Switzerland is primarily a destination country and, to a lesser extent, a transit country for human trafficking.

Most victims identified in Switzerland originate from Eastern Europe (Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria), Thailand, China and Nigeria. The majority of victims are sexually exploited in prostitution circles (street prostitution, “contact bars”, sauna clubs, private apartments, escort services etc.) Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation occurs mainly in the domestic, agricultural, catering and construction sectors, as well as in forced criminality (e.g. forced beging or petty crimes). Cases of human trafficking for the purpose of removing organs are not known to have occured to date.

Hungary is one of the main countries of origin of victims of human trafficking identified in Switzerland. Hungarian victims identified in Switzerland are typically young women exploited in prostitution. Most of them originate from the most affected counties by human trafficking: Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county (in particular Miskolc), Heves county, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county and Budapest. According to Swiss experts Nyíregyháza and Miskolc (and its surrounding area) are well known cities of origin for victims identified in Switzerland. A great number of Hungarian victims identified in Switzerland belongs to the Roma minority.
Most of the victims are recruited via “personal contacts”
(through family members or acquaintances, “loverboys”). The majority of identified victims of sexual exploitation were aware that they would work as prostitutes before leaving Hungary. It is common that the victims are first brought to neighbouring countries (Austria, Germany) before they arrive in Switzerland.

According to the Swiss police crime statistics, in the past years (2015, 2016, and 2017) approximately 15% of the total number of presumed victims of human trafficking (according to article 182 of the Swiss Criminal Code, see below) and of explotation of sexual acts / encouraging prostitution (according to article 195 of the Swiss Criminal Code) were Hungarian nationals. The figures are similar in terms of the nationality of alleged perpetrators as well.

Legal provisions:

The main legal provision in the Swiss Criminal Code is article 182 which makes human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitaiton, labour exploitaiton and the removal of organs a criminal offence. The article is based on the international definition in the Palermo protocol. The offence carries a maximum penalty of twenty yearsʼ imprisonment.

Article 182 – Trafficking in human beings

(1) Any person who as a supplier, intermediary or customer engages in the trafficking of a human being for the purpose of sexual exploitation, exploitation of his or her labour or for the purpose of removing an organ shall be liable to a custodial sentence or to a monetary penalty. The soliciting of a person for these purposes is equivalent to trafficking.

(2) If the victim is a minor or if the offender acts for commercial gain, the penalty shall be a custodial sentence of not less than one year.

(3) In every case, a monetary penalty must also be imposed.

(4) Any person who commits the act abroad is also guilty of an offence. (…)

While Article 182 SCC outlaws all forms of human trafficking, Article 195 SCC prohibits the incitement to prostitution.

Article 195 – Exploitation of sexual acts; encouraging prostitution

Any person who

a. induces a minor into prostitution or encourages a minor in his or her prostitution with the intention of securing a financial advantage

b. induces a person into prostitution by exploiting his or her dependence or a financial advantage,

c. restricts the freedom to act of a prostitute by supervising him or her in the course of his or her activities or by exercising control over the location, time, volume or other aspects of his or her work as a prostitute or,

d. makes a person remain a prostitute against his or her will, is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding ten years or to a monetary penalty.

Prostitution itself is legal in Switzerland. Regulating prostitution is aimed at minimizing the negative side effects of this activity and at improving the general conditions for sex workers for their own protection. Any person wishing to work in prostitution must be of age (> 18). Nationals from European Union member states to whom the Free Movement of Persons Agreement applies are granted a 90-day work permit for self-employment.

Further legal provisions relating to THB are to be found in the Victim Assistance Act, the Foreign Nationals Act, the Ordinance on Admission, Stay and Employment and the Extra-procedural Witness Protection Act.

Institutional framework:

Switzerland is a federal state with 26 cantons that have a high degree of independence. The Swiss federal state is responsible for human trafficking legislation. The  cantons are responsible for prosecuting perpetrators (besides in cases of organized crime) and for protecting victims.

The Swiss Coordination Unit against the Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (KSMM), a national level bureau within the fedpol, has been operational since 2003.

The unit brings together all stakeholders at national and cantonal level to develop anti-trafficking strategies for combating this crime and implement measures for victim protection and for preventing and prosecuting human trafficking.

At the operational level, the federal criminal police (fedpol) coordinates inter-cantonal and international investigations, manages the criminal police central offices and ensures the exchange of police information with the cantons, foreign law enforcement agencies, INTERPOL and Europol on cases involving human trafficking and smuggling.

Coordination on the cantonal level is achieved through cantonal roundtables made up of competent cantonal authorities and agencies in criminal proceedings, victim assistance and protection. The main objectives of such platforms are to define cooperation procedures, functions and task-sharing among different actors active in the fight against human trafficking. Most but not every cantons have established this platform.

With regard to prosecution, many cantons and cities in Switzerland have specialized units against trafficking in human beings in their police forces or prosecutor’s offices, however significant differences between the cantons in terms of the level of engagement against human trafficking still remain. Relevant to victim assistance, all cantons have their own victim counselling services (for victims of any type of crime) and cantonal migration authorities.

Besides, there are specialized NGOs that provide victims of trafficking with appropriate assistance. Victims of trafficking receive assistance depending on their individual situation and needs according to the national Victims’ Assistance Act. Measures include accommodation, care and counselling during the stabilization phase, medical assistance and legal aid.
There are public and private assistance options available for victims of trafficking. The FIZ offers specialized assistance for victims of trafficking: crisis intervention, medical treatment, information, counselling, and shelter placement. FIZ is mandated by several cantons to provide services for victims of trafficking. The Foundation Au Coeur des Grottes offers immediate accommodation, long-term shelter placement and daily psycho-social support for victims of trafficking in Geneva. There are also several counselling centres in each canton that offer personal counselling via telephone or in the centres themselves. Other NGOs (Astree, Trafficking.ch) offer shelter possibilities.

The State Secretariat for Migration offers voluntary return and reintegration assistance for human trafficking victims since 2010. Assistance is granted under the Foreign Nationals Act and in co-operation with the return counsellors, the FIZ and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The complex nature of this crime requires comprehensive response from the different agencies. Therefore, the first National Action Plan (NAP) was created in 2012 for the period of 2012-2014. The second National Action Plan to Fight Human Trafficking 2017-2020 was adopted by the KSMM in November 2016. It was compiled in cooperation with the relevant stakeholders. Accepted measures are based on the four pillars of the fight against trafficking in human beings: prevention, prosecution, protection, and partnership (4 Ps). The second National Action Plan was drafted based on the GRETA recommendations to the Swiss Confederation.

The main objectives remained the same as in the first NAP:

  • identify where action against human trafficking in Switzerland is required,
  • specify strategic focal points in combating this form of crime,
  • clarify which cantonal and federal services are mainly responsible for combating THB,
  • foster implementation of international obligations and recommendations made by the competent supervisory bodies,
  • demonstrate Switzerland’s will to take decisive action against THB.