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Cyprus emerges from trafficking ‘grey area’ on US list but must do more

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Last year the government convicted 31 human traffickers compared to nine in 2014, according to the latest US human trafficking report, but in order to remain in the top tier, Cyprus must show increasing efforts, Political Officer to the US Embassy in Nicosia Randy Cole said on Friday.

This year Cyprus has been bumped up to the US State Department’s top tier in the fight against trafficking after spending four years on Tier 2 and three on the Tier 2 Watch List.

According to Cole, who presented the findings of the US Department of State’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Cyprus has Tier 1 ranking in this year`s report, which means it fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Cyprus- destination country for sex trafficking

Tier 1 Cole said, “does not mean that trafficking is not a problem, but on the contrary that the country has acknowledged that it is a problem, has made efforts to address it and has met the minimum standards that are set out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)”.

“We are happy to see such important partners for the US, countries like Cyprus, achieve a Tier 1 ranking by doing all they can to help fight this global problem,” Cole said.

According to the report, Cyprus “is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking”.  It added that victims identified in Cyprus in 2015 were primarily from India, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Romania, the Philippines, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

“During the reporting period, the government convicted 31 traffickers, a significant increase from nine in 2014,” and two in 2013, the report said. In addition, it said, the government approved a national referral mechanism outlining procedures for victim identification and referral to government services. It also “increased the number of police in the anti-trafficking unit from eight to 12 and expanded the unit’s authority to make it the lead for all potential trafficking investigations throughout the country”.

Officers behaviour makes things worse

Authorities however, did not investigate potential trafficking cases among domestic workers or individuals in agriculture, as these cases were typically seen as labour disputes, the report said.

“Concerns were raised during the reporting period that some officers within the police anti-trafficking unit conducted insensitive interviews that may have re-traumatised victims,” it said, while “observers also reported interpreters used in the interview process did not have sufficient knowledge of foreign languages, which may have affected victims’ testimonies”. The report mentions that there is insufficient knowledge of local dialects, “particularly for Francophone African countries”, while translation mistakes made victims’ testimonies appear inconsistent

As regards prosecution, according to the report, the government increased law enforcement efforts, while the legislation prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, “which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes”.

“The government investigated 14 new cases involving 31 suspected traffickers in 2015, seven for sex trafficking and 24 for forced labour, compared with 24 cases involving 35 suspects in 2014,” it said.

The Cypriot government has also increased efforts to protect victims, the report said, “but identified fewer victims”. Forty victims of trafficking were identified in 2015, it said, compared to 46 in 2014.

“Of the 40 victims identified, 22 were labour trafficking victims, […]. The government identified 13 victims of sex trafficking, all women. Two children, a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, were victims of forced begging. Three people were victims of trafficking for criminal acts, two children and one woman,” it said.

It added that a process was streamlined for providing financial support to victims, which was a concern cited in the previous report.

More attention for domestic workers

Cyprus is advised to increase efforts to investigate potential labour trafficking cases among domestic workers and individuals in agriculture, and to “fund specialised training for the police anti-trafficking unit, including best practices for interviewing trafficking victims”. In addition, it needs to ensure professional translation services are available during victim interviews.

It must also increase efforts, the report said, to raise awareness of trafficking and victim identification among police and migration authorities and provide training on victim identification, particularly for forced labour.

Commenting on the breakaway regime in the north, Cole said that it does not count as an individual country “but if we did count it, it would receive a Tier 3 ranking”.

Last month, Rita Superman, head of the Cyprus police’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, received an award from US Secretary of State John Kerry during a ceremony held in Washington DC. She was among nine men and women from around the globe honoured in the ‘The Trafficking in Persons 2016 Hero’ ceremony.

 

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