Sexual and labour exploitation are the two most common forms of human trafficking in Cyprus the interior ministry said on Tuesday.
In a message to mark European Anti-Trafficking Day, the ministry said Cyprus, due to its geographical position, is a first entry country of many immigrants to the EU and therefore is also a destination country of victims of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that wrecks human dignity and violates fundamental human rights. Victims are often recruited, transported and housed with the use of force, coercion or fraud and forced to live in inhumane conditions, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, begging, involvement in illegal activities or body organ removal,” the announcement said.
The state, it said, “strives to both raise awareness on the seriousness of the phenomenon and to train civil servants on the early identification and handling of trafficking victims”.
It added that the Republic of Cyprus applies a comprehensive legal and strategic framework to tackle the problem and fully comply with the European acquis, and has also ratified a series of international conventions against human trafficking.
The existing legislation, the ministry said, stipulates that anyone using the services of a human trafficking victim is guilty of a criminal offence.
Non-governmental organisations, even though they recognise the progress made on behalf of the government on such issues, said that still more is needed.
According to the US Department of State’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Cyprus has been bumped up to the top tier in the fight against trafficking after spending four years on Tier 2 and three on the Tier 2 Watch List. But in order to remain in the top tier, the report said, Cyprus must show increased efforts.
In an event to mark the day, migrant rights groups Kisa, the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (Migs), Cyprus Stop Trafficking, Stigma and Caritas, said that trafficking is a gender specific crime as women, girls, men and boys are trafficked for different reasons.
“The government has not integrated in its policies the gender dimension as regards dealing with human trafficking, therefore, victims’ needs cannot be met by the state,” said Josie Charalambous, policy coordinator at Migs.
She added that the EU has introduced a directive which the government has included in the national legislation, but that state practices and policies lack comprehensive strategies to help combat the phenomenon.
She added that NGOs are also calling for a comprehensive strategy to cover all stages of human trafficking.
“An important aspect is also the demand of services from human trafficking victims. People need to learn that it is an offence to use the services of human trafficking victims,” Charalambous said. She added that society must learn what is trafficking and what is exploitation, and the importance of a comprehensive strategy to tackle this phenomenon.
The groups also called for effective access of victims to justice but also the creation of a “transparent, accountable and just, migration system” that diminishes the usage of intermediaries such as private employment agencies.
“We need to look into our own system, how private employment agencies operate against the goal to clamp down on human trafficking,” said Doros Polycarpou of Kisa.
These agencies, he said, regulate migration to the country today as they lure third country national to the island telling them they will arrive in a European destination where they can work and study, and paint a whole different picture than what the reality is.