Victim status

In Belgium, since the 1990s, victims of trafficking who agree to comply with the legal officials can benefit from a special residence status. This “victim status” rests on a difficult compromise between on the one hand, the will to protect the victims and to offer them future prospects, and on the other hand, the need for an effective fight against trafficking networks.

Which victims?

Victims of human trafficking
Victims of aggravated forms of human smuggling, for example a victim on whom violence has been used or whose life has been put in danger.

What are the criteria?

Victims must fulfill three basic requirements in order to qualify for a victim status:

  • leave the person or the network that has exploited them ;
  • approach a certified shelter that specializes in receiving human trafficking victims;
  • testify against or produce a statement on the people or the network of traffickers that exploited them.

How does the process work?

In practice, the process is carried out in four phases:

1. Discovery and Identification

First line services on the ground play a crucial role in the discovery and identification of trafficking victims. They provide information and direct them to a specialized centre. The possible victim is given a leeway period of 45 days (in the form of an expulsion order) to leave the people who trafficked them and approach a specialized centre. Afterwards the victim has a choice: sumbit an official statement or return to their country of origin.

If the victim is a foreign or unaccompanied minor, they will automatically qualify for a three month residence permit.

2. Temporary Residence

A provisional residence permit is given to victims who provide statements or lodge a complaint within 45 days, in the form of a certificate of registration that is valid for three months. As with the previous phase, seeking help from a specialized centre is compulsory. The victim is entitled to a type C work permit.

3. Extended Stay

The stay will be further prolonged as the enquiry continues and if several conditions are met:

  • the prosecution or the work auditors decide the person is a victim of trafficking or a severe case of human smuggling;
  • the court case is still being heard;
  • the victim demonstrates a clear desire to cooperate and they have cut all ties with their exploiters;
  • the victim is not considered at risk of compromising public order or national security.

If these conditions are met, the victim will be able to qualify for a 6 month stay permit (enrolment certificate from the Foreign Register), which will be renewed every 6 months until the end of the legal process.

4. Permanent Residence

If the victim’s complaint or statement has led to a conviction based on human trafficking law, the victim will be able to gain a permanent residence permit. This principal also applies to the case where a conviction is reached on the basis of other legislation but where the prosecution but where the work auditors have withheld a detail of human trafficking in their indictment and where the complaint or the statements were significant in the legal process.

What happens if the conditions are not met?

Temporary travel permits granted to the victim can be withdrawn or not renewed in the following cases :

  • if the victim actively, voluntarily, and on their own initiative, rekindles their connection with the people who exploited them;
  • if the victim is considered at risk of compromising public order or national security.

Regarding the 6 month residence permit, three other additional cases are planned:

  • if the victim ceases to cooperate;
  • if the legal authorities have decided to end the process;
  • if the cooperation of the victim is fraudulent or their statement is fraudulent or unfounded.