Legislative framework

European legislation

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings

(in force for Bulgaria as of 18 June 2007) aims to:

  • Prevent trafficking in human beings;
  • Provide protection to the victims of trafficking;
  • Ensure criminal prosecution of traffickers; and
  • Encourage coordination of national actions and international cooperation.

The main added value of the Convention is its focus on human rights and victim protection. The Convention defines trafficking in human beings as a violation of human rights and an offence to the dignity and integrity of the human being. The national authorities are liable for failure to take the necessary action to prevent trafficking in human beings, protect victims and effectively investigate cases of trafficking in human beings.

Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims

The Directive expands the scope of the crime of trafficking in human beings by including other forms of exploitation (forced begging, exploitation of criminal activities, trafficking for the purpose of the removal of organs). It also obligates the Member States to provide appropriate protection and support to victims before, during and after the completion of criminal proceedings.

The Directive also sets out an explicit prohibition of criminal prosecution and punishing of victims of trafficking for any crimes committed under force and in a situation of trafficking in human beings.

Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime

The Directive applies to all victims of crime and not just to victims of trafficking in human beings. It sets out guarantees that victims of crime shall receive the necessary information, protection and support during their participation in criminal proceedings. The Directive expands the concept of “victim” to include family members of a person whose death is a direct consequence of a crime and who have suffered damage as a result of the person’s death. The Directive also lays down the concept of “victims with specific needs” with respect to whom special measures are envisaged after an assessment to establish the specific needs:
  • Measures to avoid visual contact between victims and perpetrators;
  • Hearing the victim without the victim being physically present in the court room through the use of communication technology;
  • Avoidance of unnecessary questioning of the victim concerning the victim’s private life;
  • Hearing the victim without the presence of the public.
Child victims are deemed to have specific protection needs due their vulnerability to secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation and retaliation.

Directive 2004/81/EC of 29 April 2004 on the residence permit issued to third-country nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings or who have been the subject of an action to facilitate illegal immigration, who cooperate with the competent authorities

The Directive sets out the terms for issuance of a residence permit for a limited period depending on the duration of the national proceedings applicable to third-country nationals who cooperate in combating trafficking in human beings and illegal immigration.

The Directive also applies to victims of trafficking who entered the territory of a Member State illegally.

The Directive explicitly provides for a reflection period for victims of trafficking so that they may make an informed decision whether to cooperate with the authorities. During the reflection period victims shall be given the necessary accommodation, medical and psychological assistance, legal and linguistic help in line with the national legislation.

Council Directive 2004/80/EC of 29 April 2004 relating to compensation to crime victims

The Directive guarantees the right of victims of a violent intentional crime committed in a Member State other than the one where they reside habitually to lodge an application for compensation before the competent authority in the respective Member State.

As regards migrants, along with the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), the following rules also apply to EU Member States with regard to providing international protection to victims of trafficking in human beings:

  • Directive 2013/33/EU – Standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast of Directive 2003/9/EC regarding reception).
  • Directive 2011/95/EU – Minimum standards for recognition and the status of refugees/persons with subsidiary protection. Victims of trafficking are deemed to be “vulnerable persons”.
  • Directive 2013/32/EU on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection (recast of Directive 2005/85/EC as regards procedures).

According to these rules, the circumstance that a person was the victim of trafficking or is exposed to the risk of becoming a victim of trafficking in human beings may determine the requirements for international protection and whether victims of trafficking are granted refugee status or subsidiary protection.

Directive 2008/115/EC

of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals – pursuant to the Directive, no prohibition for entry is issued for victims of trafficking who are granted a residence permit and who cooperate with the authorities.

Dublin III Regulation

Regulation (EU) 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person. The Regulation provides for that upon transfer of victims of trafficking to the first country of entry into the Union, Member States are bound by their obligations under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of slavery and forced labour). In addition, the Regulation contains the so called discretionary clause which allows Member States to review applications for international protection of victims of trafficking in human beings even if they are not the competent Member State under the Regulation.