By Maria Gregoriou
THOSE who work with trafficking victims in Cyprus yesterday blamed authorities for the slowness in bringing cases to court, and for having a lack of empathy towards the victims.
The accusations were made at a seminar on the consequences of trauma on survivors, and those who work with them, at the Home for Cooperation in Nicosia.
The seminar was run by Florrie Burke, human trafficking consultant and member of the New York Anti-Trafficking Network. During a question and answer workshop the police were also accused of keeping victims’ passports until they testify in court.
“The police say they have to keep the passports to protect them, but in reality they are afraid the victims are flight risks and the time spent on the case will have been wasted. They also give victims resident permits, and when they testify in court the permits are revoked,” Andrianna Kossiva, a member of the KISA, a non-governmental organisation for action for equality, support and antiracism said.
When a case is reported, the police trafficking department firstly decides if the person involved is a victim and then case can go to court. “We recently reported two cases of women being victims of trafficking. The one woman was deported and the second was reported to immigration services and jailed,” Kossiva said.
However she acknowledged that there had been an improvement over the last three years in the way the police handle the issue.
“Before they did not recognise people as trafficking victims, then the legislation changed and they received proper training. This is why we feel so disappointed with the way they handled these two cases,” she added.
In most cases in Cyprus, victims who have had their passport taken away they have no means of survival while they wait to go to court, Kossiva said. The police could at least work with the welfare department to enable them to survive in the meantime, she said.
In Cyprus there are two types of trafficking victims, those who are exploited by their employees and those who are victims of sexual exploitation. “A woman could come to Cyprus under the pretense of working behind a bar but in reality she is sold for sex by the bar owner,” said Kossiva.
“Victims are not informed about all their rights. Just as they are told about their rights to be a witness, they should also be told about their right not to cooperate anymore if they want,” lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou said.
Burke picked up on the fingerpointing and suggested it was not the way forward. “We should not place blame but revise the way things work now so we can change them to work better in the future. We must stop critisising and have forward looking thinking, this cannot happen if we just engage in critical arguments,” she said.
Another issue raised was that because of the economic crisis, trafficking would increase, and that funding for fighting trafficking could be axed.
The seminar also covered the causes of psychological trauma caused to victims, which can often make their testimonies inconsistent, damaging a possible court case.
“Many cases are lost because of inconsistencies with the victim’s story due to their lack of memory. Maybe bringing an expert into the courtroom to explain the reasons behind the victim’s behaviour and how trauma triggers this could help,” Charalambidou said.
Burke said when she visited Cyrus last May and raised this issue, she had received a negative response. “I talked about using expert lawyers and received a bit of resistance. It is also a controversial matter in the US,” she said.
“Many victims will not talk to the police about their situation because they have a fear of being deported or suffering violence at the hands of the traffickers or their family members being victims of violence back home,” Burke said.
Very often victims are told the trafficker is friends with the police and if they try to escape they will be arrested. The fact that they are already taught to fear the police in their own