The Ministry of Justice and Public Order has welcomed the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons report for 2022 released on Tuesday noting the upgrade of Cyprus to Tier 1 status. This means that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
According to the report, the government made key achievements in eliminating the trafficking of persons during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.
Sex trafficking occurs in private apartments and hotels, on the street, and in bars, pubs, coffee shops, massage parlors, and cabarets known for the availability of commercial sex.
These achievements included convicting traffickers for the first time in three years. In addition, it said the government hired additional social workers and created a new Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare Services (SWS), which will help coordinate and strengthen victim protection.
At the same time, the Minister of Justice signed an MOU with the new Deputy Minister of Social Welfare to streamline cooperation between the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) and SWS officers on the national referral mechanism (NRM). It was also reported that the quality and service at the government-run shelter were appropriate.
The report noted that the government arranged for victims who were foreign nationals to return to Cyprus to testify, paying for their accommodation and travel expenses which also included those of their family members in order to support the victim during the trial.
The government also launched an anti-trafficking hotline and formed a sub-committee on creating awareness campaigns on demand reduction for commercial sex.
However, the report also highlighted points on which Cyprus needs improvement. According to the report, Cyprus prosecuted fewer suspects and identified fewer victims. It also noted that judges issued suspended sentences or a fine to only half of the convicted traffickers, which was not equal to the seriousness of the crime and undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable while weakening deterrence. Moreover, SWS did not respond to potential victims in a timely manner and failed to refer to the police for official identification procedures.
Still, the Republic of Cyprus garnered praise for its effort in eliminating trafficking in persons. With regard to protection, the report stated that the government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 22 victims, compared with 25 victims in 2020. Of these, nine were sex trafficking victims, eight were forced labor victims, and five were victims of multiple types of exploitation, including forced criminality; 13 were women, seven were men, and there was one boy and one girl. 15 were foreign victims.
At the same time, the government increased prevention efforts. The Multidisciplinary Coordinating Group (MCG) to combat trafficking, composed of relevant government agencies and NGOs, implemented and monitored anti-trafficking efforts. The government launched a new anti-trafficking hotline and advertised the number in government offices, at police stations, and at NGO premises.
According to the trafficking profile, the State Department said as reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Cyprus.
Foreign victims identified in Cyprus in 2021 were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Romania, Russia, and Syria. In previous years, victims were also from Cameroon, China, Czechia, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Moldova, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
Traffickers, according to the report, subject women, primarily from Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking occurs in private apartments and hotels, on the street, and in bars, pubs, coffee shops, massage parlors, and cabarets known for the availability of commercial sex.
It said traffickers exploit short-term tourist visas available to Ukrainian and Russian nationals to recruit young women for sex trafficking in bars and private establishments and recruit some female sex trafficking victims with false promises of marriage or work as barmaids or hostesses. Traffickers subject foreign migrant workers — primarily from North Africa but also from South and Southeast Asia—to forced labor in agriculture.
Employment agencies recruit and exploit migrant workers who enter the country on short-term work permits in labor trafficking; after the permits expire, traffickers use debt-based coercion, threats, and withholding of pay and documents.
Domestic workers from India, Nepal, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka are vulnerable to forced labor. Traffickers subject asylum seekers from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe to forced labor in agriculture and domestic work. Unaccompanied children, children of migrants, Roma, and asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor.
It also noted that Romani children are vulnerable to forced begging. Traffickers exploit Cypriots addicted to drugs and young women with disabilities to commit criminal offenses such as distributing illegal substances and committing welfare benefits fraud.
The Ministry of Justice has welcomed the upgrading of Cyprus in the annual report, with Minister Stephi Dracou urging citizens to make complaints on the 1497 hotline regarding issues of human trafficking.
She said the upgrading of Cyprus’ position was a positive development and reminded the public that the previous report for the period April 2020-March 2021 highlighted gaps and inadequacies in the areas of investigation, bringing suspects to justice and documenting cases before the courts.
The ministry in cooperation with the Police, took a series of targeted measures to handle the gaps and inadequacies that were underlined in the report, in cooperation with the Justice and the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare, the Law Service and all interested parties.
It said that there were eight convictions for offenses related to human trafficking and that from March 2021, the 1497 hotline is operating where citizens can report or provide information regarding human trafficking issues.
Dracou urged all citizens to contact the hotline because, according to the Justice Minister, "in the fight against human trafficking, society should be our ally”.
She also said that given the risks created by the war in Ukraine for sexual or labor exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, we are constantly on alert, conducting checks in high-risk areas to identify suspicious behaviors or actions.
The Minister said that by acknowledging the seriousness of this particular crime, we can assure the public that its recommendations will be studied in depth and additional measures will be taken to increase the effectiveness of our actions for prevention and combatting human trafficking
She also assured that the ministry will continue with the same zeal the zero-tolerance policy towards human trafficking and make every effort to locate victims and culprits and bring those responsible before justice.