Trafficking victims’ right to municipal services
Victims who have been admitted to the Assistance system and who have a Finnish municipality of residence have the same right as other residents to access the services defined in the Social Welfare Act and the Health Care Act. In addition, they are entitled to special services as customers of the Assistance system, in other words, services that residents normally cannot access automatically. The municipality of residence has the right to receive reimbursement from the government of the costs arising from such special services.
For example, unlike other residents, trafficking victims have the right to safe housing. That means that, even in urgent situations, a trafficking victim should not be housed in a place that is not safe or that is inappropriate for the victim. For example, emergency temporary shelters (for the homeless) are usually not considered safe for trafficking victims.
The municipality of residence either provides the victim with the assistance independently or out-sources the services to a public or private service provider. Municipalities can also work with NGOs to provide assistance.
The municipality’s social services are responsible for drawing up a customer plan
If the victim has been admitted to the Assistance system and has a Finnish municipality of residence, the municipality’s social services will be responsible for assessing the victim’s service needs and for drawing up a customer plan.
When the authorities in the municipality of residence assess the service needs and draw up the plan, they must take account of the fact that the person has fallen victim to human trafficking and any matters that may affect the victim’s safety.
The municipality of residence will receive consultation from the Assistance system regarding the victim’s rights and what should be taken into account specifically when helping and providing services to trafficking victims. The Assistance system will also help the municipality to cooperate with the pre-trial investigation authority, if necessary. Together with the pre-trial investigation authority, the Assistance system will assess the threats to victim’s safety and inform the municipality of any potential threats. The municipality can also do this themselves.
Municipalities can access the Council of the Baltic Sea States’ Guidelines for Municipalities: Stepping up local action against human trafficking. As part of the HOIKU project, supported by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has drawn up guidelines for the social and health care sector on identifying trafficking victims and service counselling. The afore mentioned guidelines are currently not available in English. A more general version of the CBSS's guidelines for municipalities can be found here.
In emergencies, the municipality must take immediate action
Victims may have left the exploitative situation before seeking help from the Assistance system and they may already have a home or accommodation where they can safely continue living. However, if the victim has just left the exploitative situation or is about to leave it and their accommodation is somehow linked to their abuser, urgent and immediate action is required to provide the victim with temporary or permanent housing.
If the victim has a municipality of residence, it will be responsible for housing the victim under Finnish law. If the victim’s safety is at risk, housing may have to be found in another municipality. The municipality of residence can claim and receive reimbursement from the government of the costs arising from the special arrangements to house the victim.
In emergencies, the municipal authority must take action to find safe housing for the victim. For example, the first solution may have to be a room in a hotel or a hostel. If appropriate and feasible, the victim can be offered accommodation in a shelter (safe home) as the first measure.
As mentioned earlier, emergency accommodation (shelters for the homeless) is normally not considered a safe option for trafficking victims.