The Portuguese Association for Victim Support - APAV is a non-profit organization which supports victims of crime, their families and friends by providing free and confidential quality services. APAV has 15 Victim Support Offices throughout the country, where victims can self-refer or be referred by other institutions (police, social services or others). APAV believes that the statute of the victim of crime must be fully acknowledged, valued and effective and works to achieve this goal in Portugal.
After an agreement made with the High Commission for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue (ACIDI) in 2005, APAV has created the Support Unit for Migrant Victims and Victims of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (UAVIDRE). This unit is specialized in supporting migrants who are victims of crime, especially hate crimes and transnational crimes, such as human trafficking.
Immigration to Portugal is characterized by migrant workers from Brazil, Africa and Easter Europe. These groups are an easy target for discrimination for labour exploitation and human trafficking, especially when they are undocumented.
In order to better address these situations, APAV has created a website and information brochures on migrants’ rights as victims of crime and discrimination which are actively distributed among this population. Also, APAV’s Victim Support Officers receive specialized training to provide adequate support to migrant victims.
The number of human trafficking cases registered in Portugal has been increasing each year. In 2012, the national Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings registered 81 cases of person who were trafficked into the country. The majority of those victims (39) were subjected to labour exploitation.
In order to fight human trafficking in Portugal, the government created a National Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings including a number of awareness-raising and victim support activities. With regard to criminal prosecutions, the Judiciary Police and the Foreign and Border Services have special units to investigate human trafficking situations.
According to Portuguese law, victims of human trafficking are entitled to obtain immediate psychological support, subsistence and legal counselling. If they chose to cooperate with a criminal investigation, victims may also apply for a residence permit which is valid for one year and renewable for as long as the investigations take place. There are two shelters for human trafficking victims (one for men and another for woman), which are ran by non- governmental organizations.
The major challenge faced by organisations working with trafficking victims is guaranteeing the support they need. Usually victims are unwilling to cooperate with investigations and are not entitled to a residence permit or sheltering. The victim’s psychological and physical states are also barriers to the provision of adequate support.
APAV has been developing different approaches within its Victims Support Offices in order to raise awareness and to promote a adequate support for victims of human trafficking. In this context, APAV is part of the national Network for Support and Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking, in which private and public institutions work together to fight human trafficking and support its victims.
In the past years, APAV has also initiated projects in Europe. In 2013, they started Project Briseis – Fight against Human Trafficking for Labour Exploitation, financed by the European Commission (ISEC - Home Affairs). The main goals are to engage the business sector in the prevention of labour exploitation, develop an awareness raising campaign for the general public and a training manual for professionals who work with the identification of possible victims of human trafficking.