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Lack of support for trafficking victims

Shortcomings continue to plague the state shelter for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, as a result of which many victims give up and return to their home countries, MPs heard on Monday.

The shelter lacks full-time personnel or full-time psychologists offering support to residents, because the shelter’s operating regulations have yet to be approved, said Disy MP Mariella Aristidou, deputy chair of the House human rights committee.

The matter of the regulations has been pending since 2007, she added.

As a result, the shelter is operated by welfare officers who are already overworked with other cases.

Because living conditions are less than optimal there, said Aristidou, many women who are victims of sexual exploitation choose to be repatriated and thus fail to show up in court to testify against traffickers.

And women are still open to coercion from traffickers not to testify.

“We need to support these victims, help them heal their traumas, but also give them the strength to be able to take the witness stand in court,” Aristidou noted.

She said that four persons are currently hosted at the shelter.

It’s understood that other victims of trafficking are under the care of non-governmental organisations.

According to Aristidou, in 2016 the police investigated 25 cases. Seven of those went to a criminal court, a further 10 were filed in district courts, and three which were initially filed in a criminal court have since been relegated.

For her part, Akel deputy Skevi Koukouma said that whereas it all looked good on paper, there was a gulf between the law affording protection to victims and what is actually being implemented.

The poor state of affairs, she added, can be summed up with two figures alone: of the 44 persons identified as human trafficking victims in 2016, and for which cases were filed in courts, 17 have been repatriated.

Koukouma went on to claim that the ministry of the interior intends to scrap a legal clause providing for the creation of a fund supporting victims of trafficking in human beings, including its use as a source of compensation for victims.

In a report published in November 2015, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Greta) had urged the government to set up the fund “as a matter of priority.”

A law was passed establishing the fund, but it has yet to be created.

“Right now, immediate steps must be taken if we are to be in the least optimistic about the future of the shelter,” remarked Koukouma.

Regarding the 2013-2015 national action plan to combat human trafficking, she said that it expired without having been implemented.

Authorities are set to soon approve the next period’s action plan, covering 2016-2018.

“However, we already in 2017,” the MP noted.

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