Authorities were called to assist victims of human trafficking in 147 cases last year and 149 so far this year while the island’s two shelters accommodated 20 people in 2022 and 14 so far in 2023, it was revealed on Wednesday.

Every year some 21 million people are trafficked around the world, 800,000 of them into EU countries with an unknown number ending up in Cyprus, the interior ministry said on Wednesday on European Day against Trafficking in Persons, marked every year on October 18.

Over the past two years, 13 cases related to human trafficking have been tried in Cyprus and more than 30 people have been convicted.

Due to its geographical location, Cyprus is the first point of entry for many immigrants to Europe and, by extension, is a destination country for victims of human trafficking. Sexual and labour exploitation, especially in the agricultural sector, are the most common forms of human trafficking in Cyprus, as well as ‘begging rings’.

During an event on Wednesday to officially launch the Management Unit for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which began operation on October 2 out of the Nicosia shelter, deputy minister for social welfare Marilena Evangelou said the unit was staffed by 20 trained officers capable of offering personalised services to the victims of trafficking.

“The unit will contribute to a better response in all stages… identification, reporting, support and protection measures as well as the repatriation process in case the victim is not a Cypriot citizen and wishes to return home,” she said.

Evangelou referred to the need to provide individualised support and integration measures, explaining that each case was unique with different challenges for people from different backgrounds, in addition to the individual impact on the physical and mental health of the victims. “This is the way we must manage them,” she said.

The new unit is designed to be a point of reference for all state services involved in trafficking cases. “Today, we are officially taking another important step towards the protection and support of the victims,” the minister said.

Expanding on the unit, the deputy director of social welfare, Efthychios Hadjichristodoulou said the goal was to adopt a human-centred approach and support services.

He said that in addition to the shelter in Nicosia, which can accommodate 15 women, there is also an intermediate shelter in Limassol. Regarding male victims of trafficking, he said they are placed in temporary accommodation away from the area where they were found so they cannot be intimidated into not testifying.

“The goal is for the victim to feel safe and decide whether to cooperate with the relevant agencies, as threats of retaliation often make it difficult for them to stand up to the abuser,” he said.

When asked why there were only 49 cases filed with police in the last three years while 750 reports had been made in that time, Hadjichristodoulou said it sometimes there was not enough for a criminal case as victims very often, “due to fear” do not cooperate, he added.

The new unit can be contacted at: [email protected].