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Top cop scathing of welfare dept’s attitudes to trafficking victims

A damning letter by the deputy police chief has accused social welfare services of neglecting trafficking victims, spending little time with them and taking too long to make decisions that could help them.

Details of the letter were published on Monday by daily Politis. It was sent last month to the justice ministry and police chief by his deputy Stylianos Papatheodorou.

It outlines eight cases of people identified as trafficking victims for which police prepared a risk evaluation report.

The victims are waiting for a decision either to send them back to their home countries or to allow them to live in Cyprus and perhaps work on the island in a bid to help them.

However authorities cannot make any decision because social services have yet to submit their own risk evaluation report.

In some cases, the report is pending since September, meaning half a year has passed with the victims not knowing their fate.

There are instances in which victims have by now overstayed their visas and face risk of arrest. One victim needs to undergo a surgery on their spine but cannot as her stay in Cyprus in limbo.

Later on Monday, the social services issued a brief statement denying there were any decisions pending regarding the cases outlined in the report but saying that they were in touch with police for clarification.

Papatheodorou’s letter also refers to another trafficking victim who has cancer but their visa has expired and thus they cannot access state health services, the daily reported.

It also went on to say that the neglect on the part of social services part has led to some victims to fall back into trafficking. It cites one woman from Greece with learning difficulties who was identified as a victim by police in 2015.

She had apparently been trafficked by her mother and brother but according to the letter, the social services met with her a small number of times and an NGO had taken charge of her overall wellbeing.

“No efforts have been taken so far to place this victim in a supporting environment and find a way to reintegrate her”

She has since been seen across Nicosia, and pregnant.

According to Politis the letter also referenced two trafficking victims who had to be treated at state psychiatric facilities at the Nicosia general hospital and at Athalassa.

Apparently, one had nowhere to go and had been in the streets but the social services had said it was not their responsibility to find a place for victims to stay. All they could do, according to report, was give a sum of money.

Police said the services only gave temporary solutions and did not help the victims in the long run – by helping them find a job or place to stay.

Nonetheless, the slow pace of the social services also has effects on more than just the victims. One woman living in Cyprus for 17 years has been identified as a victim yet for the past nine months, authorities have not been able to make a decision in regards to her stay.

The woman lives on the island with her daughter who was refused permission to sit the pancyprian exams due to her status in Cyprus.

A ministerial intervention made it possible for her to take her exams.

The state social services said it was not their role to issue residence permits to victims but any requests from other services were processed as soon as possible.

Regarding the accusation that NGOs were doing the legwork of offering support as opposed to the actual social services, they responded saying they coordinated several groups which could help trafficking victims, including NGOs.

The particular government branch has come under a lot of fire lately after questions of neglect came to light when it emerged they had apparently turned a blind eye when Elena Frantzi, a 29-year-woman who took her own life last month, had told them as a child her foster father – a priest – had sexually abused her.

As an adult, she filed a report against him for which he served time in jail after he was found guilty of the lesser charge of sexual harassment, and went on to continue working as a priest after his release. He is apparently set to be defrocked later this month. His wife is also set to face charges for treating Frantzi in ways “akin to torture” when she was under their care between the ages of four and 10.

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