Danish and struggled to access and understand information on assistance, CMM released translated health guidelines and mobile health units focused primarily on outreach to individuals in commercial sex. CMM operated a hotline for reporting trafficking cases in Danish and English; in 2020, the hotline received 204 calls (316 in 2019, 277 in 2018) and identified 19 victims. Although CMM coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, multiple government agencies maintained equities and responsibilities in anti-trafficking efforts. NGOs reported challenges in coordination and referred to the issue as “politically homeless,” falling between many priority areas, such as immigration or gang violence. CMM distributed guidelines on preventing forced labor in businesses and supply chains. CMM also supported a working group focused on combating forced labor and exchanging information on new trends among relevant authorities. Denmark participated in a regional project to support stakeholders in combating and disrupting labor trafficking by analyzing and consolidating information, improving assistance to victims, and increasing prosecution of traffickers. Authorities from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden facilitated international policing efforts and information-sharing, including on trafficking-related issues, through Nordic liaison officers stationed at 20 Nordic embassies and consulates around the world. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Denmark and, to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Denmark abroad. Vulnerable groups include migrant and asylum-seeking women, young men, and children, and members of the LGBTQI+ community, particularly those with non-traditional gender identities. Reports indicate a drop in the number of asylum-seekers in 2020—approximately 1,547, the lowest number since Denmark began tracking in 1998—as a result of stricter policies prioritizing repatriation over integration. NGOs express concern the new immigration policies exacerbate the risk to trafficking among asylum-seekers. Reports also indicate victims without EU citizenship or residency experienced increased vulnerability throughout the pandemic due to domestic lockdowns and international border closures. Traffickers exploit migrants, typically men who come to Denmark in large groups from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, in labor trafficking, specifically trucking, construction, agriculture, domestic service, restaurants, hotels, and factories, through debt-based coercion, withheld wages, abuse, and threats of deportation. According to NGOs, traffickers exploit unaccompanied children, particularly Moroccan boys, in sex trafficking and forced labor, including drug trafficking, theft, and other forms of forced criminality. Traffickers exploit men, women, and children from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia in forced labor and sex trafficking in Denmark. The majority of women exploited in commercial sex originate from the Philippines, Romania, Thailand, and Nigeria. Reports indicate an increasing number of sex trafficking victims coming from Poland, African countries including Ghana and Uganda, and South American countries including Brazil. NGOs report an increasing trend toward online advertised commercial sex rather than in established locations.