The division of the island makes it easier for human traffickers to trick their victims into coming to Cyprus and harder for the authorities to arrest them, a new report by a bi-communal research centre has shown.

Human traffickers operate in the shadows wherever they are based, however, a report by PRIO Cyprus Centre (PCC) suggested they are able to do so to a greater extend in Cyprus due to the frozen conflict and practices adopted by the Turkish and Greek Cypriot authorities.

The report, looking into human trafficking that took place in Cyprus from 2021 to 2022, explains how the crime is perpetrated in both sides of the island, the profile of the victims and how they are let down by authorities unwilling to communicate and collaborate with each other.

“Law enforcement bodies on one side of the Green Line are for the most part in the dark about the ways in which humans are trafficked in the other,” assistant professor in Transitional Justice and Human Rights at UCLan Cyprus Nasia Hadjigeorgiou, who authored the report, said.

Often, individuals are trafficked in the north and later escape and apply for victim status in the south but, the report notes, Greek Cypriot authorities are unable to access information about what happened to the victims in the north.

“A striking example of this was the claim made by the RoC police that African women who claim they were trafficked are often lying because nightclubs in the TRNC only employ Eastern Europeans,” the report said.

And the mechanism in place to facilitate cooperation, called the Joint Communications Room, has proved “unable to respond to, or even shed light on, the crime of human trafficking”.

Referring to evidence of exploitation in the north , the report cited a recent survey in which half students said they had been misled by the university agents that brought them to Cyprus. About 80 per cent of the 800 students were African.

In a recent case, Turkish Cypriot police arrested a group of suspects who had allegedly brought 322 Bangladeshis to the north. They had each paid €6,000 to be registered in universities but they were later told they had to work in construction. They were also promised help to cross to the south for an additional €150.

Meanwhile, a hotline for trafficking victims in the north said the majority of complaints it used to receive concern labour exploitation whereas, this year, it only received sex trafficking complaints, most of whom by African women on student visas.

“North traffickers exploit women aged between 18-30, with most of them being in their early 20s,” the report said.

For the south, the report suggested “almost all trafficking victims in the RoC are irregular migrants” which it said is politically significant since most asylum seekers reach the Republic by irregularly crossing the 180- km-long buffer zone from the north.

Police have sad human traffickers in the south use one strategy they refer to as ‘the loverboy approach’ where a man approaches a vulnerable girl in her home country, pretends to fall in love with her and alienates her from her family and brings her to Cyprus.

There is also a surge of a new phenomenon that is connected to social media and the modelling culture. Thus, sometimes girls are groomed into selling sex with the promise they will be turned into models, or are being blackmailed into offering sex services.

As regards trafficking for labour exploitation, the report said the average Cypriot does not recognise labour exploitation when they see it and might even practise it themselves.

“Labour exploitation of foreign domestic workers in the Republic is socially accepted,” the report said, adding that the procedures for someone to bring a complaint against their employer are such that they effectively prevent victim from reporting it.

Meanwhile, authorities remain slow to address the abuse. Two distinct groups of persons are regularly exploited in the Republic, namely female third-country nationals who are employed as domestic workers, and mostly male third-country nationals who work in the farming, agricultural and construction sectors.

Human trafficking was criminalised in the north two years ago and to date there has been just one ongoing prosecution under the new law. Instead, perpetrators are often charged with less serious crimes, such as assisting prosecution while the law fails to provide for drafting of national action plans or the creation of specialised bodies.

The situation in the Republic is considerably better than in the north which continues to be ranked as a Tier 3 territory in the US ‘Trafficking in Persons’ 2022 report.

The Republic, which criminalised trafficking in 2014, improved its ranking from a Tier 2 to a Tier 1 country after it further increased the criminal sanctions levied on convicted persons in 2019. There are also a number of shelters for male and female human trafficking victims while the state set up a national referral mechanism and a national action plan.