Human trafficking cases in Cyprus take way too long to reach court and the authorities are confused over how they should be handled, the House human rights committee heard on Monday.
Speaking on the basis of a US department of state Trafficking in Persons Report dated July 2015, deputies said the seriousness of the matter was concerning and urgently needed to be resolved.
According to AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma, police data on cases dating back to 2009 which only went to court in 2015 clearly showed the scale of the problem.
“There is a need for police to be well organised and specifically prepare the cases which go to court because it seems, due to either lack of evidence or incorrect preparation of a file, some cases get lost,” she said.
Additionally, social welfare services staff treat victims ‘in a punishing way’.
It is also about time that in Cyprus, an independent expert is assigned to evaluate the whole process on human trafficking and not wait for foreigners to highlight these problems. It seems as though this is not being done for financial reasons, Koukouma said.
According to DISY MP Rikkos Mappourides, the current situation will only become worse as the migration wave increases the number of immigrants in the country.
The US report revealed that Cyprus is badly organised in terms of how to begin an investigation after a report is filed, with a tug of war over whether it should start with the police or the social welfare services and over who should explain to victims their rights, he said.
Additionally, information that protection can be offered to trafficking victims never reach those affected before they leave for Cyprus or when they arrive.
There is also no institutional cooperation with NGOs.
“All this was put before the session today so every service, NGO and primarily parliament, can monitor the subject,” Mappourides said.
Head of immigrant support group NGO, KISA Doros Polykarpou asked for “absolute compliance in the practices state services follow with the legislation, which is quite good”. He said the problems stem from applying the law, capturing and sentencing traffickers.
In one instance, a business facing charges for trafficking people for employment, made a settlement with the legal service to remove the natural persons from the charge sheet in exchange for charging the company, he said.
A €150,000 fine was imposed on the company however it was never paid because it declared bankruptcy, Polykarpou added.