Victim assistance, victim protection and return assistance

Victim assistance and protection
The Federal Act on Assistance to Victims of Crime, dated 23 March 2007 (Victims Assistance Act; SR 312.5), provides for counselling and assistance to anyone who has been directly harmed physically, sexually or psychologically by a criminal act in Switzerland, regardless of their nationality or residential status.

Victims of human trafficking have usually suffered physical and psychological violence and therefore have a right to counselling and assistance. Assistance consists of a series of measures tailored to the needs and situation of the individual victim. The measures include accommodation, care and counselling during the stabilisation phase, medical assistance and legal aid. Since human trafficking victims are usually traumatised, they are often in need of care by a victim care agency that specialises in human trafficking.

The provisions in the Foreign Nationals Act on the stay of human trafficking victims in Switzerland are designed to protect victims. These people are often in Switzerland illegally. Once their exploitation ceases, they need the opportunity to be stabilised and consider their future, including the question of whether they wish to co-operate with law enforcement agencies and of returning to their home country. For this purpose they are granted a period for recovery and reflection of at least 30 days under the provisions of Article 35 of the Ordinance on Admission, Stay and Employment. Once the period for recovery and reflection is over, the victim may be granted a residence permit for the duration of the investigations and court proceedings. If there are valid reasons why a victim cannot return to their home country, they may receive a residence permit on the grounds of serious personal hardship under the provisions of Article 30 of the Foreign Nationals Act and Article 31 of the Ordinance on Admission, Stay and Employment, regardless of whether they decide to co-operate with law enforcement authorities.

Protection from harm
The cantonal police are responsible for protecting individuals from harm to life and limb and thus for guaranteeing the safety of human trafficking victims who do not participate in criminal proceedings but are nevertheless at risk of being harmed.

Witness and victim protection during criminal proceedings is grounded in the cantonal criminal procedure codes and has also been guaranteed since January 2011 under Article 149 seq. of the Federal Code of Criminal Procedure (CrimPC).

The Federal Act on Extra-Procedural Witness Protection (WitPA), which came into force on 1 January 2013, extends protection to witnesses and victims of human trafficking in federal and cantonal criminal proceedings also outside the actual proceedings and after conclusion of the trial.

Return assistance
The objective of return assistance is to support those eligible for assistance to return to their home country voluntarily and to assist in their reintegration. Return assistance comprises return counselling, organising the trip home, financial start-up aid, supplementary material assistance for a reintegration project and medical assistance. The return and reintegration of the participant is organised by the International Organization for Migration on behalf of the State Secretariat for Migration SEM. Return assistance is intended for victims and witnesses of human trafficking as well as cabaret dancers who have been exploited in Switzerland.

Under new provisions in Article 60 of the Foreign Nationals Act, the State Secretariat for Migration SEM established a long-term return assistance programme in April 2010 following a two-year pilot project.

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