Trafficking in human beings is a serious crime defined in the ‘Crimes against the Person’ Chapter of Bulgaria’s Criminal Code. The revenue generated by criminal groups involved in human trafficking comes next only to profits gleaned from illicit arms and drug trade. In this context, the main emphasis in 2016, at the European level, was placed on tracking the flows of illicit funds generated from human trafficking and on conducting parallel financial investigations in coordination with criminal investigations. European policies to counter trafficking in persons laid much focus also on the impact of the current migration crisis on the crime of human trafficking. On the one hand, there is the intermingling of migration flows that include irregular asylum seekers and trafficked persons. On the other hand, there is also the intermingling of organised crime networks involved in cross-border people smuggling and those, whose business is trafficking in human beings. At the same time, the migration crisis has brought to the surface a new group of persons vulnerable to human trafficking – the asylumseeking migrants and the economic migrants from third countries. In the context of the new migration realities, unaccompanied migrant minors from third countries are also a high-risk group for trafficking in human beings.

The national anti-trafficking policy is informed and guided by both the national strategic documents and the international instruments to which Bulgaria is a party, i.e., Directive 2011/36/EU, which has been transposed into this country’s domestic law, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), etc.

The National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB) plays a central and coordinating role in the implementation of Bulgaria’s policy to counter human trafficking and protect its victims. The NCCTHB acts as a collegiate body with the Council of Ministers. The National Commission was established by virtue of the 2003 Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act (CTHBA). The organisation and operation of the Commission are governed by two sets of rules annexed to the Act (the Regulations on the Organisation and Activities of the NCCTHB and the Regulations on the Shelters for Temporary Accommodation and the Centres for Protection of and Support to Human Trafficking Victims). According to the CTHBA, the National Commission is chaired by a Deputy Prime Minister, designated by the Council of Ministers.

A major driver in the exercise of the National Commission’s essential functions and in the performance of its activities is its administration (ANCCTHB) headed by the Commission’s Secretary. The ANCCTHB is in charge also of preparing the meetings of the National Commission. Furthermore, the administration draws up and submits for approval to the Commission the Draft Annual National Programme for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protection of Victims, the Annual National Report on the Trends in the Area of Human Trafficking and on the Results Attained in Countering Trafficking in Persons, as well as different strategic instruments, including the National Mechanism for Referral of and Support to Human Trafficking Victims (NRM), which is coordinated by the NCCTHB through its administration. (The National Referral Mechanism was endorsed by the Bulgarian Government in July 2016.)

Acting in its capacity as coordinator of the National Referral Mechanism, the NCCTHB’s administration receives alerts and handles cases of human trafficking, notwithstanding the fact that as all other organisations, agencies, and institutions that are not pre-trial investigation authorities, the ANCCTHB also performs informal identification of victims of human trafficking. At the same time, the NRM provides that such informal identification is sufficient for any trafficking victim to be granted unconditional access to services and programmes designed to support victims of human trafficking (VHT).

Both in the exercise of one of its functions ascribed to it by the Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act and in its capacity as Bulgaria’s national rapporteur equivalent mechanism and NRM coordinator, the ANCCTHB collects data, monitors the work on cases of human trafficking, and provides additional support through the provision of various analyses – both in connection with drawing up national reports and in connection with reporting on various international studies, monitoring groups, and committees. An essential reason for the progress made by the National Commission and by the country as a whole, particularly in view of the fact that the issue of gathering and analysing data is a challenge for most EU Member States, is the access granted to the ANCCTHB to the Unified Information System for Combating Crime (UISCC) maintained by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria. This enables the ANCCTHB to review data on both the victims and the perpetrators of the crime of human trafficking, as well as to track the course of the criminal justice process. A process has been launched for reconciling information from the UISCC with the database
maintained by the ANCCTHB on all informally identified VHTs. The process will be finalised in 2017 and will allow setting up the first single information system containing data on the victims (both formally and informally identified) and on the perpetrators of the crime of human trafficking. When the system is up and running, it will enable the formulation, both nationally and at the regional level, of more precise anti-trafficking policies based on empirical data. Periodic analyses of trends and events in human trafficking will provide also an opportunity for monitoring and assessment of the National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

As at the end of 2016, there were 5 functioning services for victims of trafficking in human beings controlled and administered by the NCCTHB. This was the highest number of services designed solely for VHTs as a target group since the enactment of the Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act. As at the end of 2016, the said services were provided and run by non-governmental organisations – the SOS Families at Risk Foundation and Demetra Association. Both NGOs are members of the Alliance for Protection against Gender Based Violence and Human Trafficking. In addition to these services, there exist the much-needed crisis centres. Some centres are for children only, while others are mixeduse facilities for both children and adult victims of violence and human trafficking. The crisis centres are run primarily by NGOs on a delegated budget from the Government and receive usually some cofinancing under additional projects and programmes.

As at the end of 2016, there were Local Commissions for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (LCCTHBs) set up in nine Bulgarian municipalities – Burgas, Varna, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Sliven, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Blagoevgrad, and Montana. Their activities are coordinated through their secretariats with methodological assistance from the secretary and the administration of the NCCTHB according to a programme approved at a meeting of each Local Commission. The core activities of the Local Commissions are financed from the budget of the National Commission. Cooperation and partnerships with NGOs, with other governmental institutions, in particular, the municipalities, and with the public sector are of crucial importance for all LCCTHBs. Two other municipalities, Pleven and Peshtera, started consultations in 2016 on the possibility to have Local Commissions for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings set up in their regions considering the cases of human trafficking uncovered there and the existing network of services.

Two regular meetings of the National Commission were held in 2016 (on 26 February and on 20 July). At those meetings, the NCCTHB members approved the revised NRM and the National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

Three meetings of the Standing Expert Working Group with the National Commission (SEWG) were held in 2016 (on 2 March, on 2 and 3 June, and on 12 December). One meeting was held in an extended format (with additionally invited participants). All SEWG meetings were devoted to defining the main priority areas of the national anti-trafficking strategy. The World without Borders NGO joined the SEWG in 2016 and UNICEF Bulgaria also sent an official application to join.

In order to successfully implement the national anti-trafficking policy and in consideration of the trends affecting the punishable offence of trafficking in human beings, as well as the recommendations at the global and European level, the ANCCTHB has been active in the field of human trafficking awareness, prevention, and research. This includes conducting targeted research on vulnerability factors among atrisk groups, carrying out activities aimed at initiating professional discussions and increasing the capacity of professionals, particularly their capacity for early identification of trafficked persons and detection of trafficking cases, as well as for timely referral of human trafficking victims. By working closely with established European partners, such as other countries’ national anti-trafficking coordinators or national rapporteurs, by actively participating in the network of the national antitrafficking coordinators from South Eastern Europe, and by actively partnering with Swiss institutions and organisations, as well as through cooperative activities and partnerships with international and intergovernmental organisations, the ANCCTHB participates in active international cooperation for the purposes of the practical application of good practices and the elaboration of more efficient policies. The administration is actively involved also in the international coordination of human trafficking cases in order to provide timely redress and protection for the victims and to assist the criminal
investigation, prosecution, and punishment of the crime. Accordingly, this country’s participation in the informal cooperation networks and fora with the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator for the purpose of advocacy is also of major importance. It includes collaboration with the EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings. Long-standing members of this platform, representing Bulgaria, are Demetra Association, Neglected Children Society – ECPAT Bulgaria, and the Center for the Study of Democracy (2013-1016). The ‘Animus Association’ Foundation / La Strada Bulgaria also joined the CSO platform in late 2016.

The NCCTHB incurs expenditure in accordance with the functions and obligations ascribed to it by the Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act:
(1) for the performance of the principal activities required to achieve its mission and core tasks as
laid down in the National Programme (containing seven key sections and thematic areas);
(2) to cover the operating expenses of the Administration of the NCCTHB;
(3) to cover the operating expenses of the shelters for temporary accommodation and the centres for
the protection of and support for human trafficking victims;
(4) to cover the operating expenses of the nine Local Commissions (LCCTHBs).

The 2016 National Programme for Preventing and Countering Trafficking in Human Beings and Protection of Trafficking Victims was approved by the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB) at its meeting held on 26 February 2016. Apart from being required under the Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act, the National Programme is drawn up in response to the need to implement clearly defined and decisive strategic policies and operational measures to ensure effective implementation of the anti-trafficking legislation and the mechanisms for victim identification, referral and social inclusion, including prevention of the crime of human trafficking, preceded by assessment and analyses of the current mechanisms, policies, and services.

The National Programme for Preventing and Countering Trafficking in Human Beings and Protection of Trafficking Victims contains seven sections and seven strategic goals. It is drawn up annually by experts in the employ of the ANCCTHB and the secretaries of the LCCTHBs in consultation with the experts for the Standing Expert Working Group with the National Commission (SEWG). The 2016 National Programme was approved by Council of Ministers Decision No. 346 of 9 May 2016. All National Anti-Trafficking Programmes and Reports are available on the internet site of the NCCTHB.

The National anti-trafficking programme for 2016 was the most ambitious vis-à-vis the programmes from previous years. It contained more than 35 activities all of which were implemented. It is important also to take into consideration the activities carried out by the Local Commissions. Additionally, a number of documents were elaborated in the course of the year of significance for the long-term antitrafficking policy. Those included a revised version of the National Mechanism for Referral of and Support to the Victims of Human Trafficking developed over the period from 2008 to 2010, a draft and finalised National Strategy for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, a concept for a multidisciplinary team tasked with working on cases of human trafficking (NRM) with specific focus points and alternate team members from each key institution, draft amendments to the Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act and the Regulations thereto. Particularly important was the clear definition of the ‘reflection and recovery period’ referred to in Directive 2011/36/EU and its timescale.

Another significant event in 2016 was the setting up of an independent team within the office of the ANCCTHB in the framework of a project component administered by the NCCTHB, part of the Swiss-Bulgarian Programme of Cooperation for the Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings and the Identification, Protection, Support, Return and Reintegration of Victims of Trafficking, in coordination with the project components administered by the ‘Animus Association’ Foundation and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The team is made up of a project manager, a project assistant, a programme coordinator, and a lawyer. It made a major contribution in 2016 to the work of the National Commission’s Standing Expert Working Group. In addition to coordinating the activities in the project framework, some of which were related to 2016 National Programme (such as developing the concept of a multidisciplinary team) the team plays a key role in conducting expert studies among vulnerable groups, delivery of training courses for experts, developing the National Commission’s partnership networks, and exchange of working visits.

Download the full report for 2016 here: NCCTHB_Report_2016_EN