By Stefanos Evripidou
CYPRUS remains a source and destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, the US State Department said in its 2014 global trafficking report, released yesterday.
Despite efforts to meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the Cypriot government did not demonstrate an overall increase in those efforts compared to the previous reporting period, keeping Cyprus on the Tier 2 Watch List.
On the contrary, investigations into trafficking, prosecutions and convictions fell by more than half on all counts.
Victims of trafficking identified in Cyprus came from Europe, Asia and Africa, said the report, noting that women, primarily from eastern Europe, Vietnam, India, and sub-Saharan Africa, are subjected to sex trafficking.
The 2014 country report notes that sex trafficking occurs in private apartments and hotels, and within commercial sex trade outlets in Cyprus, including bars, pubs, coffee shops and cabarets.
“Some victims of sex trafficking were recruited with promises of marriage or employment as barmaids and hostesses in cafeterias,” said the report, adding that victims are often subjected to debt bondage, withholding of pay and documents, and threats against their families.
Foreign migrant workers—primarily Indian and Romanian nationals—are subjected to forced labour in agriculture. Last year, there was an increase in identified victims of labour trafficking from India, said the report, which painted a grim picture of the web of abuse inherent in the migrant work system.
“Migrant workers subjected to labour trafficking are recruited by employment agencies and enter the country on short-term work permits, after which they are often subjected to debt bondage, threats, and withholding of pay and documents once the work permit expires.”
Asylum seekers from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe were also subjected to forced labour within construction, agriculture, and domestic work.
“Unaccompanied children, children of migrants, and asylum seekers remain especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labour,” said the damning report.
The State Department concluded that the Cypriot government “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” though it is making “significant efforts” to do so.
The report highlighted a number of measures taken by the government: strengthening the legal framework for combating trafficking; adopting a new national action plan to combat trafficking; and expanding the anti-trafficking police unit to eight persons by adding a forensic psychologist, a psychologist, a criminologist and a social worker.
“Nevertheless, there was a significant decrease in all law enforcement efforts; investigations decreased by 68 per cent, prosecutions decreased by 70 per cent, and convictions by 55 per cent. The majority of offenders continued to be convicted under statutes that prescribe penalties less stringent than those prescribed by the anti-trafficking law. The government identified fewer victims of trafficking, and one victim was deported not in accordance with law,” said the report.
The report also covered the occupied areas: “The area administered by Turkish Cypriots continues to be a zone of impunity for human trafficking. The area is increasingly a destination for women from central Asia, eastern Europe, and Africa who are subjected to forced prostitution in night clubs that are licensed and regulated by Turkish Cypriots.”
It added: “Men and women are subjected to forced labour in industrial, construction, agriculture, domestic work, restaurant, and retail sectors. Victims of labour trafficking are controlled through debt bondage, threats of deportation, restriction of movement, and inhumane living and working conditions.”