Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Cyprus

CYPRUS: Tier 1

Cyprus is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Victims identified in Cyprus in 2015 were primarily from India, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Romania, Philippines, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Slovakia, and Czech Republic. Sex trafficking victims from Paraguay were identified for the first time in 2015. Women, primarily from Eastern Europe, Vietnam, India, and sub-Saharan Africa, are subjected to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking occurs in private apartments and hotels, on the street, and within commercial sex outlets in Cyprus including bars, pubs, coffee shops, and cabarets. Some female sex trafficking victims are recruited with false promises of marriage or work as barmaids or hostesses. Foreign migrant workers—primarily from South and Southeast Asia—are subjected to forced labor in agriculture. Migrant workers subjected to labor trafficking are recruited by employment agencies and enter the country on short-term work permits. After the permits expire, they are often subjected to debt bondage, threats, and withholding of pay and documents. Asylum-seekers from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe are subjected 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. Romani children are vulnerable to forced begging.

The Government of Cyprus fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the reporting period, the government convicted 31 traffickers, a significant increase from nine in 2014. The government approved a national referral mechanism outlining procedures for victim identification and referral to government services. It increased the number of police in the anti-trafficking unit from eight to 12 and expanded the unit’s authority to make it the lead for all potential trafficking investigations throughout the country. Delays in delivering financial support to victims, a concern in the previous reporting period, were significantly reduced and trafficking victims were prioritized over less vulnerable beneficiaries. Authorities did not investigate potential trafficking cases among domestic workers or individuals in agriculture, as these cases were typically seen as labor disputes. Concerns were raised during the reporting period that some officers within the police anti-trafficking unit conducted insensitive interviews that may have re-traumatized victims. Observers also reported interpreters used in the interview process did not have sufficient knowledge of foreign languages, which may have affected victims’ testimonies.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CYPRUS:

Increase efforts to investigate potential labor trafficking cases among domestic workers and individuals in agriculture; fund specialized training for the police anti-trafficking unit, including best practices for interviewing trafficking victims; ensure professional translation services are available during victim interviews; increase efforts to raise awareness of trafficking and victim identification among police and migration authorities and provide training on victim identification, particularly for forced labor; launch a study of visa regimes for students, domestic and agricultural workers, and other categories to identify potential misuse by traffickers; further train judges and prosecutors to ensure robust application of the anti-trafficking law; seek timely restitution and adequate support services for victims; increase screening for trafficking among visa holders in vulnerable sectors such as agriculture and domestic work; and formalize the role of NGOs in the national referral mechanism.

PROSECUTION

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Law 60(I) of 2014 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. The government investigated 14 new cases involving 31 suspected traffickers in 2015, seven for sex trafficking and 24 for forced labor, compared with 24 cases involving 35 suspects in 2014. The government initiated prosecutions against 30 defendants under the trafficking law as well as chapter 154 of the penal code, chapter 105 of the Aliens and Immigration Law, and the Law for the Prevention of and Suppression of Money Laundering, an increase compared with 15 in 2014. Courts convicted 31 traffickers for sex trafficking under the anti-trafficking law and other laws, compared with nine in 2014 and two in 2013. All convicted traffickers received time in prison ranging from six months to eight years. The government continued to convict traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, leading to more lenient sentences in some instances. All identified victims cooperated with law enforcement in investigating their alleged traffickers. Authorities did not investigate potential trafficking cases among domestic workers or individuals in agriculture because officials perceived all such cases to be labor disputes.

The government increased the members of the police anti-trafficking unit from eight to 12 and expanded the unit’s authority, designating it the lead in the investigation of all potential trafficking cases in all districts with support from other police units. The government funded 18 trainings and seminars to build the capacity of front-line responders throughout the government, including prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, social workers, and immigration officials. The police department produced a short film on trafficking, which it used during police training sessions. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to protect victims, but identified fewer victims. The government streamlined the process for providing financial support to victims, a concern during the previous reporting period, and took all necessary steps to ensure trafficking victims were prioritized amongst less vulnerable groups entitled to public benefits. NGOs reported previous delays in the disbursement of monthly allowances to victims were significantly reduced during the reporting period. The government identified 40 victims of trafficking in 2015, compared to 46 in 2014. Of the 40 victims identified, 22 were labor trafficking victims, of which 16 were men and six were women. The government identified 13 victims of sex trafficking, all women. Two children, a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, were victims of forced begging. Three people were victims of trafficking for criminal acts, two children and one woman. The government referred all identified victims to the social welfare office for government assistance. Eighteen female victims of sex trafficking, including some identified in the previous reporting period, were accommodated at the government-operated shelter in Nicosia, compared to 20 in 2014.

Victims could stay for one month or longer, as appropriate, in the shelter for a reflection period, a time in which victims could recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. Female sex trafficking victims who chose not to stay in the state-run shelter were entitled to a rent subsidy and a monthly allowance. Female labor trafficking victims and all male victims of trafficking were eligible for a rent subsidy and a monthly allowance. As there were no specialized facilities for male trafficking victims, the government informally partnered with NGOs to place them in apartments. Observers reported shelter personnel were not adequately trained to provide the necessary psychological support to victims. Trafficking victims were referred to employment counselors trained to handle sensitive cases who sought suitable employment for each victim; however, finding employment for victims remained a challenge. Benefits to victims were not, as in previous years, automatically discontinued if a victim refused a job offer; rather, an employment counselor and social welfare officer examined each case. The government did not discontinue the provision of benefits to victims for any reason during this reporting period. The government provided financial support to the families of two child trafficking victims and referred the children to specialized therapy programs for substance abuse. Experts reported Social Welfare Service (SWS) staff in Nicosia exhibited greatly improved treatment of victims during the reporting period. The government provided 133,750 euros ($147,125) in financial assistance to victims through a new public benefit scheme known as Guaranteed Minimum Income. The government provided an additional 116,988 euros ($128,686) in the form of public assistance to victims who chose to stay in private apartments and were entitled to a rent subsidy and monthly allowance, compared with 118,066 euros ($108,000) in 2014. The government spent 269,900 euros ($302,700) to operate the trafficking shelter, an increase from 250,700 euros ($281,000) in 2014. Victims had the right to work and were provided a variety of assistance and protection from deportation. They also had eligibility for state vocational and other training programs and the ability to change sectors of employment.

During the reporting period the government approved a national referral mechanism, which provides guidance on victim identification and outlines the referral procedure. Victims were interviewed by specialized personnel in the police anti-trafficking unit, which included a psychologist and a forensic psychologist to conduct interviews with potential and identified victims before taking an official statement. During the reporting period, NGOs raised concerns that some of the police officers within the anti-trafficking unit conducted insensitive interviews that may have re-traumatized victims. Observers also reported interpreters used in the interview process did not have sufficient knowledge of local dialects, particularly for Francophone African countries, and made translation mistakes, which made victims’ testimonies appear inconsistent. The law stipulates foreign victims be repatriated at the completion of legal proceedings, and police conducted a risk assessment for each victim prior to repatriation. The government granted temporary work permits to 28 victims during the reporting period; the remaining four victims chose not to participate in the police investigation against their traffickers and asked to be repatriated. The government granted asylum to two victims and extended the residence and work permit of three additional victims who asked to remain in the country after the completion of court proceedings. Twenty-two victims assisted law enforcement in the prosecution of suspected traffickers. Victims were permitted to leave Cyprus and return for trial and 10 victims did so during the reporting period; police remained in contact with victims while they were abroad to ensure their safety. Some victims assisted the police by providing written statements prior to being repatriated at their request. There were no reports of victims penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking.

PREVENTION

The government maintained prevention efforts. The multidisciplinary coordinating group to combat trafficking coordinated the implementation of the 2013-2015 National Anti-Trafficking Action Plan. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor carried out 111 inspections of employment agencies and investigated 13 complaints, referring four to the police for criminal investigation and revoking the licenses of 16 employment agencies for involvement in labor trafficking. The government continued to print and distribute booklets in seven languages aimed at potential victims on their rights and assistance available to them. The booklets were also distributed to Cypriot diplomatic and consular missions abroad to be given to visa applicants. The Ministry of the Interior provided training to labor inspectors, labor relations officers, social welfare officers, and officials in the Ministry of Health on labor trafficking and the provisions of the new 2014 trafficking law. It also included a segment on trafficking in the curriculum for students aged 15-18 years. A ministerial decision in April 2015 simplified the procedures for domestic workers to change employers and removed the minimum time requirements that a domestic worker stay with the same employer. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. An NGO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense, continued to deliver lectures to soldiers about trafficking. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.

AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

The northern area of Cyprus is administered by Turkish Cypriots. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the area the independent “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”). The United States does not recognize the “TRNC”, nor does any other country except Turkey. The area administered by Turkish Cypriots continues to be a zone of impunity for human trafficking. The area is increasingly a destination for women from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa who are subjected to forced prostitution in nightclubs licensed and regulated by the Turkish Cypriot administration. Nightclubs provide a significant source of tax revenue for the Turkish Cypriot administration; media reports estimated nightclub owners pay between 20 and 30 million Turkish lira ($7-10 million) in taxes annually. This presents a conflict of interest and a deterrent to increased political will to combat trafficking. Men and women are subjected to forced labor in industrial, construction, agriculture, domestic work, restaurant, and retail sectors. Victims of labor trafficking are controlled through debt bondage, threats of deportation, restriction of movement, and inhumane living and working conditions. Labor trafficking victims originate from China, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Migrants, especially those who cross into the Turkish Cypriot community after their work permits in the Republic of Cyprus have expired, are vulnerable to labor trafficking. Roma children and Turkish seasonal workers and their families are also vulnerable to labor exploitation. Women who are issued permits for domestic work are vulnerable to forced labor. As in previous years, NGOs reported a number of women entered the “TRNC” from Turkey on three-month tourist or student visas and engaged in prostitution in apartments in north Nicosia, Kyrenia, and Famagusta; some may be trafficking victims. Migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, and their children are also at risk for sexual exploitation.

If the “TRNC” were assigned a formal ranking in this report, it would be Tier 3. Turkish Cypriot authorities do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so. The area administered by the Turkish Cypriots lacked an anti-trafficking “law.” Turkish Cypriots did not keep statistics on law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders. The area administered by Turkish Cypriots lacked shelters for victims and social, economic, and psychological services for victims. Local observers reported authorities were complicit in facilitating trafficking, and police continued to retain passports upon arrival of women working in nightclubs.

Turkish Cypriots do not have a “law” that specifically prohibits trafficking in persons. Were there any trafficking-related cases, they would be tried under the “TRNC” “criminal code,” which prohibits living off the earnings of prostitution or encouraging prostitution. The “criminal code” also prohibits forced labor. The “Nightclubs and Similar Places of Entertainment Law of 2000” provides the most relevant legal framework vis-a-vis trafficking and stipulates that nightclubs may only provide entertainment such as dance performances. Turkish Cypriots did not enforce this law nor did the “TRNC” prosecute nightclub owners, bodyguards, or clients during the reporting period. The authorities made no efforts to punish labor recruiters or brokers involved in the recruitment of workers through knowingly fraudulent offers of employment or excessive fees for migration or job placement. There was no “law” that punished traffickers who confiscate workers’ passports or documents, change contracts, or withhold wages to subject workers to servitude. Turkish Cypriots did not provide any specialized training on how to investigate or prosecute human trafficking cases.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not allocate funding to anti-trafficking efforts, police were not trained to identify victims, and authorities provided no protection to victims. An NGO reported identifying a Ukrainian sex trafficking victim at the airport. The victim filed a complaint with the police implicating the nightclub owner and returned to her home country shortly thereafter; the police did not follow up on this case. In May 2015, a trafficking victim from Moldova broke her leg while trying to escape from the State Hospital, where she was locked in a room and threatened with deportation. Police confiscated passports of foreign women working in nightclubs and issued them identity cards, reportedly to protect them from abuse by nightclub owners who confiscated passports. NGOs reported women preferred to keep their passports but police convinced them to render passports to police to avoid deportation. Foreign victims who voiced discontent about the treatment they received were routinely deported. Victims of trafficking serving as material witnesses against a former employer were not entitled to find new employment and resided in temporary accommodation arranged by the police; experts reported women were accommodated at nightclubs. The Turkish Cypriot authorities did not encourage victims to assist in prosecutions against traffickers, and all foreign victims were deported. If the police requested a victim to stay to serve as a witness, the police were required to provide temporary accommodation. The “Prime Minister” announced a “cabinet” decision to allocate land for construction of a women’s shelter; however, NGOs criticized the “government” for announcing the location of the planned shelter. There was one privately funded shelter in operation during the reporting period, which provided protective services for six trafficking victims.

In 2015, “TRNC” authorities issued 1,481 six-month “hostess” and “barmaid” work permits for individuals working in 36 nightclubs and two pubs operating in the north. As of March 2016, 434 women worked under such permits. Nightclub owners hired female college students during the reporting period to bypass the cap on the number of employees legally permitted in each club and avoid taxes and monitoring. An NGO reported authorities did not consistently document the arrival of women intending to work in nightclubs. The majority of permit holders came from Moldova, Morocco, and Ukraine, while others came from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay, Russia, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan. Reportedly, some “parliament” members were clientele of the nightclubs. Women were not permitted to change location once under contract with a nightclub, and Turkish Cypriot authorities deported 508 women who curtailed their contracts without screening for trafficking. While prostitution is illegal, female nightclub employees were required to submit to biweekly health checks for sexually transmitted infection screening, suggesting recognition and tacit approval of the prostitution industry. Victims reported bodyguards at the nightclubs accompanied them to health and police checks, ensuring they did not share details of their victimization with law enforcement or doctors. Turkish Cypriots made no efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The “law” that governed nightclubs prohibited foreign women from living at their place of employment; however, most women lived in group dormitories adjacent to the nightclubs or in other accommodations arranged by the establishment owner. The “Nightclub Commission,” comprised of “police” and “government officials” who regulate nightclubs, prepared brochures on employee rights and distributed them to foreign women upon entry. The “Nightclub Commission” met monthly and made recommendations to the “Ministry of Interior” regarding operating licenses, changes to employee quotas, and the need for intervention at a particular establishment. During the reporting period, police conducted several unannounced inspections of the nightclubs; however, corruption and a lack of political will undermined any anti-trafficking efforts. The “Social Services Department” in the “Ministry of Labor” continued to run a hotline for trafficking victims; however, it was inadequately staffed by one operator who had not received any training on trafficking. The hotline led to the identification of 11 female nightclub employees, who were later repatriated. A total of 32 women were repatriated during the reporting period. Experts reported trafficking victims were afraid to call the hotline because they believed it was linked to the authorities. Between April and December 2015, the “TRNC” issued 724 work permits to domestic workers.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TURKISH CYPRIOT AUTHORITIES:

Enact “legislation” prohibiting all forms of human trafficking; screen for human trafficking victims within nightclubs and pubs; increase transparency in the regulation of nightclubs and promote awareness among clients and the public about force, fraud, and coercion used to compel prostitution; provide funding to NGO shelters and care services for the protection of victims; investigate, prosecute, and convict “officials” complicit in trafficking; provide alternatives to deportation for victims of trafficking; and acknowledge and take steps to address conditions of forced labor, including among domestic workers.