The human trafficking arm of Europe's top human rights body is expressing concern over Cyprus' failure to grant free legal aid and expertise to trafficking victims during criminal proceedings.
In it's third report on Cyprus, the Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) lauds the east Mediterranean island nation for sharply increasing penalties for human trafficking and criminalizing the use of victims for sex.
It also welcomed the setting up of a facility that makes it possible to limit the number of interviews that child abuse victims must undergo.
But the report released early Thursday noted that between 2015-19, no legal aid was provided to trafficking victims in Cyprus. Although victims can seek financial compensation and damages through criminal or civil proceedings, the authors found no examples of a criminal court granting such compensation in human trafficking cases.
The GRETA report urges the government of Cyprus to set up a victim support fund and to ensure convicted perpetrators compensate victims.
The authors of the report also urged Cypriot authorities to step up human trafficking investigations given the low conviction rate — especially in labor exploitation cases. According to the report, police submitted 58 trafficking cases for prosecution during 2015-18; nine cases resulted in final convictions.
The report recommendations more training for prosecutors and judges so human trafficking charges aren't downgraded to offenses that carry lighter penalties and make victims ineligible for aid and compensation.
GRETA also said that asylum-seekers who are presumed to be trafficking victims may be exposed to sexual or other exploitation because they receive a low allowance and are expected to find somewhere to live.
The group said over the four-year review period, 190 out of 801 presumed trafficking victims, mostly women, were formally identified as such.
The main form of exploitation cited in the report was sex followed by forced marriage, labor and a combination of sex and labor. Almost all male victims were trafficked for labor exploitation. There were seven child trafficking victims.