Cyprus has demonstrated serious and sustained efforts in combatting human trafficking, despite challenges, a state department report from the United States said on Friday.

According to the report, despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cyprus has demonstrated serious and sustained efforts in combating human trafficking, resulting in its continued placement on Tier 1.

The reports said that authorities have successfully identified more victims and issued stricter sentences for perpetrators involved in trafficking crimes.

“To expedite prosecutions, prosecutors were provided with internal instructions prioritising trafficking cases, and virtual testimony was permitted to protect victims from re-traumatisation during trials,” the report said.

Regarding assistance programs for victims the report said that Cyprus has maintained a robust victim assistance program to support the victims. As part of these efforts, the government increased the weekly cash allowance for victims and hired 50 social workers to cater to vulnerable communities.

However, despite Cyprus meeting the minimum standards and securing convictions, challenges persist, the report said.

The report highlights a decrease in the number of traffickers convicted and defendants prosecuted. The Social Welfare Services (SWS) has been criticised for its delayed response to referrals of potential victims and for failing to refer all potential victims to the police for official identification procedures.

The report added that the government has faced criticism for reducing overall funding for victim assistance and failing to disburse financial aid to victims promptly.

Judges have not been consistently issuing restitution as part of sentencing, while victims have never received compensation from the established fund.

The report said that sufficient resources should be allocated to law enforcement agencies for thorough investigations and to the Social Welfare Services (SWS) for timely referral of potential victims. Adequate resources for victim protection and assistance, including healthcare access, rental disbursements, and financial aid, are also necessary to reduce delays and ensure timely support.

The report recommended seeking adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, including significant prison terms, and providing training to judges across all levels of the judiciary to consider the severity of trafficking when issuing sentences. Additionally, it suggests, increasing training for government personnel, on victim identification, assistance, and referral.

Suggestions were also made to improve the restitution process, including training judges on restitution in criminal cases, establishing procedures to seize assets from traffickers, and creating effective methods for timely allocation of restitution. Moreover, the government is urged to inform all identified victims of their right to pursue compensation and encourage them to do so.

The trafficking profile of the country showed that in Cyprus in 2022 originated from Cameroon, Eastern Europe, Egypt, India, Nepal, and Nigeria.

Primarily, women from Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa are subjected to sex trafficking by traffickers operating in Cyprus. The exploitation of these victims occurs in private apartments, hotels, streets, bars, pubs, coffee shops, massage parlours, and cabarets notorious for commercial sex activities.

According to the report, the north continues to grapple with human trafficking, with Turkish Cypriot authorities facing criticism for their insufficient efforts. According to the report, despite some recent “legislative amendments”, the overall response to trafficking remains inadequate, jeopardizing the safety and well-being of vulnerable individuals within the region.