Cyprus is in the group of countries doing the most to try to eliminate human trafficking after slipping back to a Tier 2 ranking last year, according to the US state department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report.
The government of the Republic of Cyprus made key achievements during the reporting period, the report said, therefore the country was upgraded to Tier 1, as it fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
“These achievements included convicting more traffickers and increasing victim protection efforts by improving the quality of service, increasing resources to NGOs, and holding monthly trainings for government-run shelter staff,” the report said.
It added however, that although the government meets the minimum standards, it has not reduced the length of trials and victims face bureaucratic delays in accessing health care. Observers, it said, reported that key witnesses left the country before trial due to long delays, ‘hindering prosecution efforts’.
It also said observers reported that potential forced labour victims remained undetected, partly due to a lack of resources for labour inspectors. They also reported a lack of proactive identification efforts at the Kofinou Reception Centre and anecdotal accounts of exploitation.
The report said that observers reported a need for an independent evaluation of anti-trafficking policies and programmes, while the multidisciplinary coordinating group (MCG) continued to operate with limited participation from civil society.
The government has increased law enforcement and victim protection efforts, the report said, and maintained prevention efforts, while the police academy continues to train police officers on trafficking issues, including new recruits, immigration police, and community police. The government separately organised 18 training programmes for police officers and three training sessions attended by approximately 220 government officials on victim identification and referral. It also trained first responders in a region with a high concentration of migrant labourers in agriculture and separately trained marriage officers and social welfare officers on proactive identification.
The report recommends that Cypriot authorities, “vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under Law 60(I) and impose strong sentences; proactively identify victims among vulnerable populations, including migrants, asylum-seekers and agricultural workers; improve cooperation of all relevant actors, including NGOs, in the MCG; reduce delays in court proceedings; strengthen the capacity of the labour inspectorate to identify and refer victims of forced labour; reduce delays in accessing health care; increase access to support for victims identified outside of business hours of support service providers.”
It also calls for an improvement in victim-centred investigations and prosecutions, the implementation of witness protection measures when necessary and the development of a robust monitoring and evaluation framework for anti-trafficking policies and efforts.
Regarding the north of the island, the state department said it continues to be a zone of impunity for human trafficking.
Authorities in the north do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so, the report said, adding that if the ‘TRNC’ were assigned a formal ranking, it would be Tier 3, which is the lowest ranking.
Authorities in the north do not keep statistics on law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders, it said, while the north lacks shelters as well as social, economic, and psychological services for victims.
Local observers reported authorities were complicit in facilitating trafficking, and police continued to retain passports upon arrival of women working in nightclubs.
“Reportedly some ‘parliament’ members were clientele of the nightclubs,” it said.
During the reporting period, it said, authorities in the north issued 1,084 six-month ‘hostess’ and ‘barmaid’ work ‘permits’ for individuals working in nightclubs and two pubs operating in the north.
It added that nightclub owners hired female college students during the reporting period to bypass the cap on the number of employees legally permitted in each club and avoid taxes and monitoring. Most ‘permit’ holders came from Moldova, Morocco, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, while others came from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan.
Authorities, it said, made no efforts to punish labour recruiters or brokers involved in the recruitment of workers through knowingly fraudulent employment offers or excessive fees for migration or job placement. Furthermore, there is no ‘law’ that punishes traffickers who confiscate workers’ passports or documents, change contracts, or withhold wages to subject workers to servitude.