Cyprus welcomes US upgrade in trafficking report

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The Justice Ministry has welcomed the US State Department people trafficking report for upgrading Cyprus to Tier 1 status but more needs to be done.

According to the report, Cyprus meets minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.

It said Nicosia made key achievements to do so during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.

These achievements included convicting traffickers for the first time in three years.

It said the government hired additional social workers and created a new Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare Services to help coordinate and strengthen victim protection.

The report noted that the government arranged for foreign national victims to return to Cyprus to testify and paid accommodation and travel expenses for family members to support them during the trial.

The government launched an anti-trafficking hotline and formed a sub-committee to create awareness campaigns on demand reduction for commercial sex.

Although the government meets the minimum standards, it prosecuted fewer suspects and identified fewer victims.

Judges issued suspended sentences or a fine to half of the convicted traffickers, which was not equal to the seriousness of the crime, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, and weakened deterrence.

SWS did not promptly respond to some potential victims’ referrals and failed to refer all potential victims to the police for official identification procedures.

The government identified 22 victims, compared with 25 victims in 2020.

Of these, nine were sex trafficking victims, eight were forced labour victims, and five were victims of multiple types of exploitation, including forced criminality; 13 were women, seven were men, and there was one boy and one girl; 15 were foreign victims.

According to the trafficking profile, the State Department said over the past five years; human traffickers have exploited domestic and foreign victims in Cyprus.

Foreign victims identified in Cyprus in 2021 were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Romania, Russia, and Syria.

In previous years, victims were also from Cameroon, China, Czechia, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Moldova, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Traffickers subject women, primarily from Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, to sex trafficking.

Sex trafficking occurs in private apartments and hotels, on the street, and in bars, pubs, coffee shops, massage parlours, and cabarets known for the availability of commercial sex.

It said traffickers exploit short-term tourist visas available to Ukrainian and Russian nationals to recruit young women for sex trafficking in bars and private establishments.

They also recruit female sex trafficking victims with false promises of marriage or work as barmaids or hostesses.

Traffickers subject foreign migrant workers — primarily from North Africa and South and Southeast Asia—to forced labour in agriculture.

Employment agencies recruit and exploit migrant workers who enter the country on short-term work permits in labour trafficking; traffickers use debt-based coercion, threats, and withholding of pay and documents after the permits expire.

Domestic workers from India, Nepal, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka are vulnerable to forced labour.

Traffickers subject asylum seekers from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe to forced labour in agriculture and domestic work.

Unaccompanied children, children of migrants, Roma, and asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labour.

Exploitation

Traffickers exploit Cypriots addicted to drugs and young women with disabilities to commit criminal offences such as distributing illegal substances and committing welfare benefits fraud.

The Turkish-occupied north, said the report, does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.

Justice Minister Stephi Dracos urged Cypriots to make complaints on the 1497 hotline regarding issues of human trafficking.

She said upgrading Cyprus’ position was a positive development as the previous report for April 2020-March 2021 highlighted gaps and inadequacies in the areas of investigation, bringing suspects t justice and documenting cases before the courts.

In cooperation with the police, the ministry took a series of targeted measures to handle the gaps and inadequacies underlined in the report.

Dracos said that given the risks created by the war in Ukraine for sexual or labour exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, “we are constantly on alert, conducting checks in high-risk areas to identify suspicious behaviours or actions”.

She acknowledged the seriousness of this crime, “we assure that its recommendations will be studied in depth and additional measures will be taken to increase the effectiveness of our actions for prevention and to combat human trafficking”.